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« Reply #14910 on: Aug 10, 2014, 06:19 AM »

Erdogan Eyes Presidential Triumph in Turkey Polls

by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 August 2014, 07:11

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was Sunday set to triumph in presidential elections and extend his domination of Turkey as a powerful head of state, despite warnings by opponents that the country is moving to a one-man autocracy.

Erdogan, a devout Muslim who has served as premier since 2003, has overseen a rapid modernisation of Turkey with strong growth and ambitious infrastructure projects but also faces growing accusations of eroding civil rights and seeking to Islamise the secular state.

The polls are the first time Turkey is directly electing its president, who has previously been chosen by parliament and in recent decades has fulfilled a largely ceremonial role.

However 60-year-old Erdogan, who is happy to be referred to as the "Sultan", has made clear he intends to be a head of state who "sweats" and exercises real power.

His ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has vowed to seek changes to the constitution to give the president more powers, which could give Turkey a presidential system similar to France's rather than its current parliamentary democracy.

Yet Erdogan's opponents accuse him of undermining the secular legacy of Turkey's founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who based the state that emerged after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire on a strict separation between religion and politics.

"I am voting for stability," said Efgan, 50, an apartment concierge in Ankara. "Turkey has been well run" under the AKP.

But Semahat Unal, a 40-year-old teacher, was not voting for Erdogan. "It's time to put Turkey on the path to democracy. I fear the worst if Erdogan is elected. I do not have confidence in him and his Islamist vision for Turkey."

 

- 'Foregone conclusion' -

 

Opinion polls predict that Erdogan will easily win more than 50 percent of votes to take Ankara's Cankaya presidential palace in the first round, with his main opposition rival Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu lagging far behind.

"There really is no uncertainty about this outcome. It's almost a foregone conclusion that Erdogan will win," said Sinan Ulgen of the Carnegie Centre.

While many secular Turks detest Erdogan, he can still count on a huge base of support from religiously conservative middle-income voters, particularly in central Turkey and poorer districts of Istanbul, who have prospered under his rule.

Some 53 million voters in the country of 76 million were to cast their ballots, with voting opening due to close at 1400 GMT. 

Results are expected to come in rapidly and many suspect Erdogan is already planning a victory speech from the balcony of AKP headquarters in Ankara around midnight.

All alcohol sales are banned until midnight in a bid to minimise the risk of any election-related unrest.

Erdogan ran a lavish three-month campaign that swamped those of his rivals, his face glaring down at pedestrians in Istanbul from gigantic billboards at almost every street corner.

The campaign of Ihsanoglu -- a bookish former head of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) -- has been modest by comparison and Erdogan belittled his main rival as a dreamy academic who will get nothing done.

"It was an unfair, disproportionate campaign," Ihsanoglu, 70, said as he cast his vote in Istanbul, nonetheless predicting that the votes of the "silent masses" would help him to victory.

The third candidate Selahattin Demirtas, 41, from Turkey's Kurdish minority, has shown considerably more dynamism.

But even though his charisma, flashing grin and fondness for white shirts with rolled-up sleeves have earned him the moniker "the Kurdish Obama" in some quarters, he would do well to poll 10 percent of the vote.

 

- 'Respect the outcome' -

 

Erdogan endured the toughest year of his rule in 2013 and was shaken by deadly mass protests sparked by plans to build a shopping mall on Gezi Park in Istanbul that grew into a general cry of anger by secular Turks who felt ignored by the AKP.

Later in the year, stunning corruption allegations emerged against the premier and his inner circle, including his son Bilal based on bugged conversations that enthralled the country like a soap opera.

But Erdogan has come out fighting, denying the allegations and blaming a former ally turned rival, the Pennsylvania-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen for launching a plot against him.

He has behaved at rallies as much like a prize fighter as a politician, aiming punches at foes like Gulen and causing a diplomatic scandal by likening Israel's actions in the Gaza Strip to those of the Nazis.

Parliament speaker Cemil Cicek, a close Erdogan ally, warned that all Turks would have to respect the result.

"People will make the right decision. We should all respect this, otherwise, we would be embracing a quasi-democracy," he said.

The future of outgoing president Abdullah Gul, a co-founder of the AKP who appears to have taken his distance from Erdogan, is unclear, with many tipping Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu as a possible choice to be premier.


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« Reply #14911 on: Aug 10, 2014, 06:33 AM »

Obama warns of long campaign as Iraq strikes continue against Isis

US president admits there is no quick fix as minorities flee Islamist onslaught and British planes join relief effort

Martin Chulov in Irbil, Mark Townsend in London, Jon Swaine in New York and agencies
The Observer, Sunday 10 August 2014   
  
Link to video: Britain sends fresh water and tents to stranded Iraqis in Sinjar

http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2014/aug/10/britain-aid-iraqis-yazidi-sinjar-video

Barack Obama has committed the US to long-term involvement in Iraq, warning that the rapidly evolving crisis in the north would not be solved quickly.

US aircraft have targeted armoured vehicles and militant positions in a second day of strikes against Islamic State forces. A mix of US fighters and drones attacked and destroyed armoured personnel carriers after Yazidi civilians near Sinjar came under attack from the vehicles, US central command said.

US forces "successfully [conducted] four air strikes to defend Yazidi civilians being indiscriminately attacked" near Sinjar, said a statement from the United States Central Command (Centcom), which covers the Middle East.

In the first strike "a mix of US fighters and remotely piloted aircraft struck one of two Isil armoured personnel carriers firing on Yazidi civilians near Sinjar", the statement said. After following the remaining vehicle a second pair of strikes, around 20 minutes later, hit two more armoured personnel carriers and an armed truck.

A fourth struck another armoured personnel carrier, also in the Sinjar area.

Alongside this, the US-led air campaign to deliver relief to civilians fleeing Isis continued with a third drop of supplies taking place on Saturday night. The US military said the latest air drop involved planes from multiple air bases and included one C-17 and two C-130 cargo planes supported by fighter planes. The aircraft delivered 72 bundles of supplies, including more than 3,800 gallons of water and more than 16,000 packaged meals.

Conceding that the advance of the Islamic State (formerly Isis) forces had been swifter than anticipated – details emerged on Saturday of the jihadists opening another front as they crossed into Lebanon from Syria – the US president accepted there was no quick fix.

The archbishop of Irbil's Chaldean Catholics told the Observer fewer than 40 Christians remained in north-western Iraq after a jihadist rampage that has forced thousands to flee from Mosul and the Nineveh plains into Irbil in the Kurdish north.

Archbishop Bashar Warda said: "We did not expect that one day Mosul would be without Christians and that the Nineveh plains would be emptied of minorities," referring to the stretch of land surrounding Mosul that had been hailed throughout the ages as a cradle of civilisation. "Trust is broken between the communities. Especially with the Arabs. For 2,000 years, all these minorities had lived together."

After taking in up to 1.2 million refugees since mid-June, the Kurds of northern Iraq are urging Obama not to let up in air strikes against Isis, which on Friday was only 50km from Irbil and advancing east towards the Kurdish capital. At least four US air strikes appear to have slowed the momentum of the jihadists, Kurdish peshmerga forces said on Saturday. Officials in Irbil, including Iraq's former foreign minister Hoshyer Zebari, a Kurd who quit his national post in June, urged Obama to continue the strikes. He described the attacks as "a critical decision for Kurdistan, Iraq, and the entire region ... intended to degrade the terrorists' capabilities and achieve strategic gains that have been very effective".

Obama admitted that rebuilding the Iraqi military, fostering trust among Sunnis and negating the threat from jihadists would be a long-term project. He added: "I don't think we're going to solve this problem in weeks. This is going to take some time."

On Friday he sanctioned air strikes against Isis fighters that destroyed arms and equipment. The military action came less than three years after the last contingent of US troops exited the country.

Meanwhile, British military aircraft joined the US in dropping food, water and tents to thousands of displaced Iraqis hiding in mountains as Obama revealed that plans were under way to create a "safe corridor" for up to 40,000 civilians – mostly Kurds of the Yazidi faith – who are besieged on Mount Sinjar on the western edge of Kurdistan's border with the rest of Iraq. However, he said rescuing the Yazidis might prove fraught. "Moving them is not simple in this security environment," Obama said.

Speaking shortly before leaving for his summer holiday, he said humanitarian assistance including a repeat of airdrops of food and water would continue.

In London the government's Cobra committee met again to assess the latest developments in Iraq, discussions that ratified the decision for British aircraft to begin aid drops immediately.

The foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, said air sorties from the UK to northern Iraq would run for the "foreseeable future" with France also agreeing humanitarian assistance. Earlier, two British cargo planes left Oxfordshire to airdrop bottled water, tents and tarpaulins to displaced Iraqis encircled by militants.

The C-130 transport aircraft flew from RAF Brize Norton to deliver aid, with government sources suggesting a repeat of the airdrops could follow on Sunday. It followed a second US airdrop of food and water to Iraqis stranded on Mount Sinjar.

Meanwhile, the former foreign secretary, David Miliband, speaking in the Observer, acknowledged that the 2003 invasion of Iraq had contributed to the country's current disintegration and mounting crisis at the hands of Islamist militants.

Miliband, expressing fresh regret over Britain's involvement in the war, admitted that the outcome of the war in Iraq "induces a high degree of humility".

"It's clearly the case that the invasion of Iraq, or more importantly what happened afterwards, is a significant factor in understanding the current situation in the country," said Miliband, during a wide-ranging interview in New York.

The remarks on the crisis by Miliband, now the president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian charity, contrast with those offered by Tony Blair, his political mentor, who has strongly rejected claims that the 2003 US-UK invasion is to blame for the terrorism gripping Iraq.

Asked whether the chaos that it had unleashed made him regret supporting the war as a minister in Blair's government, Miliband said: "I regret it because I made a decision on the basis of upholding the norms in respect to weapons of mass destruction, and there were none."

The phenomenon of Isis and its speed of advance shows little sign of abating as Lebanese security sources indicated that Islamist militants had crossed into the country from Syria, triggering a battle with Lebanese villagers who forced them back across the border. It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties in the incident, near the Lebanese town of Rashaya, some 60 miles south of the town of Arsal.

Britain has so far pledged £8m in aid to those caught up in the advance of Isis in northern Iraq. This includes £2m of emergency humanitarian supplies for 75,000 people, including aid that can be airdropped to help those trapped on Sinjar as quickly as possible.

Supplies will include reusable filtration containers filled with clean water, tents, and solar lights that can also recharge mobile phones.

****************

'Isis has shattered the ancient ties that bound Iraq's minorities'

The jihadists' advance through north-west Iraq has put to the sword an understanding between communities that had survived for generations

Martin Chulov and Fazel Hawramy in Irbil
The Observer, Saturday 9 August 2014 23.09 BST   

In the grounds of Archbishop Bashar Warda's cathedral, the last Christians of northern Iraq are trying to find shelter. Some huddle under parched shrubs. Others move in sync with the shadow from the church office that gives them a reprieve from the baking sun. Children and women mill around a makeshift food hall, while old men stare vacantly. There are 4,000 desperate souls in the church grounds. And all seem shocked to be here.

Inside, the archbishop is reflecting on a week that has all but ended coexistence in Iraq's Arab north-west. A multi-ethnic and religious understanding that had prevailed throughout millenniums of war and insurrection could not withstand the latest purge, led by the ruthless jihadists of the Islamic State (formerly Isis) that rampaged through the area over the last week.

"We did not expect that one day Mosul would be without Christians and that the Nineveh plains would be emptied of minorities," Warda said of the stretch of land surrounding Mosul that had been hailed throughout the ages as a cradle of civilisation. "Trust is broken between the communities. Especially with the Arabs. For 2,000 years, all these minorities had lived together."

Gesturing outside his window where the human detritus of war lingered, he said: "These people could tell you they have had neighbours for 40 years who were the first to steal from their homes and celebrate the arrival [of Isis]."

Until last Wednesday, roughly 70,000 Christians remained in Mosul and Nineveh, along with up to 200,000 Yezidis, Shabbak Shias and Turkmen. Almost all have now fled, with the exception of up to 40,000 Yezidis marooned on a mountaintop near the city of Sinjar that had been home to the sect for several thousand years.

Food and water has been slowly reaching the Yezidis in recent days. But with Isis fighters encircling them below, they have no way down the mountain. According to the Yezidi community, scores of people, among them children, have died there since Sinjar was overrun by the jihadists last Sunday.

While less dire in terms of physical suffering, the fate of Nineveh's Christians is equally bleak: the Chaldean diocese in Irbil said that just 30-35 Christians remained in the town of Qaraqosh that until Thursday was home to 50,000 – the largest Christian urban centre in Iraq.

"There are maybe one or two in Qaramless," the archbishop said. "And none that we know of in Mosul. This is the end," he said.

"Some might be able to go back eventually, but how to rebuild that trust is a very big problem. We expected some sort of serious crisis like this, because we were in a position to know that Isis were taking so much money from the people of Mosul. And recently we were informed that certain people were sacked from their jobs just for being Christian."

Isis members had earlier this month given Mosul's Christian community an ultimatum to pay $10,000 in tax to retain their faith and homes, or alternatively 48 hours in which to flee. Those who chose neither faced death.

"They think they have the right from God to give orders," said Archbishop Warda. "There is no negotiating with them."

While Mosul's Christians rushed for the safety of Irbil, communities between both cities largely stayed put, believing that Kurdish forces deployed to their areas would keep the militants at bay. But Kurdish forces capitulated, first in Sinjar last Sunday and then around the Christian towns early last Thursday. Officers and troops claimed, at the time, to have been outgunned by the jihadists who were wielding heavy weapons from the Iraqi army's main arsenals when it had abandoned its posts during the initial Isis push on 10 June.

After one of the most extraordinary routs in modern military history, the peshmerga stepped in to fill the vacuum in much of north-western Iraq. But they, too, have been routed, raising fears that even Irbil may not be safe from the battle-hardened ideologues now little more than 50km away.

John Matte Hana, 30, said he was the guard at a church in the town of Bartella, 60km from Irbil, until Isis forces arrived. He stayed because he felt safe with the Kurds nearby. "We did not flee from Bartella initially because we were told that peshmerga were in charge and they were strong," he said. "Now we want to go to Europe. We can't live here any more."

Abu al-Fida, a teacher from Mosul who was sleeping rough with his family in the churchyard, said: "Are my children going to remember these days, living like beggars like this, in gardens, unfinished buildings, or on the streets? Are they even going to remember that we had a house and a life in Mosul?

"Our grandfathers a century ago were killed by the Turks. Those days have returned. The only solution for us is a Kosovo deal," he added, referring to the internationally brokered deal to bring an end to fighting between the Serbian and Albanian communities in the Balkan state.

Along the highway west of Irbil towards the frontline town of Khazer, peshmerga forces and volunteers reported hearing the sounds of jet fighters somewhere in the hazy summer sky, but no explosionson Saturday.

Near Khazer and around the Mosul dam to the north, around 150 peshmerga troops and officers have been killed in the past few days, officials in Irbil said. Up to 500 others have been wounded, so far for little gain.

The Kurds have lost control of the Mosul dam, a vital waterway and cog in Iraq's hydro-electricity generating capacity. Isis seized the site on Friday, Kurdish and American officials acknowledged, in what is one of the most serious strategic losses anywhere in Iraq since the insurrection began in June.

One peshmerga soldier, Ayub Risha, 35, who was deployed to the frontline on Friday, said: "Since last night, Isis positions have been quiet. They are not far from us. We heard the planes today, but they did not bomb."

Despite the lull, in Irbil the proximity of war is proving unsettling to the more than 1.2 million exiles who are now seeking refuge. Non-Christian Arab Iraqis who have lived or have moved to the Kurdish north are facing far more scrutiny. Those who are found with a weapon in their homes are arrested and jailed, on suspicion of being a stalking horse for the jihadists across the barren ranges.

"It is not a good time to be an Arab in the Kurdish area," said one Sunni man from Baghdad, who was too afraid to reveal his identity. "It is not a good time to be an Iraqi."

***************

Isis, the jihadists who turned the tables

Isis has made a remarkable, and deadly, comeback a year after it looked all but finished in Syria and Iraq

Hassan Hassan   
The Observer, Sunday 10 August 2014   

President Obama authorised targeted air strikes against the Islamic State's positions to stop its fighters from advancing further towards the Iraqi Kurdish region and to help avert an act of genocide against a religious minority the group considers devil-worshippers, the Yezidis.

The move, uncharacteristic of intervention-averse Obama, highlights how the jihadist group has expanded and become an unstoppable force, six months after it seemed it would not even complete a year in existence, when major rebel factions in Syria declared war against it earlier this year.

The group, which became known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) after it broke away from the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra in April last year, had been driven out of most of Syria, and rebel factions and al-Qaida affiliates threatened to chase it out of Iraq. But the group has made a remarkable comeback, seizing stretches of at least seven provinces in the two countries, and marching steadily into other areas.

In the last two weeks alone, Isis has fought on five fronts: against the Iraqi army, the Kurdish peshmerga, the Syrian regime, the Syrian opposition and the Lebanese army. In Syria the group has all but consolidated control of the eastern provinces of Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, as it made advances against government forces in Raqqa and subdued most of the rebel forces in Deir Ezzor. It is also advancing into Aleppo, reaching the city's eastern outskirts, and in Hasaka, and is battling the Kurdish militias in the north-east. In Iraq it has advanced to a point only half an hour's drive from Irbil, the Kurdish capital.

Yet these advances appear to be only the tip of the iceberg. Away from the publicised gains, Isis is quietly making progress on other fronts. Perhaps the most worrying is the fact that armed groups backed by the US have been co-opted by Isis.

After its sweeping military success in Iraq in June, Isis moved to take over the strategic province in Deir Ezzor, where the rebels controlled lucrative oil and gas resources. To the surprise of many, the group quickly controlled towns and villages that were home to some of the group's most powerful adversaries, including Jabhat al-Nusra and locally rooted tribal militias.

According to Samer al-Ani, an opposition media activist from Deir Ezzor, several fighting groups affiliated to the western-backed Military Council worked discreetly with Isis, even before the group's latest offensive. Liwa al-Ansar and Liwa Jund al-Aziz, he said, pledged allegiance to Isis in secret, with reports that Isis is using them to put down a revolt by the Sha'itat tribe near the Iraqi border.

He warned that money being sent through members of the National Coalition to rebels in Deir Ezzor risks going to Isis. Another source from Deir Ezzor said that these groups pledged loyalty to Isis four months ago, so this was not forced as a result of Isis's latest push, as happened elsewhere. Such collaboration was key to the takeover of Deir Ezzor in recent weeks, especially in areas where Isis could not defeat the local forces so easily.

This is not the first, or the only, time in which groups affiliated to the military structures backed by the US and the Gulf states have worked with Isis. Saddam al-Jamal, a top commander for the Free Syrian Army's eastern front, pledged allegiance to Isis in November and fought in its ranks, wreaking a grisly carnage in his hometown of Abu Kamal in April. Other groups affiliated to the western-backed military councils that have pledged allegiance to Isis include Liwa Fajr al-Islam in Homs.

Moderate religious groups that had been established mostly to fight jihadists are now working closely, if quietly, with Isis. Liwa Ahl al-Athar, for example, has discreetly pledged allegiance to Isis. The Salafi-leaning rebel alliance, which has a strong presence in many areas in Deir Ezzor and beyond, is financially backed by private donors from the Arab Gulf states, but is said to be in the "good guys" list by governments that back the Syrian opposition.

A provincial leader of the alliance in Abu Kamal, according to an influential opposition figure in the area, is related to an Iraqi emir of Isis and has worked with the jihadist group to mediate a truce with the Sha'itat tribe. According to the same source, other rebel groups have often travelled to the Iraqi border town of Husaiba to win support from Isis for leadership in their areas.

Moreover, Isis has followed new strategies during its latest offensive, in Iraq and Syria, to establish long-term presence in the areas it controls. Such strategies include greater leeway for local forces to run their daily state of affairs, instead of the old strategy of directly managing these areas. In areas where it still fears an uprising, the group maintains direct control. Isis is also planning to recruit foreign jihadists within the ranks of groups co-opted by it to ensure their loyalty.

Even in Deraa, where Jabhat al-Nusra has steadily consolidated its presence, sources say that Isis has supporters close to the top leadership of the al-Qaida affiliate and there are clans willing to declare allegiance to Isis. Increasingly, Isis is becoming more sophisticated and resilient. Contrary to speculations that the group is overreaching itself, Isis gains the loyalty of more forces every time it controls a new area. It is expected that if the group makes headway into Aleppo, members of like-minded jihadi factions such as Ahrar al-Sham will defect and join its ranks.

Beyond its advertised victories, Isis is building a vast network of supporters even within moderate ranks that could help it persist in the face of a military action similar to this weekend's American air strikes.

Time appears to be on its side, and unless there is a comprehensive political and military approach to fight it in both Iraq and Syria the group is here to stay.

Hassan Hassan is an analyst at the Delma Institute, a research centre in Abu Dhabi, and a columnist for the National newspaper. Follow him on Twitter @hxhassan

***************

'In Iraq, there is no peace for Yazidis'

When our correspondent visited the Yazidis’ region in 2011 it felt like the garden of Eden. Today, they tell him, it is hell on earth

Nicky Woolf   
theguardian.com, Saturday 9 August 2014 15.17 BST   
      
When I visited it in 2011, the mountain shrine of Lalish, the most sacred site of the Yazidi faith, was an idyllic place. Old men sat in the sunshine in prayer and conversation; women and children used their bare feet to crush olives for oil in ancient stone troughs. The ancient temple that sits atop the holy site was surrounded by shaded courtyards; stone huts and olive groves dotted the hills around.

Lalish sits in the region the Yazidis believe was the garden of Eden. In 2011, it felt like it.

Today, it is hell on earth. As Islamic State (Isis) forces move into Iraqi Kurdistan they are targeting the Yazidis, whom they consider devil-worshippers. The region is home to more than half a million Yazidis, many of whom are now displaced. Many Yazidi towns, including the largest, Sinjar, are in Isis hands.

“An entire religion is being exterminated from the face of the earth,” said Vian Dakheel, the only Yazidi member of the Iraqi parliament, in an emotional speech to the council chamber.

The tombs of the ancient Yazidi angels are crowded with refugees. “They demolished our houses,” Ali, a Yazidi who fled Sinjar for Lalish and is now sheltering there along with hundreds of others, said by telephone this week. “They destroyed our families. They are killing, they are killing.”

He said that behind him, as he escaped, he watched Isis forces murder neighbours and friends, and told the Guardian Isis were taking Yazidi women as sex slaves. “The west must understand,” he said. “They must see us. We want help. They are killing our children, they are killing the old people, all the people they are catching they are killing or enslaving.”

“They are coming like barbarians, blowing up everything.”

As well as Lalish, many Yazidis have fled to the surrounding mountains. As many as 50,000 were trapped for days on another peak, near Shingal. Scores died of hunger and thirst until Kurdish peshmerga fighters broke through and created a corridor through which they could escape. More than 100,000 have fled north to safer parts of Iraqi Kurdistan and Kurdish-controlled Syria.

“The situation is very bad,” Dakheel told the Guardian. “People are very afraid about Lalish. It is a very old place for our religion.” She said many of the families currently sheltering there were in immediate danger, and thought they might try to flee further from the Isis advances.

Dakheel said some Yazidi guides were planning to stay behind to protect the holy site from the invaders, who have already destroyed the shrine of Sayeda Zeinab, another Yazidi holy site in Sinjar. Many of the families at Lalish have fled from there.

Ali, at the holy site, does not believe this is now possible. “We are in a cage,” he said. He thought that people there could last “10 or 15 or 20 days” but said that they would rather kill themselves than be captured. “Our families are in the hands of Isis and they are playing with them,” said Ali. “It is worse than death.”

The Yazidi religion may be one of the oldest in the world. Their calendar dates back 6,756 years, nearly 5,000 years further than the Christian or Gregorian calendar and nearly 1,000 years further than the Jewish calendar; the religion may be descended from similar roots to Zoroastrianism.

Yazidis worship a god who is incarnated in the form of seven angels. Tawzy Melek or Melek Tawwus, known as the “Peacock Angel”, is their most-favoured; but they have often been persecuted by jihadist sects who believe Melek to be Satan.

Yazidi is a religion, I wrote in my journal after my visit to Lalish, based around the concept of wishing. Even in Kurdistan, a region which prides itself on hospitality, the Yazidi tradition of welcoming outsiders stood out. As soon as we arrived, my companions and I were ushered excitedly into their most sacred catacombs by a guide, and followed by a crowd of children. In one of these caves, the faithful traditionally tie a knot in one of a myriad colourful silk rags; this is said to help solve their troubles.
yazidi shrine In this 2005 file photo, Yazidi men enter a shrine at the top of Mount Sinjar. Photograph: Jacob Silberberg/AP

In the lowest cavern, through an ancient stone doorway, is the “wishing rock”, where if you throw a silk rag on to a lit candle on the stone, we were told, your wishes come true. From an antechamber, you can also access the tomb of Sheikh Adi, said to have been an incarnation of the Peacock Angel. His tomb, if circled eight times, was also said to grant wishes. We were invited to try.

The place enchanted me. Now, from that same place, Ali spoke by phone in a voice tinged with fear and anger.

“In our hands we have nothing,” he said. “We have no food. We have no power, no guns, no defences.” He said they were encircled.

The Yazidis are no strangers to massacre. In her speech to the Iraqi parliament, Dakheel referenced 72 massacres in the religion’s history, including the August 2007 coordinated jihadist suicide bombing in Yazidi towns which killed almost 800 people, and wounded more than 1,500 more.

“In Iraq, there is no peace for Yazidis,” Ali said.

****************

This Islamic State nightmare is not a holy war but an unholy mess

It isn’t religious zeal but the collapse of state power that makes the clash in Iraq feel like a return to the dark ages

• US begins air strikes against Isis targets in Iraq, Pentagon says

Jonathan Freedland   
The Guardian, Friday 8 August 2014 19.50 BST         

In a voice pleading and in despair, the woman who had fled for her life asked: “What century are we in?” She was an Iraqi Christian, reached by the BBC World Service even as she sought to escape the self-declared Islamic State, or IS (formerly Isis). “They will sell us,” she said. “They will rape us.” Her words echoed this week’s tearful warning to the Iraqi parliament from a Kurdish MP who described the fate befalling her fellow Yazidis. “Mr Speaker, our women are being taken as slaves and sold in the slave market.”

The year is 2014 and yet 40,000 followers of a 1,000-year-old faith are huddling on a mountainside said to be the final resting place of Noah’s Ark, fearing their women are to be dragged to a slave market. As the woman asked, what century are we in?

When news reports speak of ancient sectarian loathings, when the gap between Sunni and Shia comes down to a theological dispute originating in the seventh century, when the Islamic State declares its defining mission to be the restoration of a caliphate from the same period, then it is tempting to believe this is indeed the curious fate of our supposedly modern era – that we are being drawn back to a medieval or pre-medieval world of holy war and wholesale slaughter in the name of religion. The irony of it seems so rich: that just as technology is accelerating, making once impossible feats of connection routine, so the clock is turning backward, towards a new dark age of beheadings and enslavement, a fearsome army threatening a tiny sect with that ancient ultimatum – bow to our god or die.

From the vantage point of avowedly secular Britain, where even the most watery form of Christianity has become a minority interest, the persistence of religion is indeed one of the 21st century’s great surprises. For so long, progress and the decline of faith – what enlightened types prefer to call “superstition” – were thought to be symbiotic if not synonymous. As the world advanced, as more of its people got running water, TV and smartphones, surely the old, primitive beliefs would fade. But the Middle East has confounded that now quaint conviction. Large swaths of states that were once secular – the Ba’athist republics of Iraq and Syria used to revere nationalism over Islam – are now under the black flag of IS, ruled by a Qur’anic scholar who has anointed himself caliph.

Yet neat though it is to see return to holy war as the motif of our age, it might be wrong. The rolling advances of IS – brutal and laden with treasure, conquering one city or stronghold after another – may indeed resemble the world of several centuries ago but not in the way we’ve imagined. It is instead a story that is both ancient and very modern.

According to Toby Dodge, the scholar of Iraq at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), what’s driving IS, or at least making its phenomenal success possible, is not pre-modern religious zeal so much as a pre-modern absence of state power. The state structures of both Iraq and Syria have all but collapsed. The result is a power vacuum of a kind that would have been recognised in the lawless Europe of seven or eight centuries ago – and which IS has exploited with the ruthless discipline of those long ago baronial warlords who turned themselves into European princes.

“Islamic State are jihadis with MBAs,” says Dodge, speaking of a movement so modern it has its own gift shop. He notes its combination of fierce religious ideology, financial acumen and tactical nous. “It’s Darwinian,” he adds, describing IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his inner circle as those strong enough to have survived the US hammering of al-Qaida in Iraq between 2007 and 2009. But what has been crucial, Dodge says, is “not ancient hatreds but this collapse of state power”.

Which partly explains IS’s choice of targets. It attacks wherever it sees a gap, an area of weakness where the state’s writ does not run or that will be too feeble to resist. So when IS’s advance south to Baghdad was repelled, the organisation turned and looked for vacuums to fill. Christian areas were one such target; the remote Sinjar stronghold of the Yazidis is another. With a merciless appetite for territory, IS hunts down any patches of Iraq or Syria it believes can be conquered easily.

In Syria, the degradation of the state has been the consequence of a civil war in which the government of Bashar al-Assad has turned its fire on its own people. In Iraq, the explanation comes in two parts. First, the US-led invasion of 2003 smashed the Saddam state. Second, the current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has hollowed out what was left, eviscerating national institutions lest they pose a challenge to him and his narrowly Shia ruling circle. Most important, he gutted the Iraqi army, seeing a body of one million men under arms as a personal threat rather than a national asset. Little wonder that Mosul, defended by al-Maliki cronies rather than able commanders, fell at the first sight of Isis. Despite its expensive US training, the Iraqi army simply melted away.

The void in Iraq can, then, be doubly blamed on the US. The 2003 invasion is, of course, the original sin. But the manner of the withdrawal in 2011 – gifting state-of-the-art US military hardware worth billions to an army headed by al-Maliki, only for that hardware to fall into the hands of Isis – was clearly a catastrophic error too. The result is that Barack Obama, whose presidency was predicated on a promise to end the war in Iraq, has been drawn into combat once more. His air strikes on IS forces in northern Iraq on Friday make him the fourth US president in succession to order military action in that country. Ronald Reagan was the last one not to drop bombs on Iraq.

Which brings us to the new aspect of the geopolitical landscape. It relates again to the absence of power, this time at the global level. The analyst Ian Bremmer says we live in a G-Zero world, one in which we don’t have one true superpower, let alone two. The US is weaker than at any time since 1945, unable to force a breakthrough in Ukraine or Syria or, most recently, Gaza.

Islamic State may wrap itself in the flag of jihad, but its success owes more to medieval lawlessness than medieval religious enmity – helped by the very 21st-century decline of the global behemoth. Our world is being shaken, but the persistence of religion is more a symptom than a cause. The larger problem, as old as mankind, is power and the lack of it. For sometimes weakness can be just as dangerous as strength.

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David Miliband: the Iraq war and its aftermath contributed to current crisis

Former foreign secretary accepts responsibility for leaving many people in the UK unwilling to support other military interventions

Jon Swaine in New York
theguardian.com, Saturday 9 August 2014 21.30 BST   
   
The 2003 invasion of Iraq contributed to the country's current disintegration and mounting crisis at the hands of Islamist militants, David Miliband has conceded, as he expressed fresh regret over Britain's involvement in the war.

As US president Barack Obama authorised potential US air strikes against Islamic State jihadists, who have seized control of swaths of the country, the former foreign secretary said that the outcome of the war in Iraq "induces a high degree of humility".

"It's clearly the case that the invasion of Iraq, or more importantly what happened afterwards, is a significant factor in understanding the current situation in the country," said Miliband, during a wide-ranging interview with the Observer in New York.

The remarks on the crisis by Miliband, now the president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a humanitarian charity, contrast with those offered by Tony Blair, his political mentor, who has strongly rejected claims that the 2003 US-UK invasion is to blame for the terrorism gripping Iraq.

Asked whether the chaos that it had unleashed made him regret supporting the war as a minister in Blair's government, Miliband said: "I regret it because I made a decision on the basis of upholding the norms of respect to weapons of mass destruction, and there were none."

Miliband said that he accepted personal responsibility for the Iraq war leaving a majority of the public in Britain and the US unwilling to support military intervention to halt urgent humanitarian crises such as in Syria.

"You have to, you have to take responsibility," said Miliband. He added: "You can't press the rewind button."

Asked whether Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator who was deposed by the 2003 invasion, might have held the country together, Miliband said: "Perhaps."

In an essay published on his website in June, Blair dismissed as "bizarre" the notion that the war had led to the development of groups such as Islamic State, the Sunni militants previously known as Isis. "We have to liberate ourselves from the notion that 'we' have caused this," Blair said. "We haven't."

Miliband went on to say that the full extent of the CIA's use of British territory for the rendition of terrorism suspects should be made public, as he acknowledged for the first time the possibility that the US had misled ministers about the programme.

Amid concerns that the government has lobbied the US to censor references to Diego Garcia, a British-owned island in the Indian Ocean, from an impending Senate report detailing America's torture of detainees after September 11, Miliband said that any new information should be released.

"We were told absolutely there had only been two flights that went through Diego Garcia," he said, insisting that he had no grounds to suspect otherwise. However he added: "You know, if that's not the case, it should certainly come out."

As foreign secretary, Miliband told Parliament in 2008 that only two planes carrying the subjects of American "extraordinary renditions" had stopped during 2002 to refuel at Diego Garcia, which is leased to Washington and hosts a US military base.

But it has repeatedly been claimed that other detainees were held on the island. Last month al-Jazeera reported that two sources who had read parts of the Senate intelligence committee's 6,600-page study said it confirmed that a so-called "black site" was indeed operated there by US authorities.

Last month a Foreign Office official was photographed carrying documents, marked "sensitive", which suggested British authorities now hold more information about flights into and out of Diego Garcia at the time than was previously acknowledged, and that these logs had been given to police.

William Hague, the foreign secretary until last month, has also confirmed that the government had "made representations to seek assurance" about the handling of "UK material" in the Senate report, which is being heavily redacted. A 480-page summary is expected to be published in the coming weeks.

"In plain English, it is a request to the US to keep Britain's role in rendition out of the public domain," said Cori Crider, the strategic director of Reprieve, the legal charity.

Asked whether potential disclosures about further US activity on Diego Garcia would mean that he had been duped by his American counterparts, Miliband said: "That would be very serious indeed. But let's wait and see what happens".


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« Reply #14912 on: Aug 10, 2014, 06:36 AM »

Afghanistan: Still On a Long Road to Unity

by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 August 2014, 07:17

Afghanistan's feuding presidential rivals may have struck a breakthrough deal to try and solve their fraud-tainted elections, but analysts warn the war-weary nation still has a long way to go to avoid political chaos.

Both Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah signed an agreement Friday to form a national unity government in a deal overseen by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, opening an apparent way forward after weeks of dispute.

The feud had threatened to derail the country's first peaceful democratic transfer of power and revive ethnic conflict as U.S.-led NATO troops withdraw after more than a decade.

Under the terms of the newly signed agreement -- which Kerry brokered in July -- Abdullah and Ghani reaffirmed their earlier commitment to an audit of all 8.1 million votes cast during the second round of voting.

A national unity government will undertake a comprehensive political reform programme, while a new "chief executive" position will be created by presidential decree and held by a member of whoever's camp is declared the runner up.

- 'A long way to go' -

The deal caused sighs of relief among those negotiators charged with trying to find a way through the current political impasse, but many analysts remain sceptical.

"We have a long way to go to come up with a package on national unity. We took just one step yesterday," Abdul Waheed Wafa, director of Afghanistan Center at Kabul University, told AFP.

Wafa said it is the details that have yet to be hammered out, rather than those that have been agreed upon, which could cause future headaches.

"For instance, the authority of chief executive position is unclear," he said.

Ali Mohammad Ali, deputy director of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies, is even less sanguine.

"The problem with both candidates is that they have agreed on general basis of a framework on the principles, but not on the details," he said.

"I don't see the future of this unity government. It would be a weak government. I don't think it's going to work."

Both analysts cited concerns that having the runner-up working within the government could lead to blockages, with the eventual winner reluctant to share power.

But Ghani and Abdullah have struck optimistic notes since the deal was announced.

"We are positive and optimistic," said Ashraf Ghani's spokesman Faizullah Zaki.

"The declaration signed by both sides yesterday has paved the ground for a more positive future, a future in which both election teams will work together to form a strong national unity government."

However, Afghanistan's political system meant that the new chief executive's powers will be determined by the president, said Zaki.

- Afghanistan entering 'a new phase' -

In a interview with Agence France Presse Saturday, Abdullah said his country was entering "a new phase", stressing that the vote audit must be completed in time to have a new president before a NATO summit in Britain on September 4-5 -- a key demand of the U.S..

"The success of the political framework will depend on the sincerity of both sides," he said.

The summit is scheduled to endorse a U.S.-led NATO "training and advisory" mission in Afghanistan next year after all foreign combat troops withdraw by December.

But Abdullah cautioned that his supporters would only accept the result if the audit was "legitimate", raising concerns of future disagreements between the two camps.

"If our people, our supporters are convinced about the legitimacy of the process they will accept it the same that I will accept it," he said.

Without an end to the political impasse, Afghanistan faces an uncertain future.

NATO members have expressed reluctance to make costly commitments if Afghanistan fails to complete its first democratic transfer of power -- a key goal of the massive international military and aid effort since 2001.

Taliban insurgents have launched new operations in the south and east in recent months, and violence is increasing across the country, according to several independent reports.

U.S.-led foreign troop numbers have declined from a peak of 150,000 in 2012 to just 44,300 now, and NATO combat operations are winding down fast after 13 years of fighting that have failed to defeat the Taliban.


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« Reply #14913 on: Aug 10, 2014, 06:40 AM »

Deadly Clashes With Police Erupt at Pakistan Protests

By SALMAN MASOOD and WAQAR GILLANI
AUG. 9, 2014
IHT

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Violent clashes between the police and opponents of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif swept across Pakistan’s Punjab Province on Saturday, leaving at least two people dead and more than 100 injured as Mr. Sharif’s 14-month-old government sought to forestall a series of planned street protests aimed at ousting it.

For the second consecutive day, the Pakistani police confronted supporters of Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri, a firebrand preacher who has vowed to topple Mr. Sharif through a “peaceful revolution.” The cleric’s supporters — some of them armed with staves, others wearing gas masks — overturned police barricades and engaged in street battles in towns across Punjab, Mr. Sharif’s political power base.

One of Mr. Qadri’s supporters died during clashes in Bhakkar and one officer died in Sargodha, while 130 people were injured and 22 officers were taken hostage, the police said in a statement.

The escalating violence caused Mr. Qadri to cancel a protest against Mr. Sharif that had been scheduled for Lahore on Sunday. During a press conference outside his home in Lahore on Saturday, Mr. Qadri instructed supporters to mount smaller demonstrations in their home cities across the province.

The clashes deepened the sense of crisis surrounding Mr. Sharif’s government, whose power has already been undermined by a troubled relationship with the country’s military leadership. The prime minister now faces the prospect of a series of major streets protests led by Mr. Qadri and, more substantively, his rival in the opposition, Imran Khan.

Mr. Khan, a former cricket star and leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, has said he will hold a “million man march” in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, on the country’s Independence Day, Aug. 14. The point of the demonstration, Mr. Khan said, is to protest what he has alleged was vote-rigging during the general election in May 2013. Mr. Khan has said he will lead a sit-in outside Parliament until Mr. Sharif accedes to his demand for a new election.

Mr. Khan has staked much on the protest. While his party rules the northwestern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, his goal is to replace Mr. Sharif as the major force in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and influential province. Mr. Khan has built pressure on Mr. Sharif this year with a series of rallies. In speeches, he has portrayed the Aug. 14 protest as a decisive moment in his career.

Mr. Sharif has responded robustly, using the law and security forces to outmaneuver his opponents. He has attempted to stymie Mr. Khan’s plans by invoking a colonial-era public order law that temporarily bans political protests in Islamabad.

Analysts have said that Mr. Sharif’s reaction to the challenges has been heavy-handed and disproportionate, and that it has frequently fanned the protests that he has sought to quell. Perhaps in response to those critics, Mr. Sharif on Saturday publicly urged Mr. Khan to call off his protest and to resolve the crisis through political talks.

The picture has been further complicated by the return of Mr. Qadri. Normally a resident of Canada, he organized protests against the previous government, which was led by President Asif Ali Zardari, in January 2013. Mr. Qadri returned to Pakistan in June, promising to peacefully overthrow Mr. Sharif, whom he called corrupt and autocratic.

But the movement quickly became mired in bloodshed when the police killed nine of Mr. Qadri’s supporters outside his Lahore home in June. Those deaths became a rallying point for Mr. Qadri’s supporters, who have since taken to the streets.

“We are here at the call of the leader, and we want a revolution,” said Gulham Datagir, 18, as he held a baton outside Mr. Qadri’s house on Friday.

Reports of close ties between Mr. Qadri and the country’s army have caused some Pakistanis to fear that his protests could lead to a military coup. At a news conference outside his Islamabad home on Friday, Mr. Khan suggested that the military could intervene if his Islamabad sit-in was thwarted. “The responsibility will lie squarely on Nawaz Sharif if the army steps in,” he said.

Mr. Khan and Mr. Qadri have denied any links to the military, and there is little evidence to support the fears of a military takeover. Still, it is an open secret that the army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, is unhappy with Mr. Sharif for his refusal to allow Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the former military leader currently facing trial for treason, to leave Pakistan.

The prime minister has the support of several opposition parties, including the Pakistan Peoples Party and the religious Jamaat-e-Islami, whose leaders have tried to mediate between Mr. Sharif and Mr. Khan in recent weeks. But if that fails, Mr. Sharif has said he would physically prevent any protest on Aug. 14.

The government has announced plans to seal roads leading to Islamabad and to curtail fuel supplies to vehicles carrying opposition supporters. Paramilitary soldiers have been deployed in Islamabad and Lahore, and army troops are in the capital to deter attacks in retaliation to the military operation in the North Waziristan tribal district, along the border with the Afghanistan, which started in June.


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« Reply #14914 on: Aug 10, 2014, 06:44 AM »

A View From the Sea, as China Flexes Muscle

By AUSTIN RAMZY
AUG. 9, 2014
IHT

ABOARD CSB-8003, in the South China Sea — As the large white Chinese ship closed in, the smaller Vietnamese Coast Guard vessel could only veer off, black exhaust billowing from its stack. The Vietnamese vessel had advanced to within 13 miles of the Chinese offshore oil rig, and the Chinese decided it could come no closer.

With the rig barely visible on the horizon but the Chinese ship looming close behind, the Vietnamese patrol boat, CSB-8003, blasted a two-minute recorded message in Chinese, from loudspeakers on the back of the boat. These waters belong to Vietnam, the message said, and China’s placement of the rig had “hurt the feelings of the Vietnamese people.”

About six hours after the encounter on July 15, one of the last in a two-and-a-half-month standoff over the rig known as HD 981, China began moving the rig north toward the Chinese island of Hainan and out of waters Vietnam considers its exclusive economic zone. Three weeks later, analysts are still debating whether China, facing international pressure, blinked in its standoff with Vietnam — or whether this was just a tactical retreat before a more aggressive campaign.

While Vietnam claimed success in forcing the departure of HD 981, China National Petroleum Corporation, which managed the project, said the rig had completed its exploration work and was moving as planned.

The relocation of the rig just ahead of the approach of a typhoon in the area also prompted speculation that the storm may have forced its early departure. But the $1 billion rig, which is owned by the state-run China National Offshore Oil Corporation, was moved to a spot about 60 miles southeast of Hainan Island that is also exposed to typhoons.

While the Vietnamese Coast Guard celebrated the departure of the Chinese rig, some officers said they were worried that the episode represented a more aggressive attitude by China.

“From the moment that they installed the rig near the islands, the Chinese began more and more and more attacks, in words and in actions,” said Lt. Col. Tran Van Tho of the Vietnam Coast Guard as he stood smoking a cigarette on the deck of CSB-8003. “Why? It is a part of a Chinese strategy to control the sea. This is a first step to try to make a new base to expand farther south. This not only threatens Vietnam, but the Philippines and other countries. This has been organized systematically, as part of a strategy. It is not random.”

Lyle J. Goldstein, an associate professor at the United States Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute, said that China has long taken an assertive stance toward its claims in the South China Sea, but was now much more able to uphold them.

“If anything is changing it is that China has capabilities to enforce and explore more carefully and it has money to field the cutters — that to me is what is driving the situation,” he said.

Vietnam invited groups of foreign reporters to embed with its Coast Guard vessels in an effort to focus international attention on the standoff over the rig. On the water with CSB-8003, the superior numbers of the Chinese vessels were clear.

On its two-day trip from Da Nang in central Vietnam, CSB-8003 encountered some 70 Chinese vessels, including fishing boats, Coast Guard cutters, patrol ships from other Chinese maritime organizations and two vessels that the Vietnamese Coast Guard identified as Chinese Navy missile corvettes.

Vietnam says there were about four to six Chinese military vessels among the more than 100 Chinese ships that patrolled around the rig, along with the Chinese Coast Guard, other maritime agencies and dozens of fishing boats.

As recently as two years ago, many observers said China’s policy in the South China Sea was dominated by an array of poorly coordinated agencies.

Some encounters showed organizational ability, as when Chinese ships harassed the Impeccable, a United States Navy surveillance ship, in the South China Sea in 2009. But many analysts argued that the Chinese Navy, China Marine Surveillance, the Bureau of Fisheries Administration, local governments and state-owned energy companies operated with high levels of autonomy and fueled regional tensions as they sought to increase their own influence and opportunities.

The standoff over the rig shows how things have changed. “The idea that China lacks a coherent policy, that’s clearly not the case with this oil rig,” said Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. “It shows a high degree of interagency coordination involving civilian maritime agencies, the People’s Liberation Army and the oil companies.”

Efforts to streamline China’s maritime law enforcement agencies saw significant advancement last year when four of them were joined under the State Oceanic Administration to form a unified Coast Guard.

The placement of the rig indicates the will of China’s leadership to push maritime claims, Mr. Storey said. “Clearly this was sanctioned at the highest level of the Chinese government,” he said. “This is another indication of how Xi Jinping has very quickly consolidated his power in China and is calling the shots.”

Chinese energy companies backed away from plans to explore for oil and gas in the South China Sea after Vietnamese protests in 1994 and 2009. Now it is not so hesitant. HD 981 should be seen as a starting point for future exploration, said Su Xiaohui, a researcher at the China Institute of International Studies, a research institute run by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “China is sending out a signal to the related countries that it is legal and natural for China to conduct energy exploration and development in the South China Sea,” said Ms. Su.

The Chinese placement of the rig caught Vietnam off guard, and set off protests and riots targeting Chinese-owned factories in Vietnam. Factories owned by Taiwanese, Japanese, South Korean and Singaporean firms were also hit. Four Chinese workers at the Taiwanese-owned Formosa Plastics steel plant were killed by rioters in May.

The rig was first parked about 120 miles off the coast of Vietnam and 17 miles from the farthest southwest islet of the Paracels, islands held by China but claimed by Vietnam.

Both sides have exchanged accusations over who had been the aggressor in the standoff over the rig. In June, China said that over the first month of operations, Vietnamese ships had rammed Chinese ships 1,400 times. But Vietnam appears to have suffered the worst of the skirmishes at sea, with more than 30 of its vessels damaged in collisions during that same period.

The most severe clash was on May 26, when a Vietnamese fishing boat sank after a collision with a Chinese fishing boat. Video later released by Vietnam showed the much larger Chinese boat ramming the wooden-hulled Vietnamese vessel.

The movement of the rig to waters farther north will help defuse the conflict between Vietnam and China. But the broader issues over sovereignty in the South China Sea, and who has the rights to extract oil and gas in the region, remain far from resolved.

At talks among senior diplomats from the Asia-Pacific region on Saturday in Myanmar, Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated a suggestion by the United States that countries in the region refrain from taking steps that would further heighten tensions in the South China Sea. “We need to work together to manage tensions in the South China Sea, and to manage them peacefully, and also to manage them on a basis of international law,” Mr. Kerry said at the regional forum of Asean, the Association of Southeast Asian nations.

China said it would consider proposals to resolve disputes, but said that China and Asean “had the ability and wisdom to jointly protect peace and stability in the South China Sea,” China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said, according to a statement posted on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. The statement did not mention the United States, but in the past China has criticized Washington for getting involved in its maritime disputes with other countries. In addition to China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines also claim parts of the South China Sea.

China announced last month that it would place four more rigs in the South China Sea, and Vietnam’s inability to block HD 981 will likely give China confidence about its ability to drill in contested locations. “I think China feels it got its point across,” said Bernard D. Cole, a retired United States Navy officer and a professor at the National War College. “I would not at all be surprised to see them do it again.”

**************

Film-maker defies China's censors to reveal horrors of the Great Famine

Hu Jie's documentaries tells story of students whose criticisms of Maoist excesses cost them their lives

Tania Branigan in Beijing
The Observer, Sunday 10 August 2014   
 
For modern Chinese students it is not the Great Famine but the Three Years of Difficulties. The catastrophe remains so sensitive that their history books do not document how many starved to death, or why. Yet more than 50 years ago, at the height of the disaster, a handful of their predecessors published an underground magazine bluntly accusing Communist leaders of causing the devastation. "The dead couldn't tell," said one of the authors, Xiang Chengjian. "I decided to sacrifice myself … I was ready to die."

The story of Spark, and the boldness of the students, is the latest piece of China's past unearthed by film-maker Hu Jie. His documentaries have traced the Maoist excesses of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and the extraordinary individuals who swam against the tide.

"I want people to have a chance to get to know real history," he said. The bearded former soldier, still muscled in his mid-50s, was fired from the state news agency Xinhua after he began working privately on his first film,entitled Searching for Lin Zhao's Soul. Lin was a youthful, gifted dissident executed as a counter-revolutionary, who had written defiant letters in her own blood while in jail.

Soon after came two startling documentaries about the cultural revolution. Though I Am Gone records the brutal death of teacher Bian Zhongyun at her pupils' hands; My Mother Wang Peiying is about the execution of a woman who called on Mao Zedong to resign.

The subjects Hu tackles are so sensitive that some of those involved have not discussed them even with their families. He has persuaded a remarkable range of witnesses to go on camera; some are grateful for the chance to talk after years of suppressing the truth.

"I'm trying to save all of this material. If these people die, the memories are gone," Hu said.

But some simply refuse to talk, and one of the interviews in Spark stops abruptly when the interviewee receives a phone call warning him not to speak. Such challenges help to explain why the film was five years in the making.

"I don't start with a preconception of these films," Hu said. "It's a discovery process for me. I've always known there's something there, but not quite what it was. In the process of making these films I find out.

"I knew there was a publication, but didn't know what it was about; I just knew people died for it."

The Great Famine was caused by Mao's adoption in 1958 of the Great Leap Forward – an attempt to send industrial and agricultural production soaring by means of collectivisation and revolutionary zeal.

Local officials, through ambition and fear, grossly overstated their harvests; food desperately needed in the countryside was shipped to the cities and even overseas. Cadres harassed, beat, detained and killed those who tried to alert higher authorities, stole food to survive or sought to flee the famine.

As they watched the corpses pile up, a small group of students decided to act. The two issues of Spark – all they produced before they were caught – said that communes had turned farmers into slaves, and railed against the cadres who feasted while the people starved.

"Chinese intellectuals remained silent. No one dared to criticise the government," said Hu. "Only the students dared to speak out, at the cost of their lives."

Hu is not alone in his work; others in China have sought to document the catastrophe. Yang Jisheng, a former Xinhua reporter, spent 15 years working through official archives to produce his account, Tombstone. Another film-maker, Wu Wenguang, enlisted young people to gather oral histories. But none of this work can be released in China, and Yang has come under fire recently from deniers who refuse to accept that tens of millions died or that the Great Leap Forward was responsible.

"These people in the documentaries were dying for us – they sacrificed themselves to save us. We are indebted morally to tell their stories," said Hu.

At one stage, he shot wedding videos to fund his documentaries; now he and his wife, Jiang Fenfen, rely on their pensions. They work on a shoestring budget, buying standing tickets for trains and bedding down in the cheapest hotels. "My sacrifice personally is not worth mentioning, but I admire my wife's contribution," he said.

He is slowing down as he ages, and spending more time on his earlier love, painting – though his works are often inspired by themes related to his films. But he hopes a new generation of documentary makers will realise the importance of the era and take on the task he has shouldered.

"If you don't go to record it, maybe nobody will," he warned.


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« Reply #14915 on: Aug 10, 2014, 06:49 AM »


Hamas threatens major escalation in rocket strikes on Israel

Officials in Gaza say fighting will continue unless demands for lifting of blockade and prisoner release are met

Jason Burke in Gaza City
The Observer, Saturday 9 August 2014 15.54 BST   

Hamas officials in Gaza have threatened a "major escalation" of rocket strikes against Israel, raising fears of a return to the intense violence of recent weeks.

Ihab al-Ghussein, the Islamist organisation's deputy information minister, said that "if on [Sunday] we have no response to our demands, our defensive measures will be intensified".

Sporadic rocket fire from Gaza into Israel continued on Saturday, along with air strikes by the Israeli military. Nine people were reported to have been killed in Gaza, including three when a mosque in the town of Nuseirat was destroyed at 3am. Twenty more have been injured, health workers in Gaza said. Israeli officials had telephoned inhabitants of homes around the mosque to tell them to evacuate, but men were thought to have been preparing for dawn prayers in its basement when the strike occurred, witnesses said.

No Israeli casualties were reported on Saturday. Two Israelis had been hurt by a mortar attack the day before.

Hamas refused to extend a three-day ceasefire that ended on Friday, saying a Palestinian negotiating team in Cairo had been offered nothing in return for peace. "These are negotiations under pressure. The Egyptians are not impartial mediators. We are in pain, but we have patience to suffer," Ghussein said.

Israel withdrew its negotiators from the indirect talks, saying that it would not negotiate while under fire.

Azzam Ahmed, head of the Palestinian delegation, said negotiators would leave Cairo unless Israel agreed to return to talks without setting conditions.

An estimated 1,900 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died in the most deadly round of fighting between Israel and Hamas since the group seized control of Gaza in 2007, a year after winning a surprise victory in Palestinian elections. Three civilians in Israel have been killed and 64 soldiers.

The rockets being fired from Gaza have all been short-range. However, Hamas and other factions in Gaza have weapons that can reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, although most are intercepted by Israeli defence systems.

Israeli air strikes killed five Palestinians on Friday, among them a 10-year-old boy near a mosque in Gaza City.

The Palestinian negotiating team in Cairo, which includes members of all the main factions, has demanded the lifting of an eight-year-old Israeli-Egyptian blockade and the release of about 100 prisoners held by Israel. Israel insists that Hamas disarm; officials from the Palestinian group say this is "inconceivable".

Support for Hamas in Gaza still appeared to be strong. "Of course, people are supporting the resistance," said Marwan Saifan, 37, as he watched the rubble of the destroyed mosque in Nuseirat being cleared. "They are defending the people. They are fighting for our rights. Every house has lost a son, or a cousin, and that means more support for the resistance."

Most people in Gaza blamed Israel for the renewal of hostilities, and said they supported the demands made by the delegation in Cairo. The blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt has sent unemployment soaring and standards of living plunging in the overcrowded enclave. Almost a third of Gaza's 1.8 million residents have been displaced by the recent violence, and an estimated 65,000 people are now homeless. Gaza's infrastructure has been badly damaged.

Chris Gunness, spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, said: "Huge swaths of Gaza have been levelled. We cannot rebuild it with our hands tied. The blockade must end."

More than 220,000 people are now staying in UN shelters. In one, a school in Beit Lahiya, about 1,000 people had to sleep outside because the 40 classrooms were full.

About 3,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel in recent weeks. An increase in the number of such attacks prompted Israel to launch air strikes almost a month ago. Last Friday 13 of 61 rockets fired at Israel fell within Gaza, the Israeli foreign ministry said.

Citing security concerns over continued rocket fire, Israeli police banned an antiwar protest in Tel Aviv, saying regulations prohibited large gatherings in areas at risk of attack.

***************

Israel and Hamas resume attacks as ceasefire talks remain deadlocked

Rockets from Gaza answered with air strikes as both sides remain dug in over conditions for a lasting truce

Jason Burke in Gaza City, Patrick Kingsley in Cairo and agencies
The Guardian, Saturday 9 August 2014   

The Israeli military has said it struck more than 30 targets through Friday night and into Saturday morning in the Gaza Strip as militant rocket fire continued towards Israel.

The renewed violence followed the collapse of a three-day truce aimed at bringing an end to the deadliest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas since the group seized control of Gaza in 2007.

Gaza militants resumed their rocket attacks on Friday against Israel, drawing a wave of retaliatory air strikes that killed at least five Palestinians. The fighting shattered a brief calm in the month-long war and dealt a blow to Egyptian-led efforts to secure a long-term ceasefire.

Both the rocket fire from Gaza and the Israel air strikes on Gaza have been of significantly lower intensity than at the height of the conflict, suggesting a mutual desire to avoid immediate escalation. The rockets being fired from Gaza were all short range, targeting towns close to Gaza.

Israel's military said it had hit 33 "terrorist targets" since midnight. These included several mosques and houses across the length of Gaza.

In four weeks of violence more than 1,900 Gazans have been killed. Sixty-seven people have been killed on the Israeli side, including three civilians.

Talks in Cairo on Friday failed to cut the renewed hostilities short. Israel resumed its air strikes after Islamist groups refused to extend a ceasefire that lapsed on Friday morning and fired dozens of rockets into Israel.

Later, Israel said it was withdrawing its representatives from the talks, declaring it would not negotiate "under fire".

Throughout Friday there were reports of Israeli air strikes in the north and east of Gaza and several explosions in Gaza City.

Five Palestinians were killed and at least 31 others wounded in Israeli air strikes on Friday, said Gaza health officials. Among the dead was a 10-year-old boy.

Sami al-Zohri, the Hamas spokesman in Gaza, told the Guardian that Hamas was "open to all options".

"We want a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The problems are on the Israeli side. They have rejected all our demands," al-Zohri said.

He added that there had been no discussions with the Egyptians over opening the Rafah border between Gaza and Egypt, where movement has been tightly restricted in recent years.

In Israel, a soldier and a civilian were injured. At least one rocket appeared to have fallen short, landing in Gaza itself.

Azzam al-Ahmed, the head of the Palestinian negotiating team in Cairo, which contains members of all the major Palestinian factions, said the team wanted to continue the talks. "We will continue through our Egyptian brothers to negotiate, to reach a final agreement that would return the rights [of the Palestinians]," al-Ahmed said.

"We've notified the Egyptians that we're here, whether it's a religious holiday for us or not [Friday is a day of prayer in the Muslim world] because our religion does not prevent us from working to stop the bloodshed. This is our priority," he told the Guardian, speaking at a hotel on the edge of Cairo where the delegation has stayed for the past week.

Al-Ahmed, a member of Fatah, Hamas's long-term rival, blamed the breakdown of negotiations on Israel, whose delegation he said had never given "specific and clear answers" to their demands, and who only communicated with the Palestinians through mediators in Egyptian intelligence.

However the Egyptian foreign ministry later released a statement saying that "there was agreement on the majority of points but there remain a few very limited issues without a final decision".

The Palestinian delegation in Cairo have demanded an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza must be lifted and about 100 prisoners held by Israel freed to secure a further truce. Israel insists that Hamas must disarm, which officials from the Palestinian group said was "inconceivable".

On Friday morning Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, ordered Israel's military "to retaliate forcefully to the Hamas breach of the ceasefire", an official said in a statement. However the Israeli strikes were significantly less intense than in the days before the ceasefire.

The army confirmed it had "targeted terror sites across the Gaza Strip," but that no Israeli soldiers had entered the Palestinian territory.

In the occupied West Bank 12 protesters were reported to have been injured in demonstrations.

It is unclear whether it was Hamas or other smaller factions in Gaza, such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad, that fired the rockets at Israel during Friday.

In Gaza tens of thousands of people who had returned to their homes during the 72-hour ceasefire rushed back to the United Nations-run shelters where many have been staying since the war began more than four weeks ago.

Up to 30% of Gaza's 1.8 million people have been displaced by the recent fighting and an estimated 65,000 people are now homeless.

At one school in Gaza City, one of 90 which have been designated shelters during the conflict, 800 people who had left in recent days returned this morning as news of the renewed fighting broke.

One was Nidal Sultan, 21, who had driven with six members of his family from the northern town of Beit Lahiya.

"We were in the school on the first day of the ceasefire and came back this morning. There were strikes and shelling in the last hour or so. It's not safe, so we have to come to the school however bad it is. We will stay now until the war stops," Sultan said, as he unpacked blankets, a stove and clothes from a car.

The school is now holding more displaced people than before the ceasefire and was turning families away, United Nations worker Amal Zaqqout said.

"We are very, very crowded. We have people living in corridors. Thank God we have not had any transmissable diseases but that is definitely a concern now," Zaqqout said.

On Friday night the UN said more than 220,000 people were staying in its shelters. In one, a school in Beit Lahiya, around a thousand people were sleeping outside as the 40 classrooms were already full.

In Israel the army banned all gatherings larger than 500 people within 25 miles (40km) of Gaza and said kindergarten and summer camps could only operate if there was a bomb shelter in the immediate vicinity.

"This is very frustrating, we thought it would be over," said Dov Hartuv, who has lived for decades in Nahal Oz kibbutz just east of the border with Gaza.

"This might just be for 12 or 24 hours before they return to the negotiating table. Meanwhile it ruined all our plans and frustrated all of us, especially the families with young children," he told AFP.

Most people in Gaza blamed Israel for the renewal of hostilities and said they supported the demands made by the Palestinian delegation in Cairo during difficult indirect negotiations brokered by the Egyptians in recent days. Chief among those has been the lifting of the eight-year blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt.

"The people's demands are humanitarian. Even if the resistance agreed to drop the demands, the people would not agree. We are at the point where life or death is the same thing for us," said Mohamed Eid, 40, who has been living in the grounds of the main hospital in Gaza since his house was destroyed in fierce fighting in the east of the city 15 days ago.

However Faiza Abu Khalil, 37, said she was "very worried and very scared" and still hoped for peace.

Abu Khalil had returned to Gaza from her home near Beit Lahiya when it appeared the ceasefire would not hold.

At the al'Huda mosque on al'Rasheed Street in Gaza City, the congregation gathered for Friday prayers were told by a cleric that "Gaza is a blessed place. Our martyrs have been chosen by God because they are the closest to him. Their blood will not be wasted. The people of Gaza are steadfast in their support of the resistance,."

A 38-year-old teacher, who gave his name as Abu Abdullah, said that he supported the decision of Palestinian leaders to resume hostilities.

"We are suffering but we have made up our minds. Without satisfying our demands, there can be no peace," he said.

"Ceasefire, ceasefire, it doesn't make any difference. You cannot trust Israel. We are waiting for our team in Cairo to get us some positive improvement but if there is nothing we can continue the fight," said Nihad Khamis, a 40-year-old businessman.

An official from one minor group in Gaza, the Mujahideen Faction, told the Guardian that further "sacrifices" from the Palestinian people would lead to the end of the blockade.

"The people of Gaza are not willing to live under siege," Ziad Abu Oda said.

More than 1,800 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 10,000 injured, the majority civilians, in the latest of three wars fought between Hamas and Israel since 2008.

Three civilians have been killed by rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and 64 soldiers during the phase of the ongoing Operation Protective Edge which saw Israeli troops push up to two miles into Gaza. All troops have now withdrawn, Israeli officials said.

"We will continue to strike Hamas, its infrastructure, its operatives and restore security for the State of Israel," said Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner.

More than 3,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel in recent weeks. Most of those headed for inhabited areas were shot down. A surge in rockets fired from Gaza prompted Israel to launch air strikes almost a month ago.

The Associated Press contributed to this report


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« Reply #14916 on: Aug 10, 2014, 06:55 AM »


Ebola crisis: Guinea closes borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia

Authorities said the decision was taken primarily to prevent infected people crossing into Guinea, where hundreds have died of Ebola virus disease

Agencies
theguardian.com, Saturday 9 August 2014 18.35 BST   

Link to video: Ebola crisis: Liberia's President apologises to health workers

http://www.theguardian.com/society/video/2014/aug/10/ebola-liberias-president-apologises-deathtoll-video

Guinea closed its borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia on Saturday in a bid to halt the spread of an Ebola epidemic that has killed nearly 1,000 people in the three countries this year.

Authorities said the decision was taken primarily to prevent infected people crossing into Guinea, a country where at least 367 people have died of Ebola since March and 18 others are being treated in isolation.

The west African outbreak of Ebola is the worst the world has faced and the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday it represents an international health emergency that will likely continue for months.

It has put a severe strain on the health systems of affected states and governments have responded with a range of measures including national emergencies declared in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, which confirmed seven cases of Ebola in Lagos.

"We have provisionally closed the frontier between Guinea and Sierra Leone because of all the news that we have received from there recently," health minister Rémy Lamah said, noting Guinea had also closed its border with Liberia.

The measures had been taken in consultation with the two neighbours, Guinea's minister for international co-operation, Moustapha Koutoub Sano, told a news conference. There was no immediate comment from Liberia and Sierra Leone.

While Guinea's official land border crossings with the countries will shut, it will be extremely difficult to prevent people in rural areas crossing its long and porous frontiers.

It was not immediately clear how the closure would impact air travel.

In central Liberia on Saturday, riot police raced to quell a demonstration by crowds who had blocked the country's busiest highway to protest the government's delay in collecting bodies of Ebola victims.

Several bodies had been lying by the roadside for two days in the town of Weala, about 50 miles (75 kilometers) from the capital, Monrovia, residents said.

The UN health agency said on Friday that 961 people have died during the outbreak and 1,779 people have been infected. Authorities in Ghana said on Saturday they were testing blood samples from a man from Burkina Faso who died while being transported to hospital in the Upper East region of the country near the Burkinabe border.

"He had fever and was bleeding from the nose so we are testing him for Ebola because we don't want to take chances," Yaw Manu, medical head at Bawku Presbyterian Hospital, said by telephone. Ghana has previously conducted around 20 Ebola tests, though none has proved positive.

Authorities in Benin also said on Saturday they were testing a patient for Ebola, the second suspected case in the country.

***********

Tracing Ebola’s Breakout to an African 2-Year-Old

By DENISE GRADY and SHERI FINK
AUG. 9, 2014
IHT

Patient Zero in the Ebola outbreak, researchers suspect, was a 2-year-old boy who died on Dec. 6, just a few days after falling ill in a village in Guéckédou, in southeastern Guinea. Bordering Sierra Leone and Liberia, Guéckédou is at the intersection of three nations, where the disease found an easy entry point to the region.

A week later, it killed the boy’s mother, then his 3-year-old sister, then his grandmother. All had fever, vomiting and diarrhea, but no one knew what had sickened them.   

Two mourners at the grandmother’s funeral took the virus home to their village. A health worker carried it to still another, where he died, as did his doctor. They both infected relatives from other towns. By the time Ebola was recognized, in March, dozens of people had died in eight Guinean communities, and suspected cases were popping up in Liberia and Sierra Leone — three of the world’s poorest countries, recovering from years of political dysfunction and civil war.

In Guéckédou, where it all began, “the feeling was fright,” said Dr. Kalissa N’fansoumane, the hospital director. He had to persuade his employees to come to work.

On March 31, Doctors Without Borders, which has intervened in many Ebola outbreaks, called this one “unprecedented,” and warned that the disease had erupted in so many locations that fighting it would be enormously difficult.

Now, with 1,779 cases, including 961 deaths and a small cluster in Nigeria, the outbreak is out of control and still getting worse. Not only is it the largest ever, but it also seems likely to surpass all two dozen previous known Ebola outbreaks combined. Epidemiologists predict it will take months to control, perhaps many months, and a spokesman for the World Health Organization said thousands more health workers were needed to fight it.

Some experts warn that the outbreak could destabilize governments in the region. It is already causing widespread panic and disruption. On Saturday, Guinea announced that it had closed its borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia in a bid to halt the virus’s spread. Doctors worry that deaths from malaria, dysentery and other diseases could shoot up as Ebola drains resources from weak health systems. Health care workers, already in short supply, have been hit hard by the outbreak: 145 have been infected, and 80 of them have died.

Past Ebola outbreaks have been snuffed out, often within a few months. How, then, did this one spin so far out of control? It is partly a consequence of modernization in Africa, and perhaps a warning that future outbreaks, which are inevitable, will pose tougher challenges. Unlike most previous outbreaks, which occurred in remote, localized spots, this one began in a border region where roads have been improved and people travel a lot. In this case, the disease was on the move before health officials even knew it had struck.

Also, this part of Africa had never seen Ebola before. Health workers did not recognize it and had neither the training nor the equipment to avoid infecting themselves or other patients. Hospitals in the region often lack running water and gloves, and can be fertile ground for epidemics.

Public health experts acknowledge that the initial response, both locally and internationally, was inadequate.

“That’s obviously the case,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Look at what’s happening now.”

He added, “A couple of months ago, there was a false sense of confidence that it was controlled, a stepping back, and then it flared up worse than before.”

Health experts have grown increasingly confident in recent years that they can control Ebola, Dr. Frieden said, based on success in places like Uganda.

But those successes hinged on huge education campaigns to teach people about the disease and persuade them to go to treatment centers. Much work also went into getting people to change funeral practices that involve touching corpses, which are highly infectious.

But in West Africa, Ebola was unknown.

In some areas, frightened and angry people have attacked health workers and even accused them of bringing in disease.

“Early on in the outbreak, we had at least 26 villages or little towns that would not cooperate with responders in terms of letting people into the village, even,” said Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the World Health Organization.

The outbreak has occurred in three waves: The first two were relatively small, and the third, starting about a month ago, was much larger, Mr. Hartl said. “That third wave was a clarion call,” he said.

At a House subcommittee hearing on Thursday, Ken Isaacs, a vice president of Samaritan’s Purse, said his aid group and Doctors Without Borders were doing much of the work on the outbreak.

“That the world would allow two relief agencies to shoulder this burden along with the overwhelmed Ministries of Health in these countries testifies to the lack of serious attention the epidemic was given,” he said.

Guinea’s Monumental Task

In mid-March, Guinea’s Ministry of Health asked Doctors Without Borders for help in Guéckédou.

At first, the group’s experts suspected Lassa fever, a viral disease endemic in West Africa. But this illness was worse. Isolation units were set up, and tests confirmed Ebola.

Like many African cities and towns, this region hums with motorcycle taxis and minivans crammed with passengers.

The mobility, and now the sheer numbers, make the basic work of containing the disease a monumental task. The only way to stop an outbreak is to isolate infected patients, trace all their contacts, isolate the ones who get sick and repeat the process until, finally, there are no more cases.

But how do you do that when there can easily be 500 names on the list of contacts who are supposed to be tracked down and checked for fever every day for 21 days?

“They go to the field to work their crops,” said Monia Sayah, a nurse sent in by Doctors Without Borders. “Some have phones, but the networks don’t always work. Some will say, ‘I’m fine; you don’t have to come,’ but we really have to see them and take their temperature. But if someone wants to lie and take Tylenol, they won’t have a temperature.”

At Donka Hospital in Guinea’s capital, Dr. Simon Mardel, a British emergency physician who has worked in seven previous hemorrhagic fever outbreaks and was sent to Guinea by the World Health Organization, realized this outbreak was the worst he had seen. A man had arrived late one night, panting and with abdominal pain. During the previous few days, he had been treated at two private clinics, given intravenous fluids and sent home. The staff did not suspect Ebola because he had no fever. But fever can diminish at the end stage of the disease.

The treatment room at Donka was poorly lit and had no sink. There were few buckets of chlorine solution, and the staff found it impossible to clean their hands between patients.

The man died two hours after arriving. Tests later showed he had been positive for Ebola. Untold numbers of health care workers and their subsequent patients had been exposed to the disease.

Gloves, in short supply at the hospitals, were selling for 50 cents a pair on the open market, a huge sum for people who often live on less than a dollar a day. At homes where families cared for patients, even plastic buckets to hold water and bleach for washing hands and disinfecting linens were lacking.

Workers were failing to trace all patients’ contacts. The resulting unsuspected cases, appearing at hospitals without standard infection control measures, worsened the spread in a “vicious circle,” Dr. Mardel said.

Tracing an Epidemic’s Origins

As is often the case in Ebola outbreaks, no one knows how the first person got the disease or how the virus found its way to the region. The virus infects monkeys and apes, and some previous epidemics are thought to have begun when someone was exposed to blood while killing or butchering an infected animal. Cooking will destroy the virus, so the risk is not in eating the meat, but in handling it raw. Ebola is also thought to infect fruit bats without harming them, so the same risks apply to butchering bats. Some researchers also think that people might become infected by eating fruit or other uncooked foods contaminated by droppings from infected bats.

Once people become ill, their bodily fluids can infect others, and they become more infectious as the illness progresses. The disease does not spread through the air like the flu; contact with fluids is necessary, usually through the eyes, nose, mouth or cuts in the skin. One drop of blood can harbor millions of viruses, and corpses become like virus bombs.

A research team that studied the Guinea outbreak traced the disease back to the 2-year-old who died in Guéckédou and published a report in The New England Journal of Medicine. He and his relatives were never tested to confirm Ebola, but their symptoms matched it and they fit into a pattern of transmission that included other cases confirmed by blood tests.

But no one can explain how such a small child could have become the first person infected. Contaminated fruit is one possibility. An injection with a contaminated needle is another.

Sylvain Baize, part of the team that studied the Guinea outbreak and head of the national reference center for viral hemorrhagic fevers at the Pasteur Institute in Lyon, France, said there might have been an earlier case that went undiscovered, before the 2-year-old.

“We suppose that the first case was infected following contact with bats,” he said. “Maybe, but we are not sure.”

Roaring Back in Liberia

Dr. Fazlul Haque, deputy representative of Unicef in Liberia, said that after a few cases there in March and April, health workers thought the disease had gone away. But it came roaring back about a month later.

“It reappeared, and this time, it came in a very big way,” he said. “The rate of increase is very high now.”

From July 30 to Aug. 6, Liberia’s government reported more than 170 new cases and over 90 deaths.

“Currently, our efforts are not enough to stop the virus,” Dr. Haque said.

He added that most health agencies believed the true case numbers to be far higher, in part because locals were not coming forward when relatives fell ill, and because detection by the health authorities has been weak. Rukshan Ratnam, a spokesman for Unicef in Liberia, said some families had hidden their sick to avoid sending them to isolation wards, or out of shame stemming from traditional beliefs that illness is a punishment for doing something wrong.

Dr. Haque said that the tracing of cases, crucial for the containment of the disease, was moving too slowly to keep up with new infections. Seven counties have confirmed cases, and the government has deployed security forces in Lofa County, where Liberia’s first case was detected, he said. But the government has given leave to nonessential employees in those areas, so it is not clear how they will have the staffing to isolate the sick. Some hospitals have closed because so many health workers have fallen ill.

Liberia has closed markets and many border crossings. It has said testing and screening will be done at immigration checkpoints.

But on Thursday, at a checkpoint staffed by at least 30 soldiers in Klay, Bomi County, there was no screening — just a blockade and a line of trucks loaded with bags of charcoal, plantains and potato greens.

Hilary Wesseh, a truck driver who was sucking the last drops of juice out of a small lime, said he had been stuck there for two days.

“They are holding us hostage,” he said.

A Desperate Call for Help

By June and July, Sierra Leone was becoming the center of the outbreak. At the government hospital in Kenema, Dr. Sheik Umar Khan was leading the efforts to treat patients and control the epidemic.

But he was desperate for supplies: chlorine for disinfection, gloves, goggles, protective suits, rudimentary sugar and salt solutions to fight dehydration and give patients a chance to survive. Early in July, he emailed friends and former medical school classmates in the United States, asking for their help and sending a spreadsheet listing what he needed, and what he had. Many of the lines in the “available” column were empty. One of his requests was for body bags: 3,000 adult, 2,000 child.

Before his friends could send the supplies, Dr. Khan contracted Ebola himself. He died on July 29.


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« Reply #14917 on: Aug 10, 2014, 06:56 AM »


Egypt: court dissolves Muslim Brotherhood's political wing

Ruling bans Freedom and Justice party from participation in electoral politics in wake of Sisi's crackdown on the movement

Staff and agencies
theguardian.com, Saturday 9 August 2014 12.56 BST      

An Egyptian court has dissolved the Freedom and Justice party, the political wing of the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

A court banned the Muslim Brotherhood itself in September, but that ruling did not cover its political wing, leaving open the possibility that it could be allowed to run in parliamentary elections. But the latest ruling, made on Saturday, effectively bans the Brotherhood from formal participation in electoral politics.

The government of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has cracked down on the Islamist movement and other political opponents in the past year.

The Brotherhood was declared a terrorist group in December. Last July, Sisi, who was then head of the military, ousted former FJP leader Mohammed Morsi, the first Egyptian president elected following the 2011 uprisings that ended Hosni Mubarak's 29-year regime.


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« Reply #14918 on: Aug 10, 2014, 06:58 AM »


Libya insecurity forces aid workers to leave

NGOs exit as violence intensifies, leaving Libya straining under weight of supporting migrants and internally displaced people

IRIN, part of the Guardian development network
theguardian.com, Sunday 10 August 2014 09.00 BST   

Libya’s deteriorating security situation has led to an exodus of aid workers and the suspension of development programmes, leaving tens of thousands of displaced and vulnerable people relying on skeleton networks run in part by volunteers.

In recent weeks, thousands of families have fled their homes in the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi, following clashes between rival militias, factions of whom seized control of the capital’s international airport and a military base in Benghazi, and set fire to a major fuel depot.

This latest surge in violence comes after a highly contested election in June and while some steps have been taken towards forming a new parliament, the authorities are still struggling to manage law and order, prompting claims the country is heading back towards civil war.

But as the needs grow, the capacity to respond is shrinking. The bulk of international organisations are now operating either remotely from neighbouring Tunisia via local partners, or in some cases not at all.

Existing caseloads

Before this latest unrest, Libya was already straining under the weight of a surging population of migrants using the north African country as an exit point to Europe, while supporting an existing caseload of more than 50,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), uprooted during the 2011 Nato-backed overthrow of former president Muammar Gaddafi. The latest violence has affected about 500,000 families, with at least 9,000 displaced, according to the International Medical Corps (IMC).

Most western embassies and international companies have pulled out nearly all of their staff, a number evacuated by boat due to the airport in Tripoli being inaccessible. Aid agencies and UN bodies have taken similar approaches. Among the major aid organisations that have suspended or cancelled work on the ground are the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) and the Danish Refugee Council (DRC).

“Most organisations have pulled out of Libya due to the security situation,” said Tunis-based Muftah Etwilb, north Africa representative for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “The Libyan Red Crescent (LRC) is really one of the few actors left on the ground, along with a handful of national NGOs.”

“The LRC volunteers are doing a fantastic job despite the difficult and challenging environment but at some point they will need support,” he said, adding that assessments were ongoing and a potential deployment by federation members from Tunisia was under consideration.

The ICRC’s withdrawal was prompted by the assassination of 42-year-old Swiss national Michael Greub, who was shot as he left a meeting in the eastern city of Sirte. The organisation’s offices in Misrata and Benghazi had previously been attacked.

Funding shortages

Other local bodies appear woefully unprepared. The Libyan Humanitarian Relief Agency (LibAid), which was established under the prime minister’s office following Gaddafi’s fall, was supposed to lead the humanitarian response, but staff say it has recently been able to do little due to funding shortages.

The agency’s secretary-general, Khaled Ben-Ali, told IRIN: “We have not received any budget [from the government] for a year and a half … It is critical now. The IDPs have not been getting any support from LibAid … no food rations or any help for the past six months or more.”

Describing LibAid’s capacity to respond to an increase in needs as “almost zero”, he said he had contacted the government “hundreds” of times for funding but feels there is little interest in supporting the IDPs. He and his board have tendered their resignation, he said.

Supplies running low

Speaking from Tunisia, the head of the ICRC’s Libya delegation, Antoine Grand, said: “The fighting is mostly in the south and west of Tripoli but the whole city is feeling the impact. There is a lack of fuel; banks are running low on cash; there are regular electricity cuts, and also lack of bread.

“Doctors and nurses and other public service workers are not able to move around or get to work, either because it is not safe to do so, or because they have no fuel to put into their cars … and on top of that a number of medical staff have left.”

Some of ICRC’s work has been taken on by its national staff in partnership with members of the LRC, with additional remote support from IFRC and the ICRC. But specialist tasks, such as visiting long-term detainees, have been put on hold.

“ICRC has the willingness to go back into the country with an international team but it all depends on the security,” Grand said. “The situation is very chaotic and it is hard to reach our partners. They have difficulties in moving around. Just to maintain contact with our own national staff is sometimes difficult.”

UN staff withdrawn

The UN support mission in Libya began withdrawing its staff from Libya in early July, and although it initially said it would keep a core team to continue operations, it announced on 14 July that everyone was to leave due to the “prevailing security conditions”.

UN agencies have likewise relocated the bulk of their teams to Tunisia, though agencies continued to maintain a limited presence in Libya through their national staff and implementing partners.

“Despite our limited ability to provide immediate assistance, UNHCR [high commissioner for refugees] is working with several NGOs and partners, such as the International Medical Corps, to respond to the needs of refugees, asylum seekers, and IDPs, as well as potential asylum seekers in detention centres,” Dalia Alachi, a UNHCR regional public information officer, said.

Teams had been providing relief items and medical support to migrants caught up in boat accidents when trying to leave Libya by sea, as well as assistance to people displaced from parts of Tripoli hit by missiles and rockets in the recent fighting, Alachi said.

Ghassan Khalil, special representative for the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) in Libya, said that although his international staff had been removed from the country, national workers remained, and he hoped everyone would return soon, when the security situation allowed.

“The situation in Libya is worrying and we continue to ask the government of Libya to protect civilians, especially women and children, and to ensure children are not part of the armed conflict,” he said, adding that Unicef was not involved in frontline humanitarian work in Libya but instead supported education, protection and social capacity-building programmes in conjunction with government ministries.

Situation peaked

With so few humanitarian actors left in country, the challenge will be for those that remain to meet the growing needs via remote management plans.

Heather Pagano, a spokeswoman for MSF, said despite the relocation of seven international staff from Tripoli to Tunisia in July and the suspension of a mental health programme, MSF continued to monitor hospitals in Libya in case they needed emergency supplies.

Speaking from Tunis, Francois de la Roche, Libya director for the IMC, said: “We have great communication with our team and can coordinate actions from here. The security situation in Tripoli, because of fighting and stray shells, does pose a problem for keeping ex-pats in the country which is a real shame because I think we could be operating more effectively if we were in the country.”

“Certainly with international organisations pulling out, some of the most exposed populations are not being reached and supported,” Christian Jacob Hansen, head of the DRC’s Middle East and North Africa unit said, noting that even before the latest escalation in violence, humanitarian structures had been thin on the ground with support weighted towards development initiatives instead.

“In the last few years the international donors have been keener to fund more development-orientated support in Libya, and in situations like this one in Libya, there is less capacity for a rapid humanitarian response,” he said.


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« Reply #14919 on: Aug 10, 2014, 07:05 AM »

Ugandans hold first pride event after overturn of Draconian anti-LGBT law

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, August 10, 2014 4:31 EDT

Dancing and waving rainbow-coloured flags, Ugandan activists held their first gay pride rally Saturday since the overturning of a tough anti-homosexuality law, which authorities have appealed.

“This event is to bring us together. Everyone was in hiding before because of the anti-homosexuality law,” organiser Sandra Ntebi told AFP.

“It is a happy day for all of us, getting together,” Ntebi said, noting that police had granted permission for the invitation-only “Uganda Pride” rally.

The overturned law, condemned as “abominable” by rights groups but popular among many Ugandans, called for proven homosexuals to be jailed for life.

The constitutional court threw it out on a technicality on August 1, six months after it took effect, and the government swiftly filed an appeal, while lawmakers have signed a petition for a new vote on the bill.

Homosexuality remains illegal in Uganda, punishable by a jail sentence. But it is no longer illegal to promote homosexuality, and Ugandans are no longer obliged to denounce gays to the authorities.

Amid music and laughter, activists gathered at botanical gardens on the shores of Lake Victoria, barely a kilometre (half a mile) from the presidential palace at Entebbe, a key town some 35 kilometres from the capital Kampala.

“Some Ugandans are gay. Get over it,” read one sticker a man had pasted onto his face.

- ‘Now I have the courage’ -

Ugandan Deputy Attorney General Fred Ruhinda said Saturday that state lawyers had lodged an appeal against the ruling at the Supreme Court, the country’s highest court.

“We are unsatisfied with the court ruling,” Ruhinda told AFP. “The law was not intended to victimise gay people, it was for the common good.”

In their surprise ruling last week, judges said it had been passed without the necessary quorum of lawmakers in parliament.

Rights groups said the law triggered a sharp increase in arrests and assaults on members of the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Homophobia is widespread in Uganda, where American-style evangelical Christianity is on the rise.

Gay men and women face frequent harassment and threats of violence.

On Saturday, however, activists celebrated openly.

“Since I discovered I was gay I feared coming out, but now I have the courage after the law was thrown out,” Alex Musoke told AFP, one of more than 100 people at the event.

One pair of activists waved a rainbow flag with a slogan appealing for people to “join hands” to end the “genocide” of homosexuals.

Some wore masks for fear of being identified — Uganda’s tabloid newspapers have previously printed photographs of prominent activists — while others showed their faces openly and wore colourful fancy dress.

But activist Pepe Onziema said he and his colleagues would not rest until they were sure the law was gone for good.

“Uganda is giving a bad example, not only to the region but to the world, by insisting on this law,” he said.

“We are Africans, we want to show an African struggle by civil society.”

There was little police presence, and no one came to protest the celebration, even if many in the town said they did not approve.

“This is unbelievable, I can’t imagine being a gay,” said motorbike taxi driver William Kamurasi in disgust.

“It’s a shame to Uganda. Police must stop these activities of the gays.”

- Lawmakers demand new vote -

Critics said President Yoweri Museveni signed the law to win domestic support ahead of a presidential election set for 2016, which will be his 30th year in power.

But it lost him friends abroad, with several international donors freezing or redirecting millions of dollars of government aid, saying the country had violated human rights and democratic principles.

US Secretary of State John Kerry likened the law to anti-Semitic legislation in Nazi Germany.

Analysts suggest that Museveni secretly encouraged last week’s court ruling as it provided a way to avoid the appearance of caving in to foreign pressure.

But gay rights activists warn the battle is not over.

Lawmakers signed a petition calling for a new vote on the bill, and to bypass parliamentary rules that require it be formally reintroduced from scratch — a process that could take years.

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« Reply #14920 on: Aug 10, 2014, 07:07 AM »

Canada launches mission to map, claim North Pole

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, August 10, 2014 4:52 EDT

A scientific mission to map the seabed surrounding the North Pole got underway Friday amid Canada’s push to claim the area and surrounding Arctic waters ahead of Russia and others.

After a decade of surveying the country’s eastern and far north seabeds and gathering supporting evidence, Canada filed a UN application in December seeking to vastly expand its Atlantic sea boundary and signaled intentions to claim the North Pole.

Russian President Vladimir Putin followed suit by ordering his country’s military to step up its presence in the Arctic, amid competing claims by countries that also include Norway and Denmark.

Russia and Canada have overlapping claims to both the North Pole as well as large swathes of the Arctic that the US Geological Survey thinks could hold 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and up to 30 percent of its hidden natural gas reserves.

“Our government is committing the resources necessary to ensure that Canada secures international recognition of the full extent of its continental shelf, including the North Pole,” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in a statement.

A Canadian ice-breaking vessel set sail from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador on Friday, one day ahead of the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent, which will “collect high-quality data about the shape and composition of the seabed,” the statement said.

The vessel was “equipped with state-of-the-art multi-beam sonar technology in the spring of 2014 to ensure that Canada has the latest technological capacity to carry out this important mission” to collect data for Canada’s Arctic continental shelf submission, it added.

In December, “Canada filed preliminary information concerning the outer limits of its continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean… indicating it would file a submission for the Arctic at a later date,” it added.

The mission will survey part of the Eurasian Basin on the eastern side of the Lomonosov Ridge and will include areas near the North Pole if conditions permit, according to the statement.

“Our government is securing our sovereignty while expanding our economic and scientific opportunities by defining Canada’s last frontier,” Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said in the statement.

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« Reply #14921 on: Aug 10, 2014, 07:10 AM »

Rosetta will teach us more about comets than we have learned in the last 50 years

By The Conversation
Sunday, August 10, 2014 6:22 EDT

On August 6, millions of miles away from Earth, the firing of a rocket thruster signalled the end of a decade-long journey by a European spacecraft to reach its ultimate target – a comet.

The spacecraft is Rosetta, and its target is 67P/Churuymov-Gerasimenko, named after its Ukrainian discoverers. The spacecraft will study 67P’s nucleus at close quarters as it falls towards the sun, when it will come to life with a tail created by sun’s warmth.

In November 2014, before activity levels rise too high, a small lander – Philae – will be released for a soft landing on the nucleus’s frigid surface. The height of the comet’s activity will be in August 2015, with Rosetta’s mission drawing to a close at the end of that year.

This ambitious European Space Agency project was born from Europe’s first planetary mission, Giotto, which provided a close-up “snapshot” of the Halley comet in 1986. Giotto’s resounding success sparked a push by many European planetary scientists to carry out an even more ambitious comet mission. The resulting mission is by far the most scientifically capable and ambitious to date.

Comets are interesting to space researchers because they could reveal a less-understood story about the birth of the solar system. As far as is known, these icy bodies represent the least processed material remaining from that time.

At our planetary system’s outer edge, it is believed that there lies a vast reservoir of countless frozen bodies ejected during the formation of planets. These contain varying proportions of dust and ices. These ices vary in their composition, depending on their birthplace in the early solar system. Studying them therefore provides an insight into the conditions that prevailed when Earth and the other planets came into being.

When one of these bodies is disturbed from its position it could start falling towards the sun, where it is heated, releasing gas and dust which create the comet’s tails. It is only a few comets that are visible to the naked eye from Earth. Most, like 67P, require telescopes to be observed. Much has been learnt about comets from telescopic observations, but spacecraft missions have already demonstrated that being close to a comet is vital to understand more.

Rosetta and Philae carry with them a comprehensive suite of instruments to study all aspects of the comet. Gases will be sampled, dust will be examined under microscopes, the nucleus will be studied from microwave to ultraviolet wavelengths, and its interior probed by radio waves. The experiments include hardware from Imperial College London and the Open University, with British scientists also contributing to other instrument teams. From these measurements, chemical and physical processes that occur on the nucleus and within the comet’s tenuous atmosphere – the coma – will be deduced.

Over the past few weeks, the bizarre shape of 67P has gradually been revealed. It resembles a highly misshapen dumbbell measuring around 4km along its longest dimension. In the last days before arrival, the nature of the surface was resolved. It is a bizarre mix of hummocky terrain and a scattering of house-sized “boulders” on flat plains, all apparently covered in thick layers of dust. As expected, the nucleus’s dusty coating reflects little of the sunlight that falls on it.

Despite arriving in 67P’s vicinity, Rosetta isn’t in orbit about the body just yet. As the gravitational field of this lumpy body isn’t well established, the spacecraft is executing triangular paths around it, with its operators carefully monitoring deviations from that path to deduce the nucleus’s mass and density. Once the nucleus is better understood, Rosetta will be moved closer to place it in orbit.

Rosetta’s operators admit that November’s landing of Philae on a body as small and strangely-shaped as 67P will be challenging. The mass, and hence the gravitational pull of the nucleus is extremely weak, and when close to the nucleus, the direction of “down” varies significantly over very short distances. Several busy months finalising the landing sequence lie ahead.

The science return from Rosetta is expected to be immense. Already data gathered during arrival at the comet, when its activity is still weak, may well have amounted to enough to lead to a revolution in the understanding of comet nuclei. This is only the beginning. We may learn more about comets and the early solar system in the next 18 months than during the past 50 years.

The Conversation

By Geraint Jones, University College London

Geraint Jones receives STFC funding. He is a member of the Royal Astronomical Society.


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« Reply #14922 on: Aug 10, 2014, 07:22 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Obama Destroys The Bogus And Wrong Republican Talking Point Blaming Him For Leaving Iraq

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Saturday, August, 9th, 2014, 1:02 pm   

At a press conference today, President Obama set the record straight on the Republican claim that the current crisis in Iraq was his fault because he didn’t leave combat troops in the country. Obama called the entire Republican analysis “bogus and wrong.”

Transcript:

    Q Mr. President, do you have any second thoughts about pulling all ground troops out of Iraq? And does it give you pause as the U.S. — is it doing the same thing in Afghanistan?

    THE PRESIDENT: What I just find interesting is the degree to which this issue keeps on coming up, as if this was my decision. Under the previous administration, we had turned over the country to a sovereign, democratically elected Iraqi government. In order for us to maintain troops in Iraq, we needed the invitation of the Iraqi government and we needed assurances that our personnel would be immune from prosecution if, for example, they were protecting themselves and ended up getting in a firefight with Iraqis, that they wouldn’t be hauled before an Iraqi judicial system.

    And the Iraqi government, based on its political considerations, in part because Iraqis were tired of a U.S. occupation, declined to provide us those assurances. And on that basis, we left. We had offered to leave additional troops. So when you hear people say, do you regret, Mr. President, not leaving more troops, that presupposes that I would have overridden this sovereign government that we had turned the keys back over to and said, you know what, you’re democratic, you’re sovereign, except if I decide that it’s good for you to keep 10,000 or 15,000 or 25,000 Marines in your country, you don’t have a choice — which would have kind of run contrary to the entire argument we were making about turning over the country back to Iraqis, an argument not just made by me, but made by the previous administration.

    So let’s just be clear: The reason that we did not have a follow-on force in Iraq was because the Iraqis were — a majority of Iraqis did not want U.S. troops there, and politically they could not pass the kind of laws that would be required to protect our troops in Iraq.

    Having said all that, if in fact the Iraqi government behaved the way it did over the last five, six years, where it failed to pass legislation that would reincorporate Sunnis and give them a sense of ownership; if it had targeted certain Sunni leaders and jailed them; if it had alienated some of the Sunni tribes that we had brought back in during the so-called Awakening that helped us turn the tide in 2006 — if they had done all those things and we had had troops there, the country wouldn’t be holding together either. The only difference would be we’d have a bunch of troops on the ground that would be vulnerable. And however many troops we had, we would have to now be reinforcing, I’d have to be protecting them, and we’d have a much bigger job. And probably, we would end up having to go up again in terms of the number of grounds troops to make sure that those forces were not vulnerable.

    So that entire analysis is bogus and is wrong. But it gets frequently peddled around here by folks who oftentimes are trying to defend previous policies that they themselves made.

As soon as President Obama announced the airstrikes and humanitarian mission, the Republican criticism began with accusing the president of causing this problem by not leaving combat troops in Iraq. President Obama was correct. The Iraqi government no longer wanted U.S. troops in their country.

Time magazine described the Iraqis’ desire to get the U.S. troops out, “But ending the U.S. troop presence in Iraq was an overwhelmingly popular demand among Iraqis, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appears to have been unwilling to take the political risk of extending it. While he was inclined to see a small number of American soldiers stay behind to continue mentoring Iraqi forces, the likes of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, on whose support Maliki’s ruling coalition depends, were having none of it. Even the Obama Administration’s plan to keep some 3,000 trainers behind failed because the Iraqis were unwilling to grant them the legal immunity from local prosecution that is common to SOF agreements in most countries where U.S. forces are based.”

When the Iraqi government refuse to grant U.S. troops immunity from local prosecution, that was a deal breaker.

A big point that Republicans overlook is that it was George W. Bush who signed the Status of Forces Agreement that set the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in motion. When President Bush signed the agreement in December of 2008, he said, “We’re also signing a Security Agreement, sometimes called a Status of Forces Agreement. The agreement provides American troops and Defense Department officials with authorizations and protections to continue supporting Iraq’s democracy once the U.N. mandate expires at the end of this year. This agreement respects the sovereignty and the authority of Iraq’s democracy. The agreement lays out a framework for the withdrawal of American forces in Iraq — a withdrawal that is possible because of the success of the surge.”

The Republican plan, to the extent that there was one, always involved keeping a lid on the conflicts inside Iraq with U.S. combat troops for as long as it takes. The problem was that the Iraqis wanted the troops out, and the American people wanted the troops home. The Bush administration was trying to clean up their legacy by signing the Status of Forces Agreement.

The instability in Iraq was caused by the Bush decision to launch a war of choice. Republicans can’t pass off their own failed war in Iraq on Obama. It is interesting that the same Republican Party that claims to love freedom is so willing to violate the freedom of the Iraqi people by forcing combat troops on them.

The inescapable truth for Republicans is that President Obama is still cleaning up after Bush’s failed war.

*****************

Iraq Airstrikes May Continue for Months, Obama Says

By MICHAEL D. SHEAR and TIM ARANGO
AUG. 9, 2014
IHT

WASHINGTON — President Obama said on Saturday that the airstrikes and humanitarian assistance drops he ordered last week in Iraq could go on for months, preparing Americans for an extended military presence in the skies there as Iraq’s leaders try to build a new government.

“I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks,” Mr. Obama told reporters before leaving for a two-week golf-and-beach vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. “This is going to be a long-term project.”

The president repeated his insistence that his administration would not send ground troops back to Iraq after ending an unpopular, decade-long war and withdrawing the last troops in 2011. But two days after emphasizing the limited scope of the mission in a White House address, he pledged that the United States would stand with Iraq if it could form a unified and inclusive government to counter the Sunni militants who threaten its future.
   
“Changing that environment so that the millions of Sunnis who live in these areas feel connected to and well served by a national government, that’s a long-term process,” he said during a lengthy departure statement on the White House lawn during which he took several questions from reporters.

The American military continued striking militants in Iraq on Saturday, with jet fighters and drones conducting four attacks that military officers said were designed to defend Yazidis, an ethnic and religious minority.

In a statement issued late Saturday, the military’s Central Command said American fighters and drones first hit one of two armored personnel carriers that fighters with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria were using to fire on civilians near Mount Sinjar, in northern Iraq. In follow-up strikes, American aircraft hit three more ISIS armored personnel carriers and a truck with weapons, the statement said. All of the aircraft returned safely.

The president’s assessment of the campaign’s duration came as ISIS militants began advancing along a main road up Mount Sinjar, where thousands of Yazidis remained trapped. In Mosul, residents reported that nearly two dozen bodies of ISIS fighters, said to have been killed in American airstrikes, had arrived at the city’s morgue, while at least 30 wounded fighters were being treated at a hospital.

A significant number of Yazidis were said to be fleeing from the mountain toward Syria, according to two American officials and Yazidi refugees along the border. With American military confirmation that American warplanes had carried out attacks Saturday on ISIS forces shooting at the Yazidis, it appeared that a way off the mountain had opened for at least some. A number of the civilians appeared to still be on the mountain, and the situation remained desperate, American officials said.

Some Yazidis have cellphones and have been in regular touch with American officials as they try to escape.

It is estimated that 5,000 to 12,000 Yazidis fled Mount Sinjar on Saturday and more were expected on Sunday, according to one American official, who requested anonymity because he was discussing internal information. The Yazidis have been fleeing by car as well as on foot, the official said, and many were said to be dying along the way.

The American military also carried out its third airdrop of food and water over Mount Sinjar, according to Central Command.

One C-17 and two C-130 cargo planes, escorted by American jet fighters, carried out the mission, which brings the total American assistance to more than 52,000 meals and more than 10,600 gallons of fresh water, the command said.

Saturday was the first time Mr. Obama had addressed the question of a timeline for the military intervention in Iraq, and his remarks are likely to raise new questions, especially among those who fear that the mission could slowly pull America back into a more robust involvement in the country. The president said he would not give a “particular timetable” on the new operations.

Aides said that Mr. Obama had not committed to years of continuous airstrikes while Iraqis develop a new government, but that his comments reflected the uncertainty of a military effort that will be re-evaluated in the months ahead.

The open-ended nature of Mr. Obama’s actions presents a tricky political problem for a president who campaigned against what he once called a “dumb war” and repeatedly pressed Republicans to set a date for the departure of American troops from the battlefield. The last American troops left Iraq in December 2011, yet Mr. Obama now finds himself in charge of a new, if very different, military operation there with no certain end in sight.

When he announced the airstrikes on Thursday night, Mr. Obama emphasized the immediate goals of protecting Americans in Baghdad and in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq, and helping to rescue the Iraqis trapped by ISIS fighters on the mountain. In his remarks Saturday morning, he focused more on the need to help Iraqis over the long term, giving them what he called space to develop a government that can fight back against militants.

But his acknowledgment that the effort in Iraq will take time may not be enough to satisfy Republican critics, many of whom accuse Mr. Obama of failing to embrace a sufficiently aggressive air mission aimed at driving the militants out of Iraq and Syria.

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and Mr. Obama’s 2008 presidential opponent, said Saturday that Mr. Obama’s vision for military operations against militants in Iraq was too narrow. He said the actions ordered by the president were not nearly enough to counter a growing threat from “the richest, most powerful terrorist organization in history.”

“Obviously, the president of the United States does not appreciate this is not just a threat to American troops on the ground, or even Iraq or Kurdistan,” Mr. McCain said in a telephone interview from Vietnam, where he was traveling with a congressional delegation. “This is a threat to America.”

In describing a potentially long time frame for military action in Iraq, Mr. Obama cited in part the danger and complexity of the rescue mission on Mount Sinjar. The military at that point had airdropped 36,224 meals to the refugees, officials said. But Mr. Obama said the much harder task of creating a safe corridor for them would take more time. “The next step, which is going to be complicated logistically, is how can we give people safe passage,” he said.

Defense Department officials expressed confidence that they could achieve within a few days one of Mr. Obama’s announced goals: stopping the advance of the militants on Erbil, where hundreds of American diplomatic officials and military advisers are stationed. On Friday, the military struck a number of ISIS targets near Erbil, including a stationary convoy of seven vehicles and a mobile artillery unit that was being towed by a truck.

“We can stop them from moving into Erbil,” a senior Defense Department official said Saturday, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe military planning. “The cost will become too high. There will be a tremendous amount of deterrence in these strikes.”

But officials said breaking the siege on Mount Sinjar and protecting Americans in Baghdad from advancing ISIS militants would take more time, particularly given the instability of Iraq’s internal politics and the vagaries of protecting and eventually evacuating the stranded Iraqis.

In Baghdad, efforts to name a replacement for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, stalled on Saturday, with Mr. Maliki clinging to power and rivals unable to decide on an alternative. A session of Parliament scheduled for Sunday, when leaders had been expected to nominate a new prime minister, was postponed until Monday."Until this moment, nothing has changed,” said Kamal al-Saadi, a member of Parliament from Mr. Maliki’s bloc. “We are sticking with our only candidate, Maliki.”

Earlier, Mr. Obama said the length of American involvement would depend on how quickly Iraqi leaders could form a national unity government with meaningful roles for the country’s two main minority groups, Sunnis and Kurds. Without saying so explicitly, American officials have been quietly working to replace Mr. Maliki because they believe that he is incapable of uniting the country to face the militant threat.

Mr. Obama said an inclusive government would give all Iraqis a reason to believe that they were represented, and Iraqi military forces a motive to fight back against the militants. Once that happens, he said, the American military, working with Iraqi and Kurdish fighters, can “engage in some offense.”

“The most important timetable that I’m focused on right now is the Iraqi government getting formed and finalized,” he said before boarding Marine One.

Hours before Mr. Obama spoke in Washington, Sunni militants in northern Iraq ordered engineers to return to work on the Mosul Dam, the country’s largest, suggesting that the extremists who captured the dam last week after fierce battles with Kurdish forces would use it, at least for now, to provide water and electricity to the areas they control.

As ISIS consolidates its control of territory, it has shown an intent to act strategically when it comes to natural resources. But its control over the fragile dam also gives the group the ability to create a civilian catastrophe: A break could unleash a tidal wave over Mosul and cause flooding and deaths along the Tigris River south to Baghdad and beyond, experts said.

In London, the British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, said Royal Air Force planes would “imminently” begin humanitarian airdrops in northern Iraq. President François Hollande of France also pledged humanitarian support, officials said.


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« Reply #14923 on: Aug 11, 2014, 07:14 AM »


Ukrainian forces prepare to recapture Donetsk

Military spokesman says Donetsk now cut off from other main rebel-held city, Luhansk

Agencies in Kiev
theguardian.com, Monday 11 August 2014 13.49 BST   

Ukrainian government forces are preparing for the final stage of recapturing the city of Donetsk from pro-Russia separatist rebels after making significant gains that have divided rebel forces, a military spokesman said on Monday.

The spokesman, Andriy Lysenko, said Kiev's forces had cut off Donetsk from the other main rebel-held city, Luhansk, on the border with Russia.

"The forces of the anti-terrorist operation are preparing for the final stage of liberating Donetsk. Our forces have completely cut Donetsk off from Luhansk. We are working for liberating both towns but it's better to liberate Donetsk first – it is more important," Lysenko said.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the Russian president, malignant tumor Pig Putin, said Moscow would send humanitarian aid to Ukraine only if all involved parties agreed to the move.

Ukraine has repeatedly said it fears an invasion by Russia under the cover of a humanitarian operation. Western politicians have also said any attempt by Moscow to unilaterally send a humanitarian mission to Ukraine would be seen as an invasion.

One convict was killed and more than 100 escaped when shelling hit a high-security prison in Donetsk, the city council said.

Mortar blasts hit the living areas, administrative headquarters and an electrical substation at the correctional facility in a western district of the city on Sunday evening. By Monday morning, an unspecified number of escapees had been returned to the facility.

There were reports of sporadic shelling in Donetsk overnight. A growing number of civilian casualties have been reported as artillery bombardments have hit hospitals and homes around the beleaguered city.

More than 1,300 people have been killed and 285,000 have fled their homes in the east of Ukraine due to fierce clashes in four months of what the Red Cross has described as a civil war.
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« Reply #14924 on: Aug 11, 2014, 07:24 AM »


Iraq: US plans rescue mission for besieged Yazidi refugees

More than 20,000 of the 40,000 trapped by jihadists on a mountaintop have escaped but US considering full-scale rescue

Martin Chulov near Duhok
The Guardian, Monday 11 August 2014      

The United States is exploring options to evacuate thousands of Iraqi civilians trapped on a mountain in northern Iraq by Islamic militants after four nights of humanitarian relief airdrops, officials in Washington said.

At least half of the 40,000 people besieged by jihadists on Mount Sinjar had escaped by Sunday night, aided by Kurdish rebels who crossed from Syria to rescue them.

But proposals for a mission to save the remaining thousands of Yazidi people underscore the limits of the airdrops, ordered last week by Barack Obama.

"We're reviewing options for removing the remaining civilians off the mountain," deputy US national security adviser Ben Rhodes told Reuters late on Sunday.

"Kurdish forces are helping, and we're talking to the (United Nations) and other international partners about how to bring them to a safe space."

The refugees, all members of the Yazidi sect, began streaming back into Iraqi Kurdistan on Sunday after a perilous journey past Islamic State militants who had vowed to kill them and had surrounded their hideout on Mount Sinjar after storming the area.

The day-long trek took them first over a mountain range into Syria, then through the Peshkhabour crossing three hours north-west of Irbil, where Kurdish officials were rushing to provide food and shelter.

Fleeing Yazidis said their escape had been aided by the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish rebel faction, and by US air strikes on Islamic State (Isis) positions which had forced the jihadists to withdraw for around six hours on Saturday.

Their retreat gave a window for thousands of Yazidis, all desperately low on food and water, to begin streaming down the mile-high mountain and north across the Nineveh plains, which have been an ancient homeland of Iraqi minorities.

The past week has uprooted Yazidis, Christians, Turkmen and Shabak Shias from lands in which they had lived for several thousand years, in a near-fatal blow to Iraq's pluralist past. Thousands are now sleeping rough in public spaces near Duhok, while others have reached Yazidi villages further to the south, where starved hordes, many in tattered clothes, were carrying plastic bags containing all they could salvage from their homes as the jihadists rampaged towards them.

Though many Yazidis have now reached safety, the siege of Mount Sinjar is not yet broken; many thousands more are thought to remain on the southern side of the 60-mile-long ridge, unable to reach the safe passage that the Kurdish fighters had secured towards the Kurdish north.

The US military confirmed it had carried out four air strikes on Islamic State positions on Saturday. Britain said it had airdropped food and water to those still trapped. Iraq and Turkey, along with the US, had also delivered aid. However, Yazidis said much of the food and water dropped by the US using parachutes had disintegrated when it hit the ground.

On Sunday, a Kurdish official told Reuters that Kurdish forces had taken back two towns in northern Iraq from Isis militants. Hoshiyar Zebari, who claimed the forces had been supported by the US air strikes, said the Kurds had recaptured the towns of Guwair and Makhmur. Asked how long the US would have to continue strikes to help the Kurds defeat Isis, Zebari said: "As President Obama said, there is no time limit."

Barakat Issa, a Yazidi who arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan on Saturday, began his journey before the mass exodus, when Kurdish guerrillas were still trying to secure a route.

"It's beyond a catastrophe," he said. "We were escaping death and heading to another death. There was a three-year-old child with me that had to walk eight hours non-stop in very rough terrain.

"The journey was impossible. Difficult is not even close to describing it. There are two more Yazidi villages still besieged – the people couldn't leave and Isis gave them a deadline that ends very soon to convert to Islam or to face the sword. Even if they convert to Islam Isis would force the men to join their fighters and give their women to them."

Yazidis who have fled to Irbil say at least 400 women and children have been captured by jihadists who have taken some to Syria and others to Sinjar. Western officials believe some are being held in schools near the border and are facing demands to convert to Islam. The Islamic State believes Yazidis to be devil worshippers and has vowed to kill those who do not convert to Sunni Islam.

Despite the clear danger, desperate hunger drove some of the men who escaped the mountain to attempt to steal food from jihadists along the way.
yazidis2 Thousands of Yazidis previously trapped by Isis have been rescued by Kurdish peshmerga forces. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

"Many died of thirst," said Barakat Issa. "And at night some of the men would sneak towards the surrounding Isis-controlled villages and attempt to steal some cattle to take back to the hungry people, but this created an issue, because red meat makes you thirsty and it's very hard to get water in this mountain except for some remote parts that have groundwater."

Risalah Shirkani, a Yazidi woman who escaped to Duhok, in Iraq's Kurdish north, said: "This is not the first time this has happened to us. History is a witness to that. After this ordeal, Yazidis don't feel safe in Iraq, or even in Kurdistan any more. It's only a matter of time until we all leave.

"Some of my relatives were kidnapped by Isis. Others were beheaded and yet more fell off the mountain. There were pregnant women giving birth and children dying from dehydration, diarrhoea and fever."

Iraq's human rights minister, Muhammad Shia al-Sudani, estimated that around 500 Yazidis had been killed in the past week, many by jihadists when they stormed the city of Sinjar early last Sunday. Others, though, had died of dehydration and disease.

Unicef says at least 40 of the dead are children. The figures were impossible to confirm, but matched eyewitness tallies during the desperate days of deprivation on the mountaintop.

Issa Pajo, 27, who arrived over the weekend in the town of Duhok, near the Syrian border, said: "We have been on the way for two days until we reached Duhok. The Syrian Kurds treated us well – they gave us food. But we also have nothing here. We don't have a place to sleep and we have not seen any assistance from anyone. Isis destroyed everything. They killed my cousin and looted our houses."

Another man who made it to Duhok, Ghassan Salim, 40, said: "The situation is critical. It is a human catastrophe. The children are in particular need of urgent assistance. And it is not only Yazidis – all the minorities, like Shabbak, Christians … need desperate help."

Those who have been unable to leave Mount Sinjar face an equally perilous journey to reach aid, which according to Barakat Issa is being dropped on a peak that was used by the Iraqi and US militaries. "It was a US base and before that it was a missile base during Saddam's time, the same platform he used to launch rockets against Israel. That was the main drop-landing zone for the aid despite the fact that Isis are not deep in the mountains.

"The drops didn't reach more than 10% of those who need them. Helicopters and pilots were afraid to come close to the southern part of the mountain – thousands of people in that part received nothing."
yazidi1 An RAF transport aircraft making the first airdrop of British humanitarian aid to refugees fleeing Islamist militants in Iraq. Photograph: Mod Crown Copyright/PA

After more than a week of losing ground, and facing accusations that they had left the Yazidis to their fate, Kurdish forces on Sunday regained three villages 25 miles south-west of Irbil, which Isis fighters had been trying to seize.

Regular peshmerga fighters were vastly outnumbered by irregulars who rushed to the frontline carrying ageing Kalashnikovs. Waiting under the roof of a sprawling checkpoint, just over a mile from the frontline, Rashid Kherjari, a retired peshmerga fighter, said he had five sons further down the road.

"We have faced three big enemies in my lifetime," he said: Saddam's Ba'athists, the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and now Isis. "Maliki is the worst," he added. "But we are fighting against blind bats in these guys."

Jets rumbled through the sky in the middle distance and a slow trickle of injured were ferried by ambulance back from the frontline.

"We will win this battle," said another volunteer fighter, his belly hanging over his trousers. "All Kurds are peshmerga when it really matters."

After they had rolled unopposed through the Nineveh plains and advanced rapidly towards Irbil, the momentum of the jihadists slowed over the weekend. "The US airstrikes helped, but Isis remains potent," said the Kurdish regional government's former prime minister, Barham Salih.

Kurdish officials have urged the US to keep up its attacks on the Islamic State, claiming a short campaign could end up empowering the jihadists.

On Sunday the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani, asked the international community to provide the Kurds with weapons to bolster their battle against Isis, whose dramatic push through the north has alarmed Baghdad and western countries.

Speaking at a press conference with the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, Barzani said: "We are not fighting a terrorist organisation, we are fighting a terrorist state."

Additional reporting; Saud al-Murrani and Fazel Hawramy

*************

20,000 Iraqis besieged by Isis escape from mountain after US air strikes

Yazidi minority surrounded by Islamist militants on Mount Sinjar escorted back to Iraqi Kurdistan after fleeing via Syria

Haroon Siddique and agencies
theguardian.com, Sunday 10 August 2014 14.12 BST      

At least 20,000 Iraqi civilians who were besieged by jihadists on a mountain have managed to flee after US air raids on Islamic State (Isis) forces, officials have said.

Shawkat Barbahari, an official from the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, said 30,000 people had escaped to Syria and then been escorted back into Iraqi Kurdistan by Kurdish forces. A spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Iraq said officials had been reporting to the UN that 15,000 to 20,000 people had escaped the siege. Fears had been growing for the civilians, mostly Kurds of the Yazidi faith, trapped on Mount Sinjar in north-west Iraq in the searing summer heat with little to eat or drink.

The breakthrough coincided with US air raids on Isis fighters in the Sinjar area on Saturday. Barack Obama, who sanctioned the air strikes on Friday, has said the US is in it for the long-haul, warning "this is going to take some time".

Barbahari, who is in charge of the Fishkhabur crossing with Syria, told AFP: "The Kurdish peshmerga forces have succeeded in making 30,000 Yazidis who fled Mount Sinjar, most of them women and children, cross into Syria and return to Kurdistan. Most of them crossed yesterday and today, this operation is ongoing and we really don't know how many are still up there on the mountain."

Iraqi MP Vian Dakhil, who is from the Yazidi minority, said 20,000 to 30,000 had managed to flee the mountain they ran to a week ago when militants overran the Sinjar region and were now in Iraqi Kurdistan. "The passage isn't 100% safe," she said. "There is still a risk."
Link to video: Iraqi troops 'deliver aid to Yazidi refugees trapped in Sinjar mountains'

Iraq's human rights minister, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, told Reuters that Isis militants have killed at least 500 members of Iraq's Yazidi minority during their offensive in the north. He said the Sunni militants had also buried some of their victims alive, including women and children. Some 300 women were kidnapped as slaves, he added.

"We have striking evidence obtained from Yazidis fleeing Sinjar and some who escaped death, and also crime scene images that show indisputably that the gangs of the Islamic States have executed at least 500 Yazidis after seizing Sinjar," Sudani said.

UNOCHA spokesman David Swanson stressed that the UN was not directly involved in the evacuation of the civilians from Mount Sinjar and could not confirm the numbers but stood ready to assist those crossing back into Kurdistan's western Dohuk province, where the UN has a presence.

An RAF transport aircraft made the first airdrop of British humanitarian aid on the mountain on Saturday night, joining the US in dropping clean water, filtration devices, food and tents.

The UK's international development secretary, Justine Greening, said: "The world has been shocked by the plight of the Yazidi community. They face appalling conditions, cut off on Mount Sinjar after fleeing persecution by Islamic State extremists.

"The UK has acted swiftly to get life-saving help to those affected. Last night the RAF successfully dropped lifesaving UK aid supplies, including clean water and filtration devices, on the mountain."

*************

Kerry slaps down Maliki after he accuses Iraqi president of violating constitution

US secretary of state John Kerry urges Iraq’s prime minister not to stoke political tensions as Obama
administration says it will directly arm Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State (Isis) militants

Spencer Ackerman and agencies
 theguardian.com, Monday 11 August 2014 10.27 BST      

US Secretary of State John Kerry has said the formation of an Iraqi government is critical for stability and urged Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki not to stoke political tensions.

Special forces loyal to al-Maliki deployed in strategic areas of Baghdad on Sunday night after he delivered a tough speech indicating he would not cave in to pressure to drop a bid for a third term – raising concerns that he is determined to retain power at all costs.

The deadlock over a new government has plunged Iraq into a political crisis at a time it is fighting a land grab by Islamic State (Isis) militants.

“The government formation process is critical in terms of sustaining stability and calm in Iraq, and our hope is that Mr Maliki will not stir those waters,” Kerry told reporters in Sydney on Monday ahead of an annual Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN).

“One thing all Iraqis need to know, that there will be little international support of any kind whatsoever for anything that deviates from the legitimate constitution process that is in place and being worked on now.”

Kerry’s words came as senior US officials said the Obama administration has begun directly providing weapons to Kurdish forces who have started to make gains against the militants.

The US previously had insisted on only selling arms to the Iraqi government. The officials wouldn’t say which US agency is providing the arms or what weapons are being sent, but one official said it isn’t the Pentagon. The CIA has historically done similar arming operations.

Officials say the administration is close to approving plans for the Pentagon to arm the Kurds. Recently the US military has been helping facilitate weapons deliveries from the Iraqis to the Kurds, who had been losing ground to the Islamic State. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the operation publicly.

The United States threw its weight behind Iraqi president Fuad Masum on Sunday after he was accused by prime minister Maliki of violating the constitution.

As security forces massed in the capital Baghdad, the under-pressure Maliki made the surprise announcement on state television on Sunday night that he would be filing a complaint against Masum. Security forces loyal to Maliki seized important areas around Baghdad, including bridges spanning the Tigris River and installations in the secured Green Zone.

On Monday, Iraq’s highest court ruled that Maliki’s bloc is the biggest in parliament, meaning he could retain his position, state television reported. The move puts further pressure on the president, who, according to the constitution, must now ask Maliki to form a new government in Iraq.

In response to Maliki’s allegations on Sunday, US state department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement: “The United States fully supports president Fuad Masum in his role as guarantor of the Iraqi constitution.

“We reaffirm our support for a process to select a prime minister who can represent the aspirations of the Iraqi people by building a national consensus and governing in an inclusive manner,” she said, echoing an earlier comment made on Twitter by deputy assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs Brett McGurk.

“We reject any effort to achieve outcomes through coercion or manipulation of the constitutional or judicial process.”

US president Barack Obama has urged Iraqi politicians to form a more inclusive government that can counter the growing threat from the Sunni militant group Islamic State (Isis).

Maliki, who has been under huge pressure to give up his bid for a third term, alleged Masum, a Kurd, had violated the constitution twice, including by failing to task a prime minister-designate with forming a new government.

“I will submit today an official complaint to the federal court against the president of the Republic for committing a clear constitutional violation for the sake of political calculations,” said Maliki.

Serving in a caretaker capacity since an inconclusive election in April, Maliki has defied calls by Sunnis, Kurds, some fellow Shi’ites, regional power broker Iran and Iraq’s top cleric for him to step aside for a less polarising figure.

However, a bloc comprising Iraq’s biggest Shi’ite parties is close to nominating a successor to Maliki, the deputy speaker of parliament Haider al-Abadi said early on Monday, suggesting Maliki would have to step aside.

Abadi is one of the people that has been mentioned as a possible successor to Maliki.

His comments in a tweet came after police sources said special forces and Shi’ite militias loyal to Maliki had been deployed in strategic areas of Baghdad after his television speech.

An eyewitness told Reuters that a tank was stationed at the entrance to Baghdad’s Green Zone, which houses government buildings.

Many Iraqis see Maliki as partly responsible for the recent losses to Isis in northern Iraq because he has institutionalised sectarianism.

Washington, Tehran, the Shiite religious leadership and much of Maliki’s own party have pulled their support, but he has dug his heels in and apparently not yet given up on seeking a third term.

“The United States stands ready to support a new and inclusive government, particularly in the fight against [Isis],” Harf said.

“We believe such a new and inclusive government is the best way to unify the country against [Isis], and to enlist the support of other countries in the region and international community.”

***************

U.S. Actions in Iraq Fueled Rise of a Rebel: Baghdadi of ISIS Pushes an Islamist Crusade

By TIM ARANGO and ERIC SCHMITT
IHT
AUG. 10, 2014

BAGHDAD — When American forces raided a home near Falluja during the turbulent 2004 offensive against the Iraqi Sunni insurgency, they got the hard-core militants they had been looking for. They also picked up an apparent hanger-on, an Iraqi man in his early 30s whom they knew nothing about.

The Americans duly registered his name as they processed him and the others at the Camp Bucca detention center: Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badry.

That once-peripheral figure has become known to the world now as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-appointed caliph of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the architect of its violent campaign to redraw the map of the Middle East.

“He was a street thug when we picked him up in 2004,” said a Pentagon official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. “It’s hard to imagine we could have had a crystal ball then that would tell us he’d become head of ISIS.”   

At every turn, Mr. Baghdadi’s rise has been shaped by the United States’ involvement in Iraq — most of the political changes that fueled his fight, or led to his promotion, were born directly from some American action. And now he has forced a new chapter of that intervention, after ISIS’ military successes and brutal massacres of minorities in its advance prompted President Obama to order airstrikes in Iraq.

Mr. Baghdadi has seemed to revel in the fight, promising that ISIS would soon be in “direct confrontation” with the United States.

Still, when he first latched on to Al Qaeda, in the early years of the American occupation, it was not as a fighter, but rather as a religious figure. He has since declared himself caliph of the Islamic world, and pressed a violent campaign to root out religious minorities, like Shiites and Yazidis, that has brought condemnation even from Qaeda leaders.

Despite his reach for global stature, Mr. Baghdadi, in his early 40s, in many ways has remained more mysterious than any of the major jihadi figures who preceded him.

American and Iraqi officials have teams of intelligence analysts and operatives dedicated to stalking him, but have had little success in piecing together the arc of his life. And his recent appearance at a mosque in Mosul to deliver a sermon, a video of which was distributed online, was the first time many of his followers had ever seen him.

Mr. Baghdadi is said to have a doctorate in Islamic studies from a university in Baghdad, and was a mosque preacher in his hometown, Samarra. He also has an attractive pedigree, claiming to trace his ancestry to the Quraysh Tribe of the Prophet Muhammad.

Beyond that, almost every biographical point about Mr. Baghdadi is occluded by some confusion or another.

The Pentagon says that Mr. Baghdadi, after being arrested in Falluja in early 2004, was released that December with a large group of other prisoners deemed low level. But Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi scholar who has researched Mr. Baghdadi’s life, sometimes on behalf of Iraqi intelligence, said that Mr. Baghdadi had spent five years in an American detention facility where, like many ISIS fighters now on the battlefield, he became more radicalized.

Mr. Hashimi said that Mr. Baghdadi had grown up in a poor family in a farming village near Samarra, and that his family was Sufi — a strain of Islam known for its tolerance. He said Mr. Baghdadi had come to Baghdad in the early 1990s, and over time became more radical.

Early in the insurgency, he gravitated toward a new jihadi group led by the flamboyant Jordanian militant operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Though Mr. Zarqawi’s group, Al Qaeda in Iraq, began as a mostly Iraqi insurgent organization, it claimed allegiance to the global Qaeda leadership, and over the years brought in more and more foreign leadership figures.

It is unclear how much prominence Mr. Baghdadi enjoyed under Mr. Zarqawi. Bruce Riedel, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer now at the Brookings Institution, recently wrote that Mr. Baghdadi had spent several years in Afghanistan, working alongside Mr. Zarqawi. But some officials say the American intelligence community does not believe Mr. Baghdadi has ever set foot outside the conflict zones of Iraq and Syria, and that he was never particularly close to Mr. Zarqawi.

The American operation that killed Mr. Zarqawi in 2006 was a huge blow to the organization’s leadership. But it was years later that Mr. Baghdadi got his chance to take the reins.

As the Americans were winding down their war in Iraq, they focused on trying to wipe out Al Qaeda in Iraq’s remaining leadership. In April 2010, a joint operation by Iraqi and American forces made the biggest strike against the group in years, killing its top two figures near Tikrit.

A month later, the group issued a statement announcing new leadership, and Mr. Baghdadi was at the top of the list. The Western intelligence community scrambled for information.

“Any idea who these guys are?” an analyst at Stratfor, a private intelligence company that then worked for the American government in Iraq, wrote in an email that has since been released by WikiLeaks. “These are likely nom de guerres, but are they associated with anyone we know?”

In June 2010, Stratfor published a report on the group that considered its prospects in the wake of the killings of the top leadership. The report stated, “the militant organization’s future for success looks bleak.”

Still, the report said, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq, then an alternative name for Al Qaeda in Iraq, “I.S.I.’s intent to establish an Islamic caliphate in Iraq has not diminished.”

The Sunni tribes of eastern Syria and Iraq’s Anbar and Nineveh Provinces have long had ties that run deeper than national boundaries, and ISIS was built on those relationships. Accordingly, as the group’s fortunes waned in Iraq, it found a new opportunity in the fight against Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria.

As more moderate Syrian rebel groups were beaten down by the Syrian security forces and their allies, ISIS increasingly took control of the fight, in part on the strength of weapons and funding from its operations in Iraq and from jihadist supporters in the Arab world.

That fact has led American lawmakers and political figures, including former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, to accuse President Obama of aiding ISIS’ rise in two ways: first by completely withdrawing American troops from Iraq in 2011, then by hesitating to arm more moderate Syrian opposition groups early in that conflict.

“I cannot help but wonder what would have happened if we had committed to empowering the moderate Syrian opposition last year,” Representative Eliot L. Engel, the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said during a recent hearing on the crisis in Iraq. “Would ISIS have grown as it did?”

But well before then, American actions were critical to Mr. Baghdadi’s rise in more direct ways. He is Iraqi to the core, and his extremist ideology was sharpened and refined in the crucible of the American occupation.

The American invasion presented Mr. Baghdadi and his allies with a ready-made enemy and recruiting draw. And the American ouster of Saddam Hussein, whose brutal dictatorship had kept a lid on extremist Islamist movements, gave Mr. Baghdadi the freedom for his radical views to flourish.

In contrast to Mr. Zarqawi, who increasingly looked outside Iraq for leadership help, Mr. Baghdadi has surrounded himself by a tight clique of former Baath Party military and intelligence officers from the Hussein regime who know how to fight.

Analysts and Iraqi intelligence officers believe that after Mr. Baghdadi took over the organization he appointed a Hussein-era officer, a man known as Hajji Bakr, as his military commander, overseeing operations and a military council that included three other officers of the former regime’s security forces.

Hajji Bakr was believed to have been killed last year in Syria. Analysts believe that he and at least two of the three other men on the military council were held at various times by the Americans at Camp Bucca.

Mr. Baghdadi has been criticized by some in the wider jihadi community for his reliance on former Baathists. But for many others, Mr. Baghdadi’s successes have trumped these critiques.

The victories gained by the militant group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria were built on months of maneuvering along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which define a region known as the cradle of civilization.
“He has credibility because he runs half of Iraq and half of Syria,” said Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism researcher at the New American Foundation.

Syria may have been a temporary refuge and proving ground, but Iraq has always been his stronghold and his most important source of financing. Now, it has become the main venue for Mr. Baghdadi’s state-building exercise, as well.

Although the group’s capture of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, appeared to catch the American intelligence community and the Iraqi government by surprise, Mr. Baghdadi’s mafia-like operations in the city had long been crucial to his strategy of establishing the Islamic caliphate.

His group earned an estimated $12 million a month, according to American officials, from extortion schemes in Mosul, which it used to finance operations in Syria. Before June, ISIS controlled neighborhoods of the city by night, collecting money and slipping in to the countryside by day.

The United Nations Security Council is considering new measures aimed at crippling the group’s finances, according to Reuters, by threatening sanctions on supporters. Such action is likely to have little effect because, by now, the group is almost entirely self-financing, through its seizing oil fields, extortion and tax collection in the territories it controls. As it gains territory in Iraq, it has found new ways to generate revenue. For instance, recently in Hawija, a village near Kirkuk, the group demanded that all former soldiers or police officers pay an $850 “repentance fine.”

Though he has captured territory through brutal means, Mr. Baghdadi has also taken practical steps at state-building, and even shown a lighter side. In Mosul, ISIS has held a “fun day” for kids, distributed gifts and food during Eid al-Fitr, held Quran recitation competitions, started bus services and opened schools.

Mr. Baghdadi appears to be drawing on a famous jihadi text that has long inspired Al Qaeda: “The Management of Savagery,” written by a Saudi named Abu Bakr Naji.

Mr. Fishman called the text, “Che Guevara warmed over for jihadis.” William McCants, an analyst at the Brookings Institution who in 2005, as a fellow at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, translated the book in to English, once described it as “the seven highly effective habits of jihadi leaders.”

American officials say Mr. Baghdadi runs a more efficient organization than Mr. Zarqawi did, and has unchallenged control over the organization, with authority delegated to his lieutenants. “He doesn’t have to sign off on every detail,” said one senior United States counterterrorism official. “He gives them more discretion and flexibility.”

A senior Pentagon official said of Mr. Baghdadi, with grudging admiration: “He’s done a good job of rallying and organizing a beaten-down organization. But he may now be overreaching.”

But even before the civil war in Syria presented him with a growth opportunity, Mr. Baghdadi had been taking steps in Iraq — something akin to a corporate restructuring — that laid the foundation for the group’s resurgence, just as the Americans were leaving. He picked off rivals through assassinations, orchestrated prison breaks to replenish his ranks of fighters and diversified his sources of funding through extortion, to wean the group off outside funding from Al Qaeda’s central authorities.

“He was preparing to split from Al Qaeda,” Mr. Hashimi said.

Now Mr. Baghdadi commands not just a terrorist organization, but, according to Brett McGurk, the top State Department official on Iraq policy, “a full blown army.”

Speaking at a recent congressional hearing, Mr. McGurk said, “it is worse than Al Qaeda.”



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