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Post #1 by Nibblet » Tue Jul 29, 2014 9:07 pm

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Post #2 by Captain Roy Bringus » Mon Aug 18, 2014 10:01 am

Kurds Push to Take Mosul Dam as U.S. Gains Controversial Guerrilla Ally
U.S. Jets, Drones and Bombers Pound Insurgent Positions to Ease Siege of Mosul Dam

DERIK, Syria—U.S. jets, drones and bombers pounded Sunni insurgent positions on Sunday to ease the siege of the strategically vital Mosul Dam, as Washington and its Kurdish allies turned up pressure on the radical group Islamic State.

(Iraq Crisis: Read the Latest)

The militants retreated from some of their positions around the dam, the latest front across Iraq where Kurds have gained in recent days with the aid of stepped-up U.S. air attacks, advisers and weapons, and a controversial new ally: fighters from a Kurdish guerrilla force that Washington considers a terror organization.

Hundreds of guerrillas linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, have this weekend fought in a broader Kurdish offensive against the insurgents under U.S. air cover. They joined the semiautonomous Iraqi Kurdish region's Peshmerga forces around the regional capital of Erbil and the Sinjar mountains, where thousands from the Yazidi religious minority have been trapped by the rapid advance of Islamic State fighters.

It wasn't immediately clear whether PKK guerrillas were assisting in the Kurdish ground offensive launched Sunday in conjunction with U.S. air attacks to retake the Mosul Dam.

Nevertheless, the emergence of the PKK—an umbrella organization that fights under different names in Syria, Turkey and Iraq—as a key player in the battle against the Sunni radicals is another stark example of how the rise of the Islamic State is scrambling diplomatic and battlefield alliances.

Last week, PKK commanders said they met U.S. advisers dropped on Mount Sinjar to assess the humanitarian crisis there and had "constructive discussions."

A U.S. defense official couldn't confirm whether the meeting took place and stressed in response to reports that the PKK was fighting alongside the Peshmerga that "it's hard to tell from Washington who's on the front line in a Kurdish-Iraqi fight."

The U.S. has designated the PKK a terrorist organization, and the U.S. "doesn't do business with them," the official added.

Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters on Sunday head to the Mosul Dam, which they retook from Islamic State militants. Kurds have gained ground in recent days with the help of U.S. airstrikes and guerrillas linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, a controversial ally. Ahmad al-Rubaye/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
"The bottom line is that our support is to the Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish forces," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Sunday.

Battle-hardened after two years fighting Islamic State and other Islamist rebel groups in the multi-sided Syrian civil war, Kurdish guerrillas linked to the PKK have in recent weeks made a series of military gains that have spotlighted their growing sway.

The Kurdish region of Syria was largely left to its own devices by the army of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, drawing accusations the PKK's Syrian branch was in league with Damascus. PKK officials in Syria have denied those accusations.

Last week, the PKK's Syrian-based units advanced into Iraq and punctured Islamic State lines to help tens of thousands of Yazidis escape an encircled Mount Sinjar.

That followed a request from Iraqi Kurdish authorities—long a PKK rival for regional influence that the U.S. has begun arming to counter the Sunni insurgents—for PKK fighters to bolster beleaguered Peshmerga forces after humiliating losses to Islamists in several cities.

Yazidi refugees demonstrate training exercises at a YPG military base near Derek City, Syria, on Aug. 16, 2014. Erin Trieb for The Wall Street Journal
Now the fast-growing guerrilla force—which its leaders say has more than 20,000 fighters in Syria and at least double that in Iraq and Turkey—is engaged in a two-front battle against the Islamic State that has brought it closer to working in parallel with the U.S. military.

At a PKK training camp close to the Syrian town of Derik this weekend, the commander who led the PKK's Sinjar operation said his forces were growing in power and confidence.

"The Iraqi army collapsed and the Peshmerga failed. We are the only force who has repeatedly defeated jihadists," said Kawar Singali, who carries a U.S.-made M16 rifle he said he captured from a dead Islamic State fighter. "They fear us, and although no one is helping us, we are getting bigger and more experienced."

The PKK faces huge challenges. Besides the terror designation, it remains poorly financed and equipped and its rivalry with the Peshmerga could complicate the nascent battlefield alliance.

But its record of military success against jihadists—which contrasts with other, larger regional forces—is the latest example of how long-opposing interests are partially melding in the crucible of Iraq's conflict.

In another example, Iran and the U.S., on opposing sides in the Syrian civil war, have both sent advisers to the Kurdish region in recent weeks, putting them on the same side against Islamic State.

The U.S. and its Western allies are prohibited by law from providing weapons or training to designated terrorist organizations, but now find themselves fighting on the same side as the PKK and its affiliates to counter the Islamic State threat.

"The Iraqi Peshmerga have had tough times in the last two weeks, and the PKK guys seem to be on their game," said Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs, a think tank. "The U.S. doesn't do business with terrorist organizations…but there's a lot they could turn a blind eye to."

Yazidi refugees watch a weapon demonstration at a YPG military base near Derek City, Syria, on Aug. 16, 2014. Erin Trieb for The Wall Street Journal
Scattered across Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran, the region's estimated 40 million Kurds are one of the world's largest stateless groups.

The PKK—which enjoys broad support among Kurdish communities in Syria, Turkey and among diaspora groups in Europe—has fought a 30-year war for autonomy against the Turkish state.

The group is detested by millions of Turks for its campaign against the conscript army and police that has included placing roadside bombs that have killed civilians and executing unarmed recruits.

But peace talks beginning in 2012 have greatly reduced violence. Last year the group's jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan, announced an end to armed struggle against Turkey and on Sunday said in a statement that peace negotiations were "almost complete."

The shaky cease-fire with Turkey has allowed the PKK to focus its operations on the Kurdish region of Syria, where it has quietly expanded its local force—the People's Protection Units, or YPG—and successfully beaten back Islamist offensives on several strategic towns.

A journey through the Syrian Kurdish enclave of around 2 million reveals the PKK's Syrian branch firmly in control of security, with signs of its military force proudly on show. Billboards with pictures of "martyrs" who have died fighting Islamists can be seen at checkpoints and on public buildings.

Syrian commanders say the security and quality of life is improving as their guerrilla forces expand rapidly, propelled by thousands of young volunteers. Recruitment is boosted by the deployment of women soldiers on the front line, often in all-female units.

"The jihadists don't like fighting women, because if they're killed by a female, they think they won't go to heaven," said one female fighter.

Aldar Khalil, a top PKK official in Syria, said the guerrillas don't have vast stocks of heavy weapons but can easily buy lighter arms—mostly guns, ammunition and rocket propelled grenades—on the black market from well-established smuggling networks, using contributions from citizens and donations from Europe.

"Our youth are joining in the thousands. We are developing a serious force and are fighting on the front lines in many Iraqi towns," said Mr. Khalil, as he held meetings in a newly-built refugee camp housing 13,000 Yazidis in Syria's Derik province.

About 12 miles west of the camp, the guerrillas have set up a training facility for members of the Yazidi minority seeking revenge against the Islamists who captured their towns.

Camp commanders say hundreds of Yazidis—aged between 15 and 50—have already been trained and deployed on the front line. Dressed in starched new fatigues, their faces swaddled with scarves, sixty recruits on Saturday listened rapt as a mustachioed commander instructed them on setting up sniper positions or using rocket-propelled grenades against Islamic State militants.

"I came to fight here because everyone else abandoned us, including the Peshmerga," added 26-year old Ali Barkat.

The new military collaboration between the Peshmerga and the PKK comes after years of fraught relations. The Peshmerga which is run collectively by Iraqi Kurdistan's two dominant parties, the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, rejects the PKK's Marxist ideology and it is unclear if their improved ties can last. Some local media already reported rising tensions on certain battle lines.

But ties do appear to be improving:

Raw video shows U.S. airstrikes against ISIL targets on Saturday, near the Mosul Dam complex in Iraq. Photo: U.S. Central Command
"We are working together and we want to enhance our relations. Now we are in defensive mode but an advance will come soon," said Zagros Hawa, a PKK spokesman based in the group's headquarters in Iraq's Qandil mountains.

At the PKK training camp, taking relief from the August heat from the Cyprus trees, PKK recruits—some as young as 15 with minimal training—were waiting to be ordered to the front line close to the Sinjar mountain.

"I joined to fight with PKK because I have nowhere else to go," said 28-year old Fesa Minchu, who said six of his family were killed when Islamic State stormed Sinjar.

Asked if he was scared he shook his head: "I just want revenge," he said.


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Post #3 by Vic Ferrari » Mon Sep 01, 2014 6:55 pm

Iraq's Shiite Militias Complicate Battle Against Islamic State

BAGHDAD—Iraq's prime minister thanked Shiite militias on Monday for helping break a two-month siege by Sunni insurgents on the town of Amirli, a victory speech that showed how the fight against Islamic State extremists is hardening the country's sectarian divisions.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki omitted mention of the U.S. and Kurdish role in the battle on Sunday. Instead he called the fight "a second Karbala," drawing a connection to a historic battle that cemented the split between Sunnis and Shiites.

The mostly Shiite Turkmen town of 17,000 was running short of food and water during the siege and disease was spreading. Residents received new aid the day after the Iraqi military, Kurdish fighters and Shiite militias launched their coordinated ground offensive backed by U.S. airstrikes. Also on Monday, the joint forces consolidated the territory they retook, driving retreating Islamic State militants from the city of Suleiman Bec, to the north.

Amirli, about 100 miles north of Baghdad, was secure enough for outgoing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to fly in and celebrate a rare victory against Islamic State. During his victory speech, Mr. Maliki was flanked by Hadi Al Ameri, the minister of transportation and leader of the Badr Corps, a militia founded in Iran during the 1980s.

While praising the role that Shiite militias played, the prime minister didn't mention the U.S. airstrikes that helped break the siege. The Obama administration pressured Mr. Maliki to step aside recently after it blamed him for marginalizing the Sunni and Kurdish minorities during his rule and deepening sectarian tensions.

For the U.S., teaming up with Shiite militias who terrify Sunnis risked alienating the Sunnis further, something that could undermine American goals of promoting more unity and encouraging the formation of a government that better represents all of Iraq's major sects.

"We don't deal with the Shiite militias," a senior U.S. official in Iraq said on Monday. "But if you don't acknowledge that they are out there and they are going to be working either alongside or linked in with the Iraqi security forces to accomplish a common goal against a common enemy, then we're never going to get there."

That strategy could end up empowering armed groups who have worked against U.S. interests in the past and whose longer-range political goals may undermine the country's unity.

Iraq's weakened national military has grown increasingly reliant on Shiite militias as well as fighters for the semiautonomous Kurdish region, which is already angling for independence.

From 2005-2007 when Iraq teetered on the brink of sectarian civil war, Shiite militias ran death squads that targeted Sunnis. They were accused of ethnic cleansing, driving Sunnis out of entire neighborhoods in Baghdad and other cities.

At the same time, Sunnis who formed the backbone of an insurgency blew up Shiite shrines and carried out a campaign of sectarian violence against Shiites.

Just last weekend, security officials blamed Shiite militiamen for a shooting rampage that killed more than 70 Sunni worshipers in Diyala province.

"The Americans' hands are tied," said Hayder Al Khoie, an Iraqi analyst at the London-based Chatham House, who called the U.S. position a "contradiction." The Americans "are trying to help, but the people they are helping are going to be a national security threat if and when the dust settles," he said.

Many of the Shiite militias are closely tied to neighboring Iran. Such a visible reliance on fighters from the Shiite majority, which accounts for about two-thirds of Iraq's population, will challenge efforts to disarm the militias in the future and will likely give sectarian Shiites and Iran outsize influence over Iraqi politics for years to come, Mr. Khoie and Sunni politicians warned.

Sunni politicians have voiced loud opposition to Iraq's reliance on Shiite militias in the past.

"We don't really have an army. Maliki just created a sectarian army, working with militias," said Hamid Al Mutlaq, a prominent Sunni politician. "A lot of criminals, killers and bad people were included."

Shiite militias such as the Badr Corps, the Hizbullah Brigades, Asaib Ahl Al Haq and the Mehdi Army, have all been accused of abuses against Sunnis.

Even though militia leaders insist they will stop fighting once the Islamic State is defeated, few say they plan to give up their arms or their political influence.

"When things settle, we won't work outside the law but we will be part of the ruling system within the law and the constitution," said Ahmed Al Kinani, a member of the political bureau in Asaib Ahl Al Haq. Mr. Kinani denied that Shiite militias were involved in the Diyala shooting or other abuses.
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Post #4 by Vic Ferrari » Thu Sep 04, 2014 1:54 pm

With South Asia Push, Al Qaeda Tries to Show It Is Still Strong:

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri this week delivered his first response to the Islamic State since the rival militant group blitzed through Iraq and Syria this summer, erecting a de facto state the size of Belgium.

In a 55-minute videotape, Mr. Zawahiri announced the expansion of al Qaeda into the Indian subcontinent while denouncing Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the caliphate—or religious empire—he declared in June. The Islamic State's shocking success has outdone that of al Qaeda's, taking more ground than any other Arab militant group before it in a bid to become the leader of the global jihadist movement.

Much of Mr. Zawahiri's message was intended to tell the world that al Qaeda remains strong and viable -- despite its weakness in Syria and Iraq, the epicenter of global jihad—and that the group is expanding. The Islamic State's center of power is in Iraq and Syria, where it has turned on al Qaeda, forcing its commanders and militants to pledge allegiance or face death.

"This new entity is good tidings to support the oppressed Muslims in the Indian subcontinent: in Burma, Bangladesh, Assam and Kogerad and Ahmedabad and Kashmir," Mr. Zawahiri says in the video, which the SITE Intelligence Group said was released Wednesday. "This entity was established to break the artificial borders established by the English occupiers to split between Muslims in the Indian subcontinent."

But the expansion of al Qaeda into the Indian subcontinent is not expected to boost the group's fortunes, analysts say, as al Qaeda units operating in the region haven't had much success historically while the area isn't as religiously significant as the Mideast.

"The message was to show that al Qaeda is expanding into new markets where the Islamic State is not present and frankly, al Qaeda is not, either," said Peter Neumann, a professor at King's College in London and the director of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization. "Small networks in Bangladesh and elsewhere that are aligned with al Qaeda haven't been able to do much in 10 years."

Mr. Zawahiri's recent video may backfire. Unlike his rival, Mr. Baghdadi, Mr. Zawahiri releases statements infrequently and is believed to be in hiding somewhere in the mountainous terrain of Pakistan. Mr. Baghdadi, in contrast, operates on the ground between Syria and Iraq, according to U.S. intelligence, and even came out into the open to deliver a speech in Mosul, Iraq, in June, when he announced the establishment of a caliphate.

The Islamic State has erected a caliphate straddling Iraq and Syria that threatens the borders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. Al Qaeda has never held so much territory, in part because they differ with the Islamic State over the path toward creating a caliphate.

After al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in May 2011, Mr. Zawahiri took leadership of the movement. But Mr. Zawahiri is a divisive figure and lacks the charisma of his predecessor, which may have given Mr. Baghdadi, seen as an eloquent and appealing leader to aspiring jihadists, a boost.

That anxiety could be seen in the Wednesday video, which opened with a photo of bin Laden and a speech by the now deceased al Qaeda leader, a more prominent fixation than in previous releases.

Since the Islamic State declared a caliphate, it has taken on new recruits from militants defecting from al Nusra Front—al Qaeda's branch in Syria—and other jihadist groups. But on a larger, international scale, the more established extremist groups haven't defected from al Qaeda to the Islamic State en masse, creating a fierce competition between the groups for the support needed to lead the global jihadist movement.

"The message is that al Qaeda is not dead," said Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, a fellow at the Middle East Forum. "It is vying for influence with the Islamic State, but the global trend hasn't pointed to any way yet."

Mr. Baghdadi has demanded that all jihadist groups pledge loyalty to him. The Islamic State is widely seen as more brutal than al Qaeda, which it split from earlier this year. The Islamic State has a long history of tension with its parent organization over the violent methods it uses to enforce their rule.

In a nod over the disagreement in tactics, Mr. Zawahiri said in the video that those that want to create a caliphate "should respect Muslim blood and properties and not kill them."
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Post #5 by Vic Ferrari » Fri Sep 05, 2014 9:28 am

NATO states to form military coalition to fight ISIS:

Nine Nato states and an aligned state have begun discussions to form a military coalition to fight Isis, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Iraq, in one of the most concrete steps from the international community so far in acting against the increasingly bloody insurgency.

In meetings on the sidelines of the biennial Nato summit in Wales over the past two days, US and British diplomats have worked to stitch together a coalition willing to intervene in Iraq.

The nascent group is considering a broad range of options, only part of which will be direct military force.
While the uprising has not been an official agenda item at the 28-state meeting in Newport – widely regarded as the most important for the alliance since the end of the cold war – it has dominated informal discussions on the fringes of the summit.

On Friday morning, US secretary of state John Kerry, defence secretary Chuck Hagel, British foreign secretary Philip Hammond and defence secretary Michael Fallon chaired a meeting of counterparts from seven other Nato members, including France, Germany, Canada, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark, and observer state Australia to discuss combating Isis, two sources with knowledge of the meeting told the Financial Times.

In a joint statement on Friday, Mr Kerry and Mr Hagel said: “Our Nato allies and partners today have confirmed their readiness to be a full part of [a] co-ordinated approach, and over the coming days, we will continue the discussion with our partners in the region, who have an important role to play across these lines of effort.”

“This effort will also be a focus of the UN General Assembly later this month as we work to establish a truly global coalition. Acting together, with clear objectives and common purpose, we will degrade and destroy Isis capabilities – and ensure that it can no longer threaten Iraq, the region, and the world.”

The 10-state meeting followed on from discussions between alliance leaders at Cardiff Castle over dinner on Thursday evening, which centred around the deteriorating situation in the Middle East. The Friday meeting concluded that “boots on the ground” would be a red line but that other military options including co-ordinated air strikes and greater efforts to train and support the Iraqi forces were necessary.

“We have had a thorough discussion on the situation . . . in Syria and Iraq,” Nato secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Friday afternoon. “There are two threads of work. One is a track proposed by a number of individual allies that are determined to take the necessary steps to help Iraq to stop the terror organisation IS . . . The other track is the Nato track. We have decided if we receive a request from the Iraqi government, we are ready to consider a defence capacity building mission.”

Such a mission is likely to include specialist troops being deployed as advisers, strategists and trainers to support Iraq’s security forces. “Until 2012, Nato had a training mission in Iraq,” Mr Rasmussen pointed out. “So we do have quite some experience in the field of defence capacity building in Iraq.

“The international community had an obligation to do all that it can,” he added.
Nato states keen to act in Iraq have also held bilateral and multilateral meetings with regional Middle Eastern leaders who have been attending the summit. In particular, they have been keen to engage King Abdullah II of Jordan, who had held discussions with them on how to militarily defeat Isis.

Earlier on Friday Nato leaders failed to agree new binding targets for raising defence expenditure – one of the most contentious issues up for discussion this week. However, they are set to agree to freeze further cuts to defence budgets across the 28-member alliance.

Wrangling over national obligations to spend more on defence has gone down to the wire: while Nato diplomats in Brussels had already hammered out a deal on a raft of other policies due to be agreed at the summit, the text of spending commitment agreements was still being fought over as the Nato Atlantic Council meeting to discuss it began on Friday morning, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

Nato’s members are supposed to spend at least 2 per cent of their annual economic output on defence. Many members of the alliance had hoped to secure a binding commitment for states who do not currently to do so within a specified timeframe.

Only four of them currently hit their target: the US, the UK, Greece and Estonia. A number of other Nato members have committed to increasing their spending to the 2 per cent mark, including Poland and the Baltic states.

But many of Nato’s biggest powers come nowhere near. Germany spends 1.3 per cent of its gross domestic product on defence while Italy spends 1.2 per cent and Canada just 1 per cent.

In addition, countries such as Britain are on course to fall below the target, and many others have until now been expected to make further cuts.

According to two people familiar with the negotiations over the Nato targets, the commitment currently due before the Atlantic Council on Friday will be an aspirational “aim” to meet the 2 per cent threshold from states over the course of a decade.

There will be no absolute requirement for states to hit the target.
In slightly more robust language, the text also says that “allies agree to halt further defence cuts”.

A Nato official stressed that further revisions could take place within the council meeting itself, though this would be unusual. Nato policies are not voted on by the council but are typically passed by consensus after diplomats have thrashed out disagreements beforehand.
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Post #6 by Vic Ferrari » Fri Sep 05, 2014 7:25 pm


Intelligence Gaps Crippled Mission in Syria to Rescue Hostages James Foley, Steven Sotloff:

WASHINGTON—On a moonless night in early July, several dozen Army Delta Force commandos touched down at an oil-storage facility in eastern Syria.

The plan: Neutralize the terrorist guards, search a makeshift prison, find American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and other hostages, and fly off to safety. It was all supposed to take 20 minutes.

More than an hour later, the Army team was headed back to its launchpad outside Syria empty-handed.

"It was a dry hole," a senior U.S. military official said, using jargon for a mission whose target couldn't be found.

One model for the operation was the 2011 mission that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, down to choosing the darkest of nights to cloak the raiders. But this raid, the first known U.S. incursion into Syria since its civil war erupted, was in many ways a far bigger gamble, according to current and former U.S. defense and government officials.

The U.S. had limited visibility into Syria, including the suspected prison site just miles from the main operations base of Islamic State, the militant group once known as ISIS that has overrun large parts of Syria and Iraq. Weeks before the raid, the Pentagon drafted a plan for surveillance flights in Syria but dropped the idea after concluding the White House wouldn't approve them, U.S. officials said.

A senior administration official said the only Pentagon request for surveillance flights the White House received came just before the mission.

Before the commandos' V-22 Ospreys landed in the early morning hours of July 3, the Joint Special Operations team, part of the elite Delta Force, had been practicing for several weeks at a U.S. base in North Carolina—based on intelligence showing the makeshift prison between storage containers, oil derricks and other structures in a bleak desert landscape.

They had prepared for contingencies such as booby-trapped buildings and a large militant force guarding the hostages. Delta Force took part in the ill-fated 1993 "Black Hawk Down" raid in Somalia, and some officials worried the Syria operation carried similar risks.

As they drilled, the team conducting the mission was anxious to get the green light. "There were lots of rehearsals. They were ready for a period of time. It was a matter of waiting on a decision," said a defense official. "Once the decision was made, they went."

They went too late. The U.S. now believes the militants moved the hostages away as little as 72 hours earlier.

The Islamic State's communications discipline was strong, the U.S. officials said, honed by its leaders during the U.S. war in Iraq, making it hard to track the hostages. The U.S. had few informants on the ground to fill gaps in intelligence from satellites and other systems, they said, and the country the U.S. first approached about providing a base for the operation didn't want its territory used as the launch pad.

Videos showing the brutal killing of Messrs. Foley and Sotloff emerged a few weeks later, galvanizing U.S. and international calls to more directly counter Islamic State.

A reconstruction of events surrounding the failed rescue, based on interviews with current and former U.S. officials and foreign diplomats, and with other people familiar with the hostage situation, shows the extent to which it was a calculated gamble under intense time pressure.

The Pentagon proposed and President Barack Obama approved an elaborate operation in hostile territory with imperfect information. The Pentagon, worried about the risk to commandos and hostages, deployed a bigger-than-usual force, including a large team poised to intervene if the raid went sour.

The president "accepted a higher degree of risk than we expected," said one of the U.S. defense officials.

U.S. military and government officials defended their approach, noting that they had to make difficult choices quickly and that intelligence is always incomplete. Even in the bin Laden raid, a spectacular success, American officials were far from certain he was even at the targeted compound.

Officials also were painfully aware the hostages would be at even greater risk once Mr. Obama ordered airstrikes against Islamic State. Officials believed such a decision was imminent, which narrowed the window for any raid.

They also worried that putting drones overhead before the operation risked tipping off the militants. While such flights might have increased U.S. awareness about militant facilities, these officials said, they may not have changed the outcome and might have endangered the hostages if detected.

Officials involved in planning the mission said they concluded that the hostages' survival chances were already so low that a risky raid was the best option. "These are all tough decisions," said one of the officials.

Mr. Obama has for years expressed caution over becoming entangled in Syria's civil war, reflecting his concern that even a small intervention could lead the U.S. into another major Middle Eastern conflict and potentially run afoul of international law.

But over time, the White House has inched toward playing a greater role in Syria and Iraq, pushed by events on the ground. Two years after completing the U.S. pullout from Iraq, Mr. Obama secretly agreed to resume surveillance flights in Iraq to gather intelligence on Islamic State camps near the Syrian border. The group was one of the most effective forces battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces. The program was tiny, initially one drone flight a month.

In June, after Islamic State militants seized Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, the Pentagon drafted an order that called for deploying military advisers to Baghdad and allowing what it called "intrusive" surveillance flights into Syria.

But Pentagon leaders revised the order to take out the overflight authorization because they believed the White House would reject it. White House and some Pentagon officials argued that incursions into Syrian airspace would violate the country's sovereignty and deepen U.S. involvement in the civil war. "The president wasn't ready to go there," said one of the U.S. officials.

A senior Obama administration official said the Pentagon didn't bring the initial June order for surveillance flights in Syria to the White House for consideration.

In early summer, U.S. intelligence agencies narrowed their search for the American hostages to a small building near an oil facility southeast of Raqqa, the effective capital of Islamic State. Mr. Obama secretly authorized Special Operations forces to begin planning for a rescue mission, which would be led by the Pentagon with support from the Central Intelligence Agency.

The hostages had been at the site for several months, said a person familiar with the situation. The main target was the small makeshift prison at the oil site. It was divided into at least four large rooms, which the person said appeared to be used to hold the hostages and included kitchen and bathroom facilities.

The debate over authorizing the raid centered on whether it would put the U.S. hostages and others held by Islamic State in greater peril, said one of the defense officials. Militants had also seized dozens of Turkish hostages after their capture of Mosul.

The early hours of July 3 were chosen because they were moonless—common practice for high-profile and risky missions. "You needed stealth and then some for a mission like this," a senior government official said. The official said the order was presented to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Mr. Obama two days before planners intended to strike.

"There was no artificial delay of the rescue attempt," said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon's spokesman. "I can assure you from the time the execute order was presented to the chain of command, including the secretary and the president, and the time it was actually executed was very short. Less than two days."

The U.S. hoped to launch the raid from a base in Turkey that would give easy access to Raqqa. But the Turks, worried about their own hostages, were wary, U.S. officials said, so the U.S. sent the team to another country in the region for final preparations.

Shifting the operation didn't delay matters, said one of the military officials, although the distance to Raqqa increased. A senior Turkish official denied that the U.S. approached Ankara seeking a base in the country. The ultimate host country agreed on the condition the U.S. not reveal its identity.

Unsure how much resistance it would encounter on the ground, the Pentagon sent a particularly large force: several dozen commandos. If successful, they may have had to bring out many hostages and physical evidence.

A larger Quick Reaction Team was positioned nearby on alert to respond to any trouble, such as an Islamic State attack from Raqqa. Refueling aircraft were deployed to keep fighter aircraft ready.

The administration kept details of the rescue mission closely held, notifying a small number of lawmakers about the mission beforehand, providing them with minimal information.

After landing, the team took small-arms fire and quickly killed the militants at the facility who confronted them. One commando was slightly injured.

The commandos were supposed to be on the ground for less than 20 minutes but decided to search the entire complex, some behind a tall wall with towers. They stayed over an hour, said senior U.S. officials briefed on the operation. "There was far from perfect intelligence on this," one of the military officials said about why it took longer than expected.

The team found physical evidence showing the hostages had been there. Officials said they think the militants moved the hostages three days to a week before the raid.

The U.S. is still trying to determine why the militants moved the hostages at the last minute. The government doesn't have evidence to suggest that Islamic State was tipped off but can't rule out the possibility.

On Aug. 8, the U.S. launched airstrikes against Islamic State militants in northern Iraq, fearing the group could seize the Kurdish capital, Erbil. U.S. officials said Mr. Obama and military commanders knew the strikes reduced the hostages' survival chances.

On Aug. 19, a video showing Mr. Foley's beheading appeared online. Shortly after, the administration revealed the failed mission, reflecting sensitivity to some lawmakers' suggestions it could have done more, sooner. Hostages' families were told about the unsuccessful operation a couple of hours before the media, a U.S. official said.

After the video, any White House hesitation about entering Syrian airspace disappeared. A few days later, Mr. Obama approved sending drones and U-2 spy planes over the country.

"It changed the calculus," a U.S. official said of the Foley video. "It changed it pretty immensely and pretty immediately."

A video of Mr. Sotloff's beheading appeared on Sept. 2.

The drones now over Syria, U.S. officials said, are attempting to develop targets for potential strikes and find remaining hostages.
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Post #7 by Vic Ferrari » Fri Sep 19, 2014 11:47 pm

[SIZE="5"]U.S. Urging Allies to Join Strikes on Syria:[/size]

The U.S. is seeking commitments from allies to join in airstrikes on Syria before it launches attacks against Islamic State targets, American officials said, reflecting concerns about acting unilaterally.

The administration hopes that one or two allies will join in the initial wave of airstrikes, which could be launched as early as next week, these officials said.

President Barack Obama and other top U.S. officials are attending the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York this month, in part, to try and woo more partners to the U.S.-led coalition.

Secretary of State John Kerry addressed a special session of the U.N. Security Council on Friday and stressed the importance of support from European and Arab states for the campaign against the extremist group Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

"I'm absolutely confident that through a global campaign that is comprehensive and committed, we can support the promise of the new government in Iraq and we can defeat the ISIL threat wherever it exists," Mr. Kerry said.

The Pentagon is preparing war plans in Syria that would include an intensive initial wave of strikes against Islamic State targets.

U.S. officials said adding allies would help spread the burden of the strikes. But far more important is the symbolism a joint strike would have, showing that the U.S. isn't acting unilaterally but has support from the international community.

"A key component of this would be allied participation," said a U.S. official.

One U.S. official said some allies have offered to participate in the strikes only if their role isn't publicly acknowledged. But such covert participation wouldn't help the U.S. convince skeptics it wasn't acting unilaterally, the official said.

France has joined the U.S. in striking targets in Iraq, but French President François Hollande has publicly said he would not extend those strikes to Syria. French officials have said they are worried striking Islamic State in Syria could bolster the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The narrow focus of the U.S. government on Islamic State militants has hampered diplomatic efforts at building up a coalition, particularly among Arab countries. Some Arab diplomats have said the U.S. should focus on attacking the Assad regime as well as extremist groups.

Other nations in the region have privately raised questions about the depth of the American commitment to push back Islamic State, worried that the U.S. will pull out too quickly, and not press long enough to permanently weaken the militants.

Foreign ministers meeting with Mr. Kerry Friday appeared split on whether to push the war on Islamic State into Syria.

Iraq's new foreign minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, said a campaign against the terrorist organization couldn't succeed without pursuing the fighters in their Syrian safe haven.

"We warned that the situation in Syria would eventually affect Iraq and this threat must be removed…including from neighboring countries," Mr. Jaafari said.

Russia, however, one of Syria's closest allies, said that no military operations against Islamic State militants should be conducted without a Security Council resolution. Russia also wants such strikes to be conducted in close consultation with the Syrian regime.

"We are concerned about bombing Syria without the cooperation of Damascus," Russia's ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin said. "It can have destructive practical consequences on the humanitarian situation in Syria."

However, Saudi Arabia's ambassador, Abdallah Y. Al-Mouallimi, said that to stem the threat from Islamic State, the coalition would need to "put a stop to the prime source of all this violence: the Syrian regime. ISIL and the Syrian regime are but different sides of the same coin."

He said "concerted action" was needed to support the legal Syrian opposition to allow them to fight ISIL as well as the Syrian regime.

Syrian U.N Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari lambasted Saudi Arabia for what he claimed was their support for Islamic State and other terrorist groups and said the conflict in Iraq couldn't be separated from the Syrian crisis.

"The war in Syria and Iraq against terrorism is a single war against the same enemy. The victims of both countries are the victims of one terrorism—a heinous one," he said.

While U.S. officials have ruled out a "shock and awe"-style air campaign in Syria, officials said the Pentagon envisaged an intense initial wave of multiple strikes in multiple locations

After that first salvo, the Syria campaign will then likely shift into a less intensive phase similar to the air campaign in Iraq over the last two months, depending on how Islamic State responds and how the initial strikes go, officials said.

One of Mr. Obama's top priorities, as he mingles with world leaders at the United Nations over three days this coming week, is securing stronger Arab support for his strategy, according to senior U.S. officials.

None of Washington's Middle Eastern allies have publicly committed to participation in military operations against Islamic State, and administration officials have tried to deflect questions about how far Arab leaders may be willing to go to support the effort.

Mr. Obama will make the case for building a strong international coalition during a speech Wednesday morning to the U.N. General Assembly and in meetings on the sidelines of the summit.

While U.S. officials expect additional commitments from other nations, it is unclear what types of assistance Mr. Obama might gain from Sunni-led governments against the Sunni radicals of Islamic State.

Mr. Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, on Friday played down any potential divisions within the coalition or confusion about who would be leading the effort.

"This will be a unified coalition," Ms. Rice told reporters. "It will be cohesive. And it will be under one single command authority."

Ms. Rice reiterated the U.S. position on a ground war, saying: "Our strategy does not involve U.S. troops on the ground in a combat role in either Iraq or Syria."

She said the program to arm and train Syrian rebels will be based outside of Syria.

Ms. Rice also said now that Congress has passed Mr. Obama's proposal for arming and training Syrian rebels, the administration plans to move quickly to implement the program but it will take months to set up training facilities and vet members of the opposition.

"This will be a process that will take months," Ms. Rice said. "We'll move as fast as we reasonably can."

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the president has been "very pleased" with discussions between the U.S. officials and Sunni-led governments. He pointed to Saudi Arabia's agreement to host a facility for training the Syrian rebels and indicated possible additional measures.
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Post #8 by Vic Ferrari » Tue Sep 23, 2014 11:21 am

[SIZE="5"]U.S. Denies Syria Government Given Prior Notice of Airstrikes:

The Syrian government and opposition said Tuesday they were told by the U.S. of its plan to carry out airstrikes against Islamic State targets on Syrian territory, as the Obama administration opened up a new front in an expanding Middle East war.

The announcement by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad that it was given prior notification of the attacks in a letter from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was immediately denied by the State Department.

The diplomatic spat flared hours after the U.S. and five Middle Eastern allies carried out airstrikes on extremist fighters in the country, where a civil war has been raging for more than three years.

The Syrian government said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sent a letter Monday to the Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, informing him of the impending strikes against Islamic State bases on Syrian soil.

The letter was relayed to Damascus by Iraq's foreign minister, a statement issued by Syria's foreign ministry said. Syria's envoy to the United Nations was also notified about the airstrikes "hours before their start," it said.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday no prior notification of the attacks was given to the Syrian government.

"We did not provide advance notification to the Syrians at a military level, or give any indication of our timing on specific targets. Secretary Kerry did not send a letter to the Syrian regime," Ms. Psaki said.

The spokeswoman noted, however, the Syrian regime had been informed by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, of U.S. intentions to take action against Islamic State and terrorists inside Syria. She did not say when Ms. Power did so.

Ms. Psaki didn't comment on indications that the opposition Free Syrian Army was briefed in advance of attacks.

Oubai Shahbander, an adviser to the FSA, said he had been briefed on the airstrikes. "This is a joint coalition effort of which the Syrian opposition is a full-fledged member," he said.

U.S. officials didn't immediately provide estimates of damage or success of the strikes. They said initial battle damage assessments might be made public later on Tuesday.

According to residents of the city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of Islamic State, the extremist group was prepared for an attack, moving their top leadership and most sophisticated weapons to another location.

The U.S. military said U.S. Air Force fighter planes, armed drones and allied aircraft, the strikes hit nearly two dozen targets in parts of Syria controlled by Islamic State militants.

As part of the strikes on Islamic State positions in Syria, the U.S. said the USS Arleigh Burke and USS Philippine Sea fired 47 Tomahawk missiles from positions in the Red Sea and the North Arabian Sea.

Five Arab countries, including Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, helped carry out the airstrikes in Syria, with some flying alongside the U.S. warplanes, according to an allied official. Their participation was seen as critical to the success and credibility of the mission, helping avoid the appearance of a unilateral U.S. attack on Syrian territory.

The targets included buildings used as Islamic State supply depots and logistics hubs near the Syria-Iraq border. But the U.S. also struck deeper into Syria, at Raqqa, the U.S. military said.

In all, the U.S. military said it carried out 22 airstrikes in Syria in what is expected to be the start of a prolonged international campaign against extremist forces in Syria.

Most of the missiles hit Islamic State forces. But American attacks near Aleppo also targeted the so-called Khorasan group, a smaller force that American officials say posed a more direct threat to the U.S. than Islamic State extremists.

The U.S. military said no Arab nations took part in the airstrikes against Khorasan forces involved in "the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests conducted by a network of seasoned al-Qaeda veterans."

The expanded war propelled the U.S. military into an uncharted involvement in Syria, where it has little intelligence and virtually no ground support.

The strikes opened the war's new front as world leaders were meeting in New York at the annual gathering of the United Nations General Assembly, where President Barack Obama was scheduled to deliver an address later this week.

On Sept. 10, after the slaying of two U.S. journalists, Mr. Obama announced a stepped-up campaign against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and said he would not hesitate to also take action in Syria, vowing the group would find "no safe haven" after threatening America.

The foreign ministry of Russia, the Syrian regime's close ally, criticized the move to strike targets in Syria without the express approval of Damascus or a mandate from the United Nations Security Council.

"Such actions must be carried out exclusively within the boundaries of international law," the Ministry said in a statement Tuesday. "That means not formal unilateral 'notification' of strikes but the clearly expressed approval of the government of Syria or the passage of a decision by the United Nations Security Council."

Gen. Lloyd Austin, the head of U.S. Central Command, ordered the strike Monday after receiving the authorization of Mr. Obama, officials said.

The attack wasn't of the same scale as the airstrikes that began the U.S.-led war in Iraq in 2003, often cited as an example of the military doctrine of "shock and awe." Still, using a variety of weapons systems and relying on multiple nations, the strikes were more wide-ranging and powerful than the initial strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq last month.

"It is shock, without the awe," said a U.S. official.

The strike went on for several hours, officials said, and some of the targets hit by U.S. warplanes and missiles included larger camps or complexes of buildings. "This is a pretty big attack," said a military official. "We are hitting a lot."

U.S. officials said they targeted buildings used by Islamic State militants, although the initial volley of strikes didn't specifically aim to kill the group's leaders or other so-called high value targets.

In addition to Islamic State militants, the airstrikes took aim at camps and buildings used by Khorasan. That group is led by Muhsin al-Fadhli, a longtime al Qaeda operative with ties to the group's leadership in Pakistan. The decision to target the group represents an expansion of the aim of the U.S. mission beyond what Mr. Obama outlined earlier this month.

Before the attack began, officials said that the U.S. strategy in Syria, at least at first, will be focused on weakening the ability of Islamic State forces to fight in Iraq. Officials said they wanted to cut off the group's ability to resupply fighters in Iraq and weaken its ability to hold a large swath of territory it has claimed in Iraq.

Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, emerged from the Syrian civil war as the strongest extremist group fighting the Assad regime. Over the past year, Islamic State militants claimed control of patches of eastern Syria and then moved into Sunni-dominated western Iraq, where they took control of the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah. In June, the group pushed into Mosul, Iraq's second largest city.

Today, the group controls much of northern and western Iraq. Until American airstrikes began last month in Iraq, militant forces were threatening Kurdish controlled areas as well.

Last week, Mr. Obama was briefed on the Syrian war plan at Central Command headquarters in Tampa, although he didn't immediately approve the campaign. Officials have said Mr. Obama has kept close watch on the Syrian planning.

The Obama administration repeatedly has stressed it won't send American ground troops into Iraq or Syria to fight Islamic State. Instead, the U.S. military intends to begin a training program in Saudi Arabia for moderate Syrian rebels.

The airstrikes in Syria marked the first time the U.S. has used the F-22, its most advanced aircraft, in battle. Even when attacking Libyan air defenses, the Pentagon avoided deploying F-22s, which are stationed at a base in the U.A.E.

Because of its speed and ability to fly at high altitudes, the F-22 can drop guided bombs from much further away than F/A-18s or F-16 fighter planes, officials said. According to the Air Force, the F-22 can drop a 1,000-pound guided bomb from 15 miles away from the target.

The Syrian government controls advanced Russian-provided air defense systems and the U.S. decided not to directly engage the Assad regime or its forces, making it critical that American fighter planes be able to penetrate deeply into Syrian airspace undetected.

The number of allied nations that were flying with the U.S. was shifting up until a few hours before the strikes, and it wasn't clear how many of the nations would discuss their participation in depth.

Officials said that the regional coalition was critical to the success of the Obama administration's campaign against Islamic State and would help brush aside some of the questions about the depth of support for America's strategy in Syria.

"You need to show Arab involvement in the kinetic parts of the war," said a senior administration official.
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Post #9 by Vic Ferrari » Wed Oct 08, 2014 8:02 pm

The Challenge of Urban Warfare With ISIS

The survival or breakdown of Islamic State, aka ISIS, hinges on the outcome of what promises to be a grueling battle for control of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. Since the city’s fall on June 10, reports of mass executions have been confirmed by fleeing refugees. The ISIS jihadis have committed a “staggering array” of human-rights abuses including ethnic cleansing, abductions, rape, and other physical and sexual violence against women and children, according to a United Nations report released Oct. 2.

To understand the challenge of retaking Mosul, a densely populated city with some 1.8 million residents, consider Israel’s experiences in Gaza this year and the U.S. experience in Fallujah in November 2004. Fallujah was the single most violent urban battle in the Iraq war. Ninety-five American soldiers were killed taking the city and 560 were wounded. The majority of the city’s 250,000 residents fled before the battle, but according to U.S. officials more than half of the city’s homes were damaged and about 10,000 destroyed.

In Gaza 66 elite Israeli soldiers were killed and it wasn’t even a re-occupation campaign. It was an eight-week battle to destroy tunnels and degrade Hamas’s ability to carry out kidnappings and rocket attacks at great cost in Palestinian civilian lives and infrastructure due to Hamas’s practice of using human shields—women and children—to protect their fighting forces and weapons.

Iraqis inspect the wreckage of the grave of the Nebi Yunus, or prophet Jonah, in Mosul in July. ENLARGE
Iraqis inspect the wreckage of the grave of the Nebi Yunus, or prophet Jonah, in Mosul in July. EPA
In Mosul there is little doubt that ISIS, like Hamas, is positioning its artillery around civilian centers, including schools, hospitals and mosques. And there is no underestimating the damage ISIS can do to invading forces if it attacks from and retreats into tunnels, as Hamas did in Gaza. Mosul has all the equipment, raw materials and fuel needed to prepare for such defenses.

Stopping Islamic fighters on the road during their advance toward Mosul in June would have been possible from the air. Toyota trucks, even off road, could have been picked out one by one without hurting civilians. Now Mosul will have to be retaken by Iraqi forces and Kurdish Peshmerga that are not nearly as well trained or equipped as the Marines who took Fallujah.

A house-to-house fight for control of the city will be much more costly in blood and treasure if ISIS is given too much time to build a network of tunnels and hunker down Gaza-style. Hiding behind civilians is not difficult, and the less training the invading forces have the more likely they are to kill more civilians. With Arab civilian casualties likely to be featured prominently in news reports, the coalition of Arab nations could flounder.

A slow-moving campaign allowing ISIS time to tunnel down and ride out a campaign to retake Mosul could end in disaster. It took Israel eight weeks, and a disheartening toll of Palestinian civilian casualties, to finally deal Hamas knock-out blows, killing top Hamas commanders and disrupting the group’s communications to the point where a cease-fire was agreed to.

In the war against ISIS, the goal cannot be to fight for a cease-fire. Nor can a single decapitation strike solve the problem of an estimated 34,000 Islamist terrorists roaming the power vacuum in the Sunni regions of western Iraq and eastern Syria.

In his “60 Minutes” interview, Mr. Obama said the U.S. government “underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.” Let’s hope he’s not underestimating what it will take to “degrade and destroy” ISIS fighters in Iraq. Saying over and over that there will be “no boots on the ground” makes no sense. The U.S. has already sent Marines to protect its embassies and consulates, and “advisers” are embedded with Kurdish forces. No one would argue, not even the president, that these U.S. forces are not in harm’s way.

To ensure the means of victory, the White House must, in the first instance, level with the American people and listen to the advice of Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who warned that more reinforcements might be needed.

If only for coordination purposes and tactical efforts to limit civilian casualties, U.S. special forces will need to be on the ground in and around the urban battlefield of Mosul.

America needs to make it clear to the fighters now holding Mosul that they do not have a monopoly over fear. The process of infiltrating the area, creating corridors for civilians to flee the fighting, supply chains, and all that is necessary to see this battle through cannot start until Mosul’s hostage inhabitants can see their captors running for cover.

Mr. Soussan, a former U.N. Program Coordinator on Iraq, is the author of “Backstabbing for Beginners” (Nation Books, 2010) and a partner at the digital advisory firm GoodLoop Media.
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Post #10 by Vic Ferrari » Tue Oct 14, 2014 4:22 pm

[SIZE="4"]Islamic State Militants Redraw Iraqi Borders


MAKHTAB KHALED, Iraq—Attalaf al Nour, a farmer who lives in Iraq’s Sunni heartland, long enjoyed a simple life that revolved around livestock, crops and trips to the city to sell his grain.

But since July, when Islamic State militants swept into Iraq, his world has been upended by new geographic and political boundaries that don’t yet appear on any map, but is fracturing Iraq’s fragile cohesion by separating thousands of families from their markets, schools and jobs.

“Iraq is broken like never before, thanks to Daaesh,” said Mr. Nour, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State. “We are all divided and our lives are now upside down.”

The jihadists’ push has deepened the nation’s splintering into three distinct regional entities: the northeastern region controlled by Kurds and their peshmerga forces, who are pushing for independence; the Sunni region south and west of it, which the Islamic militants largely control, and Baghdad and southern Iraq, where the largely Shiite-dominated national army still holds sway.

These geographic divides are evident at the Makhtab Khaled checkpoint, an imposing new boundary that is both a front line and an economic passage for communities now on Islamic State side of the battle zone but that rely on Kirkuk, a city of half a million people now controlled by Kurds, for basic needs.


Each day about 15,000 people—mostly Sunni Arabs—cross Makhtab Khaled, one of the few civilian crossings along a 400-mile front line across northeastern Iraq from Islamic State-controlled territory into the Kurdish north.

Despite Islamic State’s reputation for brutality, most of these travelers aren’t fleeing the Sunni militants. Rather, they are making the sometimes perilous journey to Kirkuk and returning home, generally more frightened of losing their homes and land and becoming destitute than running afoul of Islamic State.

One such frequent travelers is Mr. Nour, the farmer, who said the economic disruptions of Islamic State’s control over his Salahuddin province have been profound.

“The shops are emptying in Salahuddin. Storekeepers aren’t restocking. Everyone is afraid of the future,” Mr. Nour said. “Kirkuk now is the closest place where we can find choices.”

But in Kirkuk, the Kurds have stopped all cargo transport through the checkpoint for fear the Islamic militants will use trucks to hide explosive devices, creating hardships for rural families in need of crucial goods, including cooking fuel. The Kurds only allow pedestrians to cross at Makhtab Khaled.

On Saturday, Mr. Nour set off from his farm at daybreak with his wife and their five children for a daylong trek to stock up on supplies at Kirkuk’s bazaars.

The trip to the city used to take them two hours in the family’s old Toyota 7203.TO -3.89% pickup truck. Now, a one-way journey lasts more than five hours as the family navigates multiple Islamic State checkpoints to reach the dusty, fallow valley where Makhtab Khaled has been erected.

Travelers seeking to cross the boundary out of Islamic State territory have a complicated one-mile journey along what was, until recently, a busy two-lane highway and is now an eerie no-man’s-land.

The first half mile journey passes a manned Islamic State military post, where the militants’ forbidding black flag is raised. Along the side of the paved highway are fallow, trash-strewn fields and a two-story Kurdish watch tower located about 100 yards away from the militants’ post.

For the next half mile, travelers walk past elaborate sandbagged Kurdish defensive lines, 6-foot trenches and a makeshift barracks to reach the final security check and lines of energetic street vendors and taxi queues.

For those travelers wealthy enough to pay about $1 per passenger, shuttle buses will carry people across. Hundreds of families, like the Nours, however, walk the route.

The Kurdish division responsible for the checkpoint, the First Kirkuk Brigade, closes the checkpoint on days when the front line heats up. One recent day, it remained closed as Kurdish forces fought a six-hour battle with the militants that resulted in at least 12 dead.

The hostilities have resulted in some surprising accommodations between the two sides.

The Kurdish forces at Makhtab Khaled have brokered an agreement with the Sunni tribes who are the traditional community leaders on Islamic State side of the checkpoint to allow ambulances free passage across the two territories to reach the region’s major hospital, said Captain Nasser al-Jaff, who controls security on the Kurdish side.

Those with less critical needs, however, often have to seek aid by walking through the disputed zone.

Abu Ali, a 55-year-old farmer from Tikrit, needs a steady supply of insulin to control his diabetes. His doctors are all in Kirkuk, but his home now lies deep in Islamic State territory. There is no other place for him to go for his medical needs, however, so once a week he takes two of his sons and starts a daybreak journey to Makhtab Khaled.

On a recent afternoon, after finishing his errands in Kirkuk, he joined the swell of people trying to get home. Abu Ali carried one of his sons while the other wheeled a suitcase packed with ice and insulin, so the medicine would stay chilled during the lengthy journey back to Tikrit.

His last purchase was a carton of cigarettes from one of the dozen of street vendors catering to the heavy foot traffic. “No one can sell cigarettes on our side anymore. Daeesh forbids smoking,” he said.

The Nour family, as they returned across the boundary Saturday, said they were worried more about their livelihood now that winter is approaching than the social restrictions Islamic State is mandating in areas it controls.

Although the journey to Kirkuk is tinged with danger, it does have a measure of fun.

On Saturday’s outing, Mr. Nour had bought his 8-year-old boy a black bike with training wheels. His two preschool daughters had brand new barrettes for their hair. He treated himself to a haircut and beard trim—two acts the Islamic State has frowned upon since taking over his village.

The parents are afraid to work their fields now, afraid it is strewed with unexploded ordinance left from recent fighting. With markets tightening, they aren’t sure what prices they could sell a crop, if they were to plant this fall. They carted back across the border in a wheelbarrow a canister of cooking gas and 20 kilograms of rice.

Despite their hardships, the family isn’t contemplating leaving their home for good. Mr. Nour said, “It’s safer in Kirkuk, but where would we live if we left? Who would feed us? Our lives are rooted on our land.”
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Post #11 by Walrus » Tue Oct 28, 2014 3:28 am

Could someone with WSJ access post this article about cap-and-trade in California? Please and thank you.
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Post #12 by Vic Ferrari » Wed Oct 29, 2014 6:09 am


[SIZE="5"]WSJ: How Cap-and-Trade Is Working in California:

When it comes to tackling global warming, “cap and trade” are words often heard but seldom put into practice. That may be about to change.

Experts thought the U.S. might adopt its own cap-and-trade system for carbon-dioxide emissions during President Barack Obama ‘s first term, before partisan divisions made that goal impossible. Now with the Obama administration’s announcement, earlier this year, that states must develop their own policies to reduce carbon emissions from power sources, the concept is getting a second look.

California, the first state with a comprehensive cap-and-trade system, started its program two years ago. A look at how that program is working, and at some of the basics of cap-and-trade, may hold lessons for other states as they consider their options.

What is a cap-and-trade system?

It’s a way of putting a price on carbon emissions, which are considered contributors to global warming. Governments employ a cap-and-trade system by imposing a limit on the amount of CO2 released by industry and then issuing a finite number of permits for emissions. Those permits are then auctioned or given away by governments. Businesses are also free to sell excess permits that they don’t need, allowing market forces to distribute and price these allowances.

In California, regulators capped allowed emissions for the industries covered in 2014 at 160 million metric tons. Next year, that goal will jump to 395 million metric tons, when it is expanded to include gasoline wholesalers—a move that many believe could cause an increase in gas prices in the state. The program will cap emissions at 334 million metric tons by 2020 to help satisfy a mandate by the state legislature that emissions in the state that year equal 1990 levels.

The European Union since 2005 has operated by far the largest cap-and-trade program. But that program has struggled as the auction prices of its permits have crashed on more than one occasion, leading to an oversupply of permits and few incentives for companies to alter their behavior. In the Northeastern U.S., the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, covering nine states, is a more limited cap-and-trade program covering the power sector.

Why did California adopt cap-and-trade?

California has long seen itself as an environmental leader, so in 2006 the state adopted legislation that required a massive reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions. It chose a cap-and-trade system in part because the alternative, a carbon tax, would have required a two-thirds vote in the legislature. The state also saw cap-and-trade as a more effective way of reducing emissions.

How does it work?

The largest businesses in the state—defined as those that emit more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year—have to get permits from the state government for those emissions. Businesses under nearly every industry are covered, including refineries, food processors, manufacturers and utilities.

The state gives out the majority of these permits free, and has developed an auction system to distribute the rest. Since November 2012, there have been eight quarterly auctions; at the latest, in August, businesses paid $11.50 a ton for the permits. To ensure the price of these permits doesn’t collapse, the state sets a minimum price.

Two pools of allowances are sold at each auction: one controlled by the utilities, which get all of their allowances free, and another controlled directly by the state. Investor-owned utilities are required to sell all of their allowances and then buy back what they need to cover their own emissions. (It’s complicated.) The allowances in the state-controlled pool are sold directly to businesses that need them. About 90% of the state-issued permits are still given away.

How much money has been raised from auctions so far?

The state has sold $2.27 billion of CO2 allowances—$1.4 billion from the utility-controlled pool and the balance from the state pool.

That is a lot of money. How is it being used?

The utilities have to spend their proceeds on things like alternative or renewable fuels, or by giving relief to customers.

The state’s share goes toward its Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which, among other goals, supports projects that reduce pollution. This year, Gov. Jerry Brown reached a deal with the state legislature to spend $250 million from the fund to help build a $68 billion bullet-train system; a quarter of all future revenue from the fund will go toward the project. The rest of the money in the greenhouse fund will go toward a variety of legislative priorities that include affordable housing and transit projects, as well as infrastructure and water conservation projects. In 2013, the state drew criticism for borrowing $500 million of cap-and-trade dollars to balance the state’s general fund budget.

Does the program work?

It’s too early to tell whether it will have a big impact on climate change. But many experts say that it has at least proved the state can set up a working cap-and-trade system.

In the coming weeks, the state’s Air Resources Board will release a report covering emissions by companies covered by the program. If the program is functioning correctly, the report should show a 2% reduction in greenhouse gases from 2012. The board does say so far the auctions have functioned smoothly. But critics warn that the market for carbon permits might be subject to the whims of traders looking to make a profit once the program expands to include fuel suppliers next year. The state says safeguards are in place to insure speculators can’t manipulate the market.

Have the auctions affected businesses in California?

Critics such as the California Chamber of Commerce and the Pacific Legal Foundation—which are suing the state to block the program—say it increases the cost of doing business, though no measurable estimate exists. Severin Borenstein, co-director at the Energy Institute at the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, says costs so far have been marginal, as most allowances were given away and remain relatively inexpensive.

What’s next?

Next year, the law will expand to include gasoline wholesalers. This is expected to have a much more direct effect on consumers. The state’s legislative analyst’s office predicts the inclusion of wholesalers most likely will increase gasoline prices by 13 cents to 20 cents a gallon by 2020, and possibly by more than 50 cents. This prompted a legislative effort to delay that part of the program. The measure failed when the leader of the state Senate refused to bring the measure to a vote.
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Post #13 by Vic Ferrari » Thu Nov 06, 2014 12:49 pm

This guy is obsessed with Tehran.

[SIZE="5"]Obama Wrote Secret Letter to Iran’s Khamenei About Fighting Islamic State[/size]

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama secretly wrote Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the middle of last month and described a shared interest in fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, according to people briefed on the correspondence.

The letter appeared aimed both at buttressing the Islamic State campaign and nudging Iran’s religious leader closer to a nuclear deal.

Mr. Obama stressed to Mr. Khamenei that any cooperation on Islamic State was largely contingent on Iran reaching a comprehensive agreement with global powers on the future of Tehran’s nuclear program by a Nov. 24 diplomatic deadline, the same people say.

The October letter marked at least the fourth time Mr. Obama has written Iran’s most powerful political and religious leader since taking office in 2009 and pledging to engage with Tehran’s Islamist government.

The correspondence underscores that Mr. Obama views Iran as important—whether in a potentially constructive or negative role—to his emerging military and diplomatic campaign to push Islamic State from the territories it has gained over the past six months.

Mr. Obama and senior administration officials in recent days have placed the chances for such a deal at only 50-50. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is set to begin intensive direct negotiations on the nuclear issue with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, on Sunday in the Persian Gulf country of Oman.

“There’s a sizable portion of the political elite that cut their teeth on anti-Americanism,” Mr. Obama said on Wednesday about Iran’s leadership, without commenting on his personal overture. “Whether they can manage to say ’Yes’…is an open question.”

Mr. Obama’s push for a deal faces renewed resistance after Tuesday’s elections gave Republicans control of the Senate and added power both to block an agreement and to impose new sanctions on Iran. Sens. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) have introduced legislation to intensify sanctions.

“The best way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is to quickly pass the bipartisan Menendez-Kirk legislation—not to give the Iranians more time to build a bomb,” Mr. Kirk said Wednesday.

In a sign of the sensitivity of the Iran diplomacy, the White House didn’t tell its Middle East allies—including Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—about Mr. Obama’s October letter to Mr. Khamenei, according to the people briefed on the correspondence.

Leaders from these countries have voiced growing concern in recent weeks that the U.S. is preparing to significantly soften its demands in the nuclear talks with Tehran. They said they worry the deal could allow Iran to gain the capacity to produce nuclear weapons in the future.

Arab leaders also fear Washington’s emerging rapprochement with Tehran could come at the expense of their security and economic interests across the Middle East. These leaders have accused the U.S. of keeping them in the dark about its diplomatic engagements with Tehran.

The Obama administration launched secret talks with Iran in the Omani capital of Muscat in mid-2012, but didn’t notify Washington’s Mideast allies about this covert diplomatic channel until late 2013.

Senior U.S. officials declined to discuss Mr. Obama’s letter to Mr. Khamenei following questions from The Wall Street Journal.

Administration officials didn’t deny the letter’s existence when questioned by foreign diplomats in recent days.

Mr. Khamenei has proved a fickle diplomatic interlocutor for Mr. Obama in the past six years.

Mr. Obama sent two letters to Iran’s 75-year-old supreme leader during the first half of 2009, calling for improvements in U.S.-Iran relations, which had been frozen since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran.

Mr. Khamenei never directly responded to the overtures, according to U.S. officials. And Iran’s security forces cracked down hard that year on nationwide protests that challenged the re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad .

U.S.-Iran relations have thawed considerably over the past year, following the election of President Hasan Rouhani. He and Mr. Obama shared a 15-minute phone call in September 2013, and Messrs. Kerry and Zarif have regularly held direct talks on the nuclear diplomacy and regional issues.

Still, Mr. Khamenei has often cast doubt on the prospects for better relations with Washington. He has criticized the Obama administration’s military campaign against Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS or ISIL, claiming it is another attempt by Washington and the West to weaken the Islamic world.

“America, Zionism, and especially the veteran expert of spreading divisions—the wicked government of Britain—have sharply increased their efforts of creating divisions between the Sunnis and Shiites,” Mr. Khamenei said in a speech last month, according to a copy of it on his website. “They created al Qaeda and [Islamic State] in order to create divisions and to fight against the Islamic Republic, but today, they have turned on them.”

Current and former U.S. officials have said Mr. Obama has focused on communicating with Mr. Khamenei specifically because they believe the cleric will make all the final decisions on Iran’s nuclear program and the fight against Islamic State.

Mr. Rouhani is seen as navigating a difficult balance of gaining Mr. Khamenei’s approval for his foreign policy decisions while trying to satisfy Iranian voters who elected him in the hope of seeing Iran re-engage with the Western world.

The emergence of Islamic State has drastically changed both Washington’s and Tehran’s policies in the Middle East.

Mr. Obama was elected on the pledge of ending Washington’s war in Iraq. But over the past three months, he’s resumed a U.S. air war in the Arab country, focused on weakening Islamic State’s hold of territory in western and northern Iraq.

Iran has had to mobilize its own military resources to fight against Islamic State, according to senior Iranian and U.S. officials.

Tehran’s elite military unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has sent military advisers into Iraq to help the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, a close Iranian ally. The IRGC has also worked with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ’s government, and Shiite militias from across the Mideast, to conduct military operations inside Syria.

U.S. officials have stressed that they are not coordinating with Tehran on the fight against Islamic State.

But the State Department has confirmed that senior U.S. officials have discussed Iraq with Mr. Zarif on the sidelines of nuclear negotiations in Vienna. U.S. diplomats have also passed on messages to Tehran via Mr. Abadi’s government in Baghdad and through the offices of Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, among the most powerful religious leaders in the Shiite world.

Among the messages conveyed to Tehran, according to U.S. officials, is that U.S. military operations in Iraq and Syria aren’t aimed at weakening Tehran or its allies.

“We’ve passed on messages to the Iranians through the Iraqi government and Sistani saying our objective is against ISIL,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on these communications. “We’re not using this as a platform to reoccupy Iraq or to undermine Iran.”
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Post #14 by Captain Roy Bringus » Fri Nov 21, 2014 2:30 pm

The Nihilist in the White House
This administration doesn’t build, it divides and tears down. Vindication is assumed.

There is an odd, magical-thinking element in the psychology of recent White Houses. It is now common for those within them to assume that history will declare their greatness down the road. They proceed as if this is automatic, guaranteed: They will leave someday, history will ponder their accomplishments and announce their genius.

The assumption of history’s inevitable vindication is sharper in the current White House, due to general conceit—they really do think they possess a higher wisdom and play a deeper game—and the expectation that liberal historians will write the history.

The illusion becomes a form of license. We don’t have to listen to critics, adversaries, worriers and warn-ers, we just have to force through our higher vision and let history say down the road we got it right.

They make this assumption because they don’t know much about history—they really are people who saw the movie but didn’t read the book—and because historical vindication is what happened so spectacularly in the case of Ronald Reagan. So it will happen to them, too.

Reagan had a hard, tough presidency during which his approval rating averaged around 53%. By the end of his presidency he was patronized—over, yesterday. His own people, I among them, made teasing fun of him; we all did imitations and laughed at his foibles. His was not a White House full of awed people. Even he wasn’t awed by him. How things change.

In the years after Reagan’s presidency his reputation experienced a reversal in public fortune. He came to be acknowledged as a truly great president. The fall of the Soviet Union was an epic moment in human history, the reigniting of the American economy brought a world of material and political implications, his ability to work with an often mean-minded Congress yielded something constructive, and even soothing, to the national psyche: Yes, things can still work.

And there was the liberating factor of his funeral in June 2004, which brought a great national outpouring. They thronged to Washington and slept on the street to say goodbye, in California they went to U.S. Highway 101 to stand and hold signs—“Thanks, Dutch”—and wave flags. Nancy Reagan told me she would never forget the Vietnam War vet who put on his old uniform and stood on the side of the road, saluting the motorcade as it passed.

The outpouring took the media aback, and changed the nature of their coverage. More important, seeing what was happening gave the American people a kind of permission to express what they’d long believed: This was a great man.

Now when Gallup lists its greatest and most admired presidents Ronald Reagan is up there with Lincoln.

A similar vindication happened with Harry Truman, though it took longer. The historian David McCullough rescued his reputation with a 1992 biography that indelibly captured Truman’s greatness—the Marshall Plan, the creation of an early, constructive strategy toward the Soviets, the bringing along, in all of this, of resistant congressional Republicans. Truman’s was not a perfect presidency, any more than Reagan’s—plenty of flaws and failures in both. But he was the last Democratic president Ronald Reagan campaigned for, in 1948, and the one he most loved to quote, devilishly but sincerely, as president.

Historical vindication happens. The Obama White House assumes it will happen to them. Thus they can do pretty much what they want.

What they forget is that facts largely decide what history thinks—outcomes, what happened, what it means. What they also forget, or perhaps never knew, is that the great ones are always constructive. They don’t divide and tear down. They build, gather in, create, bend, meld, and in so doing move things forward.

That’s not this crowd.

This White House seems driven—does it understand this?—by a kind of political nihilism. They agitate, aggravate, fray and separate.

Look at three great domestic issues just the past few weeks.

ObamaCare, whose very legitimacy was half killed by the lie that “If you like your plan, you can keep it,” and later by the incompetence of its implementation, has been done in now by the mindless, highhanded bragging of a technocrat who helped build it, and who amused himself the past few years explaining that the law’s passage was secured only by lies, and the lies were effective because the American people are stupid. Jonah Goldberg of National Review had a great point the other day: They build a thing so impenetrable, so deliberately impossible for any normal person to understand, and then they denigrate them behind their backs for not understanding.

I don’t know how ObamaCare will go, but it won’t last as it is. If the White House had wisdom, they’d declare that they’d won on the essential argument—health coverage is a right for all—and go back to the drawing board with Congress. The only part of the ObamaCare law that is popular is its intention, not its reality. The White House should declare victory and redraw the bill. But the White House is a wisdom-free zone.

The president’s executive action on immigration is an act of willful nihilism that he himself had argued against in the past. It is a sharp stick in the eye of the new congressional majority. It is at odds with—it defies—the meaning and message of the last election, and therefore is destructive to the reputation of democracy itself. It is huge in its impact but has only a sole cause, the president’s lone will. It damages the standing of our tottery political institutions rather than strengthening them, which is what they desperately need, and sets a template for future executive abuse. It will surely encourage increased illegal immigration and thus further erode the position of the American working class.

And there is the Keystone XL pipeline and the administration’s apparent intent to veto a bill that allows it. There the issue is not only the jobs the pipeline would create, and not only the infrastructure element. It is something more. If it is done right, the people who build the pipeline could be pressed to take on young men—skill-less, aimless—and get them learning, as part of a crew, how things are built and what it is to be a man who builds them.

On top of that, the building of the pipeline would show the world that America is capable of coming back, that we’re not only aware of our good fortune and engineering genius, we are pushing it hard into the future. America’s got her hard-hat on again. America is dynamic. “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” Not just this endless talk of limits, restrictions, fears and “Oh, we’re all going to melt in the warm global future!”

Which is sort of the spirit of this White House.

Great presidencies have a different one. They expand, move on, reach out.

The future acknowledgment of greatness only follows actual greatness. History takes the long view but in the end relies on facts.

“But history will be written by liberals.” Fair enough, and they will judge the president the more harshly because he failed to do anything that lasts. ObamaCare will be corrected and torn down piece by piece. The immigration order will be changed, slowed or undone by the courts, Congress or through executive actions down the road. Keystone will pass and a veto overridden.

And the president has failed liberals through unpopularity, which is another word for incompetence.
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Post #15 by Vic Ferrari » Sun Nov 30, 2014 5:22 pm

dempsey, do you have an FT sub?

Gulf states launch joint command to counter Isis and Iran:
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Post #16 by Vic Ferrari » Sun Nov 30, 2014 5:39 pm

Gulf States Create Joint Operations room to counter ISIS and Iran:

Bahrain’s foreign minister says Gulf states are launching a joint military command based in Saudi Arabia to counter threats from militant jihadis and Shia Iran.
Sheikh Khalid al-Khalifa said the joint command force, which analysts say will eventually have several hundred thousand soldiers under its control, would begin military operations after a Gulf Co-operation Council summit due to take place later this month in Qatar.

The new command is to focus on defensive operations and will co-ordinate with the GCC’s naval command based in Bahrain and its air command in Saudi Arabia.
The establishment of the new joint command comes amid alarm in the Gulf states over the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), which has not only taken over parts of Iraq and Syria but has supporters among Gulf populations.

“Look at the fragmentation in Iraq and the abominable situation in Syria,” Sheikh Khalid told the Financial Times in an interview. “If Afghanistan was a primary school for terrorists, then Syria and Iraq are a university for them – these are serious threats and lots of people from our country have gone and joined them.”
Bahrain, a member of the US-led coalition against Isis in Iraq and Syria, believes around 25 of its nationals have joined Isis. Of even greater concern, said Sheikh Khalid, are Isis sympathisers at home in Bahrain and elsewhere in the Gulf.

An attack that killed seven Shia worshippers in Saudi Arabia in November was linked by Riyadh to Isis affiliates operating in the Kingdom. Saudi security services said the attackers had been linked to a network of 77 people, highlighting fears of Isis spillover. The Bahraini government is also arresting Isis sympathisers and clamping down on terrorist funding, said Sheikh Khalid.

Dr Theodore Karasik, Senior Advisor to Risk Insurance Management in Dubai, said the GCC is trying to establish a “robust, interoperable joint operations force” focusing on defensive operations.
“The force is to be several hundred thousand strong with Saudi Arabia contributing at least 100,000 personnel,” he said. Components of the joint force may be used in special offensive operations against “nimble extremists forces,” he added.

Sheikh Khalid, a member of the Bahraini royal family, said the new military body, first mooted two years ago, would start “working from now” to co-ordinate against what he said was a growing threat from Iran and unrest in Yemen.
Bahrain – whose Shia majority in 2011 led to large-scale pro-democracy protests that were brutally quelled by the Sunni-led government – charges
Tehran with interference in what is says are proxy terrorist groups.

Sheikh Khalid said a “good” agreement with Iran over its nuclear programme would be welcomed but sanctions should remain in place if the country did not change its behaviour in the region.
The increased military co-ordination comes as Gulf states try to repair a damaging internecine spat that erupted over the past year pitting Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain against Qatar over the latter’s support for the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood, especially in Egypt.

The three states last month said they would return their ambassadors to Doha after an “historic” agreement was signed in Riyadh outlining the steps Qatar must take to show its solidarity with the Gulf. Sheikh Khalid said the agreement focused on ensuring GCC support for the new government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt.

“We committed to each others’ security and stability and are now committed not to hurt each other in Egypt,” he said.
According to the agreement, Qatar is to match Saudi and Emirati financial aid to the Egyptian government and is to end support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which Sheikh Khalid accused of carrying out terrorist attacks in Egypt.

Qatar’s powerful media empire, centred around Al Jazeera television, is also expected to change its editorial stance, said Sheikh Khalid, which will “stop Al Jazeera putting bad coverage on events in Egypt or anti-Egyptian government coverage”.
Doha has also signed up to commitments with individual countries, pledging to stop hosting dissidents from fellow GCC states, said Sheikh Khalid.
The Qatari government declined to comment on the agreement.

A GCC operations room has been established in Riyadh to monitor compliance with the agreement, Sheikh Khaled said.
Initial signs of compliance with the agreement were encouraging, he said, but he conceded that Qatar may come back into the GCC fold “step by step”, and cited a “very unhelpful” report broadcast on Al Jazeera English on Bahrain’s parliamentary elections last month.
The Bahraini government claims the vote – the first since widespread unrest in 2011 – marks a new era thanks to a 52.6 per cent turnout despite a boycott by the Shia-led opposition. Sheikh Khaled said the new government – to be formed in the coming weeks – would work with the newly-empowered parliament to implement more social, security and political reforms to consign the “terrible events of 2011” to history.

However, opposition groups have dismissed the poll as a “sham” and say the turnout was lower than official figures claim. They say the new parliament’s credibility is undermined by hundreds of jailed political prisoners and charge that the legislature will be controlled the ruling family.

Oil-dependent Bahrain is receiving cash transfers from wealthier GCC states less affected by the slide in oil prices. Some $10bn was pledged over ten years to help the country through an economic slump since the unrest of 2011.

Around $7.5bn has already been allocated, with Qatar’s $2.5bn share expected to flow now the GCC spat has ended.
About $5bn has already been earmarked for housing, health and education projects, officials say, as the government seeks to clear a backlog of 50,000 housing applications.

Opposition sources say funds have been skewed towards loyalist Sunni segments of society. Bahraini officials say the money will be used to benefit all aspects of society.
“Before we had difficulties with housing and now, thanks to our GCC brothers, we are going forward,” said Sheikh Khalid.
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Post #17 by Vic Ferrari » Sun Nov 30, 2014 6:18 pm

Thanks. Wow. "offensive" is an intriguing word to use. Probably many a raids to come domestically.
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Post #18 by Vic Ferrari » Mon Dec 01, 2014 6:05 am

[SIZE="4"]U.S., Turkey Near Deal on Islamic State Fight:[/size]

WASHINGTON—U.S. and Turkish officials have narrowed their differences over a joint military mission in Syria that would give the U.S. and its coalition partners permission to use Turkish air bases to launch strike operations against Islamic State targets across northern Syria, according to officials in both countries.

As part of the deal, U.S. and Turkish officials are discussing the creation of a protected zone along a portion of the Syrian border that would be off-limits to Assad regime aircraft and would provide sanctuary to Western-backed opposition forces and refugees.

U.S. and coalition aircraft would use Incirlik and other Turkish air bases to patrol the zone, ensuring that rebels crossing the border from Turkey don’t come under attack there, officials said.

Turkey had proposed a far more extensive no-fly zone across one-third of northern Syria, according to officials. That idea was, however, a nonstarter for the Obama administration, which told Ankara that something so invasive would constitute an act of war against the Assad regime.

In contrast to a formal no-fly zone, the narrower safe zone along the border under discussion wouldn’t require any strikes to take out Syrian air defenses. Instead, the U.S. and its coalition partners could send a quiet warning to the Assad regime to stay away from the zone or risk retaliation.

From Ankara’s perspective, another impetus for a safe zone along the border would be to protect opposition fighters who will be trained in Turkey, as well as to safeguard opposition supply lines into northern Syria, officials said.

Turkey has agreed to allow the training of an initial 2,000 opposition fighters on Turkish soil and has sent Turkish special forces to northern Iraq to train Peshmerga fighters there.

The U.S. doesn’t envisage any air exclusionary zone going as far south as the city of Aleppo, a stronghold of the opposition Free Syrian Army, at least initially.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Vice President Joe Biden in Ankara a week ago and urged the Obama administration to do more to rein in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to U.S. and Turkish officials.

At the same time, Mr. Erdogan made clear that Turkey was increasingly worried about Islamic State advances in northern Syria, which could, within hours, push hundreds of thousands of additional Syrian refugees across the border into Turkey.

In response to a major new offensive by Islamic State, Turkey could face a flood of two million or three million additional refugees, far more than Ankara can absorb, Turkish officials have told their American counterparts. Turkey is already hosting between 1.5 million and 1.8 million Syrian refugees.

The narrowing of differences between the U.S. and Turkey was discussed last week during a White House National Security Council meeting, though U.S. officials stressed that talks were still at a preliminary stage and could take weeks or longer.

U.S. and Turkish officials said the two sides are no longer discussing creation of the large no-fly zone that was initially proposed by Ankara, stretching from the Iraqi border to northern Latakia on the Mediterranean coast.

To justify opening its bases to the U.S. and its coalition partners for strikes against Islamic State, Turkey is considering following Iraq’s lead by writing a letter to the United Nations invoking its right to collective self-defense under Article 51 of the U.N. charter, North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials said.

Such a letter from Turkey could clear the way for some NATO allies to join the military campaign in Syria, the officials said.

Most coalition airstrikes in Syria are, by definition, being carried out in support of operations in Iraq based on Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ’s Article 51 letter invoking collective self-defense.

U.S. and Turkish officials said a more limited air exclusionary zone along the border with Turkey could be similar to the de facto no-fly zone that has taken shape over the Syrian city of Kobani, where U.S. war planes are supporting Kurdish fighters battling Islamic State militants.

Turkey has signaled that it could insert forces on the ground in northern Syria to help identify Islamic State targets, but U.S. officials aren’t sure if the Turkish military has that capability.

For the U.S., the risk in creating even a small de facto no-fly zone would be the possibility of a challenge by the Assad regime. The U.S. passed messages to the Assad regime not to contest coalition aircraft at the start of the airstrikes in Syria in September. So far, the regime hasn’t challenged U.S. aircraft, according to U.S. officials.

Turkey presented its most detailed blueprint yet for creation of an air exclusionary zone during recent talks with retired Marine Gen. John Allen, the U.S. special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter Islamic State militant group, according to U.S. and Turkish officials.

Officials at the White House and the Pentagon have long resisted the idea of a no-fly zone because of concerns that it could lead to conflict with Mr. Assad, who uses his fleet of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to attack Aleppo and other population centers in northern Syria.

So far, Turkey has only allowed the U.S. military to fly unmanned surveillance flights out of Incirlik, according to U.S. officials.

Syrian opposition officials said the new proposal wouldn’t require the U.S. to neutralize Syria’s integrated air defense system. If Syria challenged the zone, then the U.S. and its coalition partners could use so-called standoff weapons, fired from outside Syrian territory, to keep Syrian regime aircraft out, opposition officials said.

In a 2013 letter to congressional leaders, the chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said establishing a no-fly zone would require the U.S. to shoot down Syrian aircraft and to strike airfields.

The regime could then compensate for the loss of airspace by relying more heavily on surface-to-surface weaponry, such as artillery and rockets, to attack anti-Assad rebels, Gen. Dempsey wrote.
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Post #19 by Vic Ferrari » Sun Dec 21, 2014 1:47 pm

Iraqi Kurds Push Back Islamic State in Sinjar

BAGHDAD—Iraqi Kurdish fighters drove Islamic State militants from the center of the northern city of Sinjar on Sunday, rescuing hundreds of members of the Yazidi sect from a monthslong siege.

In one of the most successful counterattacks against the extremists since the group took over huge swaths of the country in June, about 1,500 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, backed by Yazidi and Christian militia units, pushed into the center of the city on Sunday.

The coordinated assault came nearly a week after American aircraft launched 47 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in the area—one of the most concentrated strikes since the U.S. started attacking Islamic State in Iraq in August. Aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition have been pounding Islamic State positions throughout the past week.

Though Peshmerga fighters control the northern part of the city, local security officials say their advance was stalled in the city center in the face of fierce resistance.

The Kurdish forces’ push to retake Sinjar city and nearby Sinjar Mountain has set free hundreds of members of the Yazidi religion who have been trapped on Sinjar Mountain since early August, when U.S. forces first intervened to save them.

Peshmerga leaders hope that the latest offensive, more than three months after thousands of Yazidis were first rescued from the mountain, will finally free the embattled minority. Yazidi leaders say at least 1,000 remain trapped.

“The Yazidis’ situation now is excellent. They are totally safe,” said Qassim Hussien Burges, a leader in the Yazidi community. “Islamic State are far away from the mountain now, stuck in the center of Sinjar city.”

Mr. Burges said carloads of Yazidi families could be seen arriving to the mountain’s northern base to meet their rescued loved ones. Peshmerga forces donated food and blankets to the families as they descended, he said.

Beyond rescuing Yazidis and weakening Islamic State, the past week’s operation also stands to vindicate the Peshmerga’s performance during Islamic State’s siege of the mountain in August. Some Iraqi politicians criticized the Peshmerga for abandoning thousands of refugees from the small Yazidi sect, whom Islamic State considers heretics deserving of death.

Kurdish leaders have said their fighters were forced to retreat.

The killings and kidnappings of hundreds of Yazidis sparked fears of an impending humanitarian crisis that prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to pledge air support to help Iraqi security forces fight Islamic State.

Despite reports that Sinjar remained partially in insurgent hands, Kurdish politicians were already hailing the Sinjar operation as a victory on Sunday.

“We didn’t expect that the plan would be executed and succeed so quickly but the courageous advance of the Peshmerga made the terrorists collapse,” said Masoud Barzani, the president of the semiautonomous Kurdistan Regional Government.

Kurdish forces were still clearing land mines from the central part of the city in preparation for residents to return home.

The fighting in Sinjar bookends a weeklong effort to push Islamic State from the area around Sinjar Mountain. On Friday, Kurdish fighters and Yazidi volunteers cleared a road connecting the mountain with the city of Dohuk. The operation offered a safe exit to a few hundred Yazidi fighters and refugees who had remained on the mountain since the summer.

Despite the peril, some Yazidi civilians had stayed since August on the mountain, which adherents believe houses the faith’s central deity.

The plight of the Yazidis, a small, ancient religion who some conservative Muslims consider devil worshipers, sparked international outrage.

Islamic State captured hundreds of Yazidis earlier this year. The group slaughtered some Yazidi men, compelled others to convert and forcibly married young girls to the group’s fighters, according to reports by Human Rights Watch and other advocacy groups.

When Islamic State closed in on the group, Yazidi refugees retreated to Sinjar Mountain, where they suffered for weeks with little food or water.

Peshmerga fighters from neighboring Syria were instrumental in helping some of the Yazidis escape in August. But Islamic State was able to hold its position in Sinjar city, which lies past the mountain’s southern flank.

The past week’s operation goes further than the fighting that freed the Yazidis in August: Kurdish leaders hope their latest assault will finally liberate all of Sinjar Mountain and its surrounding area.

“We should not believe that Islamic State is finished,” said Mr. Barzani. “This is a long war.”

Qasim Sammo, the security manager of Sinjar city, said insurgents were putting up a fierce fight against Kurdish fighters from their perches in tall buildings. He said he expects the city to be free within 24 hours.

But other local security officials, who asked to remain anonymous, said Islamic State fighters still controlled roadways from Sinjar to its strongholds in Tel Afar in the north and Beiji to the city’s south. That will allow the group to bring in heavy weapons and reinforcements to defend the town, the security official said.

Even as Iraqi security forces made gains in Sinjar, Islamic State fighters launched a muscular attack against Beiji, a city that has been the scene of constant fighting since the summer.

Islamic State fighters have assaulted Iraqi military positions in the city since Friday night, said Raed al-Jubouri, the governor of Salahaldin province. Mr. Jubouri complained that Iraq’s government has yet to provide adequate reinforcements to protect the city, which hosts the country’s largest oil refinery.
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Post #20 by Vic Ferrari » Mon Dec 22, 2014 4:09 pm

Iran’s Repressive Apparatus Gets a Raise:

Hasan Rouhani submitted his 2015 budget proposal earlier this month to the Majlis, Iran’s parliament. The proposal suggests that, contrary to the Iranian president’s reputation for moderation in the West, “Rouhanomics” is really about bolstering the regime’s repressive apparatus while at the same time modifying some of the more reckless policies of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad .

Mr. Rouhani came to power last year riding a wave of discontent with Mr. Ahmadinejad’s mismanagement of the economy and the pain inflicted by mounting international sanctions. With a looming economic crisis at hand, Mr. Rouhani successfully extracted sanctions relief from the West and launched widely publicized corruption probes against Ahmadinejad cronies while restoring competent technocrats at the helm of state-owned companies.

In his first year in office, Mr. Rouhani and his foreign minister, Javad Zarif, softened outside pressure on Iran’s economy, leading the country partly out of recession and international isolation, slicing inflation almost by half to 18% in October 2014 from 34% in June 2013 and reducing unemployment to 9.5% in summer 2014 from 10.4% a year earlier, if official statistics are to be believed.

You might think Mr. Rouhani would aim over the coming years to consolidate these gains. Yet his 2015 budget is a boon to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, the intelligence branches and clerical courts—suggesting that the great moderate’s real agenda is primarily to preserve and strengthen the regime’s core institutions of repression. Rouhanomics, in other words, is less about growth than it is about regime self-preservation.

Consider the total expenditure. Mr. Rouhani plans in the next year to spend 8.4 quadrillion Iranian rials, or $293 billion at the regime’s official exchange rate of 28,500 rials to the dollar. That’s 4% higher than the previous year, and relies on a 23% increase in government tax revenue to partially offset oil revenues, which are expected to drop by 8%, or about $5 billion. Mr. Rouhani is also proposing to reduce subsidies by 26%, including a 40% decrease in bread subsidies. On the other hand, Mr. Rouhani will spend 59% more on Iran’s broken health-care and insurance system. This will benefit lower- and middle-class Iranians and fend off potential social unrest.

This isn’t a recipe for economic growth but for balancing middle-class discontent. At the same time, Mr. Rouhani is requesting a dramatic increase in the budget for the IRGC, which serves as the regime’s praetorian at home and the tip of its spear abroad. The proposed budget increases Iran’s defense spending by 33%, to $10 billion, although the real figure is probably much higher since much military funding is off the books, coming as it does directly from the office of the Supreme Leader.

Sixty-four percent of public military spending will go to the IRGC and the basij, the paramilitary force that answers to the IRGC. The IRGC is also benefiting from increased government appropriation for its holding company, the U.S. sanctioned Khatam al-Anbia, whose budget Mr. Rouhani plans to double. Assessing each branch of the military separately, the IRGC’s budget rises an astounding 48% under the 2015 budget, while the regular army’s budget shows only a slight increase.

Not only is Rouhanomics going to inflict economic pain on the very constituency that swept the new president to power, but it will also empower the regime apparatus tasked with taming the inevitable discontent of Mr. Rouhani’s constituents. His largess to the Guards is a sign of continuity with the repressive past. It also means that the Islamic Republic will continue its aggressive expansionary regional policy through the IRGC’s Quds Forces.

In addition, Mr. Rouhani would strengthen the other branches of Iran’s authoritarian regime. His budget would grant Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence $790 million, a 40% increase in funding, and give a 37% raise to a special religious court that polices dissent among clerics.

Mr. Rouhani’s economic agenda faces severe challenges: falling oil prices, stalled nuclear negotiations and sanctions, which, though weakened, remain in place. His budget assumes an average oil price of $72 per barrel. Oil revenue is estimated to be roughly one-third of the public budget—or 13 percentage points less, on average, than its rate for the past 20 years.

Both of these assumptions are too optimistic. Unless oil prices bounce back, Iran will have to deplete its oil-stabilization fund to meet spending targets. Crucially, there are three steps needed if Mr. Rouhani is serious about significantly increasing tax revenues. First, he must tax the numerous foundations linked to the IRGC, the Supreme Leader and religious foundations, which are currently tax exempt. Second, he must raise revenue from the Bazaar merchant class, whose cash-driven wealth and political connection make it impervious to scrutiny. And third, he must increase the tax burden on the middle and working classes. While some efforts are underway to tax foundations, for the moment only taxing the middle and working classes seems realistic.

The bottom line is that Mr. Rouhani’s budget appears aimed at streamlining public spending without cutting off welfare completely, but at the same time strengthening the institutions tasked with internal repression and external adventurism. Rouhanomics is sure to disappoint those who put faith in the charm offensive Tehran launched soon after the new president’s election.

Far from turning a new page, Hasan Rouhani is mixing technocratic, pragmatic economic decisions with commitment to the ideals of the revolution. Those in the West, and inside the country, who had entertained illusions of reform will be disappointed.
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Post #21 by Vic Ferrari » Tue Dec 23, 2014 10:26 pm

[SIZE="5"]No Way Out for Iraqis Who Helped U.S. in War[/size]
Iraqi Colleagues of U.S. Troops Are Marked for Death by Islamic State:


The first emails from Iraq landed in John Kael Weston ’s inbox while he was eating breakfast at a Utah ski resort. Islamic State fighters had just seized Fallujah, and the former State Department diplomat fired off a worried message to the Iraqi policeman who helped him over and over again during the war’s darkest days.

“Are you and your father and family ok?” Mr. Weston asked Saad Abu Fahad. The American and Iraqi were neighbors in Fallujah, taught each other about their country’s politics and always stayed in touch by email. “If you can, please send me a message—does not need to be long,” Mr. Weston wrote.

Two days came and went. No reply. He tried again: “Are you and family ok? Stay safe, my friend.” After again getting no answer, he assumed Capt. Saad was on the run or dead.

War forces people to make choices, and many of them don’t work out. With large swaths of Iraq under control of Islamic State, many of the Iraqis who put their lives on the line to aid the U.S. during the nearly nine-year war are being marked for death by militants as collaborators. The Americans who counted on them and are now safe at home can only wait, wonder and worry.

One Iraqi begged a retired Marine general he had gotten to know during the war: “Come quickly or we’re all dead.”

Retired Marine Gen. John Allen , put in charge by President Barack Obama of assembling the international coalition to fight Islamic State, gets the desperate notes for help in his personal email account. They are “heart-wrenching,” says Gen. Allen, who forwards them to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and military officers running airstrikes against Islamic State.

Maj. Gen. Larry Nicholson, twice the Marine commander in Fallujah, says the Iraqis “did so much for us” and are paying a horrible price for it. In replies, he urges the Iraqis to stay safe and strong. The retired general who got the plea to “come quickly” has responded four times but heard nothing.

Like other U.S. military officers and diplomats who got information, support and even friendship from Iraqis during the war, Mr. Weston feels helpless and guilty about those left behind. He was political adviser to the Marines in Fallujah from 2004 to 2007—and remembers the promises made to win Iraqi cooperation. They helped turn the tide in Fallujah and elsewhere.

“We wanted them to believe that we wouldn’t abandon them,” says Mr. Weston, 42 years old.

No one knows how many allies of America’s former fighting force in Iraq have been killed by Islamic State, which uses press clippings and U.S. military studies to track down Iraqis who stood side-by-side with American troops and officials. After seizing Fallujah in January, Islamic State now controls large swaths of Iraq.

American officials say they are aware of Islamic State’s threat to former U.S. partners in Iraq and have established a 24-hour-a-day hotline at a joint operations center in Baghdad, where callers can pass along information. But there are limits on what the U.S. is willing or able to do, these officials add.

“The Americans will not be coming to their rescue,” the former general says.

Few Americans had heard of Fallujah when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. In 2004, Iraqi insurgents ambushed a convoy of American security contractors, pulling four from their vehicles. They beat them, set their bodies on fire and hung the charred corpses from a bridge over the Euphrates River.

Capt. Saad, who followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a policeman in 1992, was part of the unit sent to the scene. He helped collect the Americans’ remains and bring them to a nearby U.S. base. The Wall Street Journal is withholding Capt. Saad’s family name for his protection.

The policeman impressed Marines by fending off insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades who attacked the police headquarters where he and his father worked.

Lt. Col. Mark Broekhuizen, a Marine captain in the Fallujah area at the time, was struck by Capt. Saad’s ability to put Iraqis and Marines at ease. He was “a great example of what we were fighting for,” Lt. Col. Broekhuizen says.

The battles to control Fallujah were the most devastating of the Iraq war. To rebuild after the fighting subsided, the Americans needed local Iraqi partners. Gaining their trust was Mr. Weston’s mission.

For most of three years, Mr. Weston was the only diplomat embedded with more than 30,000 Marines and soldiers in Fallujah and Anbar province.

Mr. Weston met Capt. Saad in early 2005 during a long lunch of meat over rice. The American was curious about domestic life in Fallujah. Capt. Saad, a Sunni, told Mr. Weston about his family and talked to Mr. Weston about American politics and policy.

The two men saw eye-to-eye about the need to stamp out al Qaeda and reduce sectarian tensions. They swapped intelligence about Hollywood blockbusters for sale in Fallujah’s black market and stories about their mutual love of German shepherds.

Mr. Weston’s local ties surprised some of his American colleagues, who preferred to keep their Iraqi partners at greater distance. Maj. Gen. Nicholson, then a colonel, recalls a meeting attended by the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, where Mr. Weston was introduced by Fallujah’s city-council chairman as “Kael al-Falluji,” using the middle name by which Mr. Weston is known to his friends. The nickname stuck.

Almost every week, a city council leader in Fallujah was assassinated. Capt. Saad’s family also paid a steep price. His younger brother was shot and killed while visiting a mosque.

By 2007, Mr. Weston felt burned out. He said goodbye without fanfare and started a new assignment in Afghanistan.

The two men last saw each other when Mr. Weston returned to Fallujah for Iraq’s elections in 2009. Security and stability had improved, and he saw the grinning Capt. Saad on the street.

“Look, no masks!” the policeman said, referring to facemasks long worn to shield officials’ identities from insurgents.

As the U.S. pulled out its troops from Iraq, Mr. Weston and Capt. Saad used email for updates on work and family. “I often wish I was closer so that we could visit in person,” Mr. Weston wrote in October 2011.

Capt. Saad soon resigned from the police force, tired of corruption in the ranks and eager to pursue his dream of teaching physics. He found a job at a boys’ high school and wrote excitedly to Mr. Weston about having a quieter life.

Mr. Weston quit the State Department and started writing a book about his wartime experiences. Iraq was never far from his mind. The sound of explosives used by the ski patrol at Utah’s Solitude Mountain to reduce avalanche risk reminded him of 155 mm howitzers.

On New Year’s Day, Mr. Weston got a harrowing email in broken English from a Fallujah highway-patrol officer with whom he had also kept in touch.

“Al Qaeda flags is over all the goverment buildings.....all the citizens of fallujah start to leave,” wrote the officer. “We are looking for help.”

The frantic messages stopped as suddenly as they had started. The silence left Mr. Weston with no idea if his Fallujah friends were still alive.

While Mr. Weston worried about Capt. Saad’s fate from a condominium in the Wasatch Mountains, Capt. Saad says he hunkered down with his wife and children in their home. Friends in the police force had alerted him to the arrival of Islamic State militants. The first wave had 30 to 50 fighters, who entered Fallujah unopposed.

His house in central Fallujah had a large bulletproof window in the front and was surrounded by a security wall. After Islamic State’s takeover, the family slept on the ground level, which was less vulnerable to rocket fire.

For 17 days, Capt. Saad, 39, kept a wary eye glued to a video monitor in his house, watching grainy images from a surveillance camera out front. He says he stayed awake all night and slept for a couple of hours during the day while his wife took over. He didn’t reply to Mr. Weston because his home Internet service wasn’t working and it was too dangerous to go to an Internet cafe.

Friends in the police department said local security forces had given up their weapons. Most fled. Some joined the Islamists. Militants knew who to look for, partly because the U.S. military published reports online detailing how the Marines worked with local Iraqi institutions and leaders, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.

The police could have stopped the advance but didn’t try, Capt. Saad says. “Why aren’t you fighting?” he asked one local chief in a phone call. The officer responded without elaborating: “Can’t.”

Islamic State militants initially sought to reassure Fallujah’s residents about their intentions, saying they didn’t plan to seek revenge. “Past is past,” they told local Fallujah leaders, according to Capt. Saad. He didn’t believe it.

On Jan. 17, friends told him the roads were relatively clear of checkpoints. Capt. Saad decided it was time to make a run for safety. He planned to drive to a family farm outside Fallujah.

Loaded into two cars, the family took only the bare essentials, hoping to return, plus an AK-47 rifle that Capt. Saad kept at his side as he drove.

Capt. Saad and his wife told their children the family was going to visit the farm, which has date palms and room to play outside. On the way, they listened to one of the family’s favorite music stations, Radio Sawa, which plays Arabic and English-language songs.

While hiding in the farmhouse, a message came from a friend in Fallujah. Al Qaeda was coming. Capt. Saad decided to run again. Some of his friends had already fled to Kurdish territory in the north, and they urged him to come.

The family arrived in Kirkuk on Feb. 22, where a friend lent them a small place to live. Later, friends told Capt. Saad and his father that Islamic State militants had seized their homes in Fallujah. Two senior officers Capt. Saad knew on the police force were arrested and beheaded, he says.

After settling into the austere life of a refugee, Capt. Saad got Internet access and found Mr. Weston’s frantic messages. “hi my friend,” the exiled policeman wrote July 15. “how r u[?] miss to hear about u.”

Mr. Weston was hiking the North Rim of the Grand Canyon when the note arrived on his iPhone. He felt relieved and guilty.

“My friend, are you and father and family ok?? I’ve only read of very bad news from Anbar, especially Fallujah,” the former State Department official wrote. After watching Islamic State propaganda videos from Fallujah showing black flags flying over government buildings and killings of former U.S. supporters in the city, he didn’t sleep at all that night.

In emails tapped out on a cellphone, Capt. Saad told Mr. Weston that the Iraqi government was too weak to re-enter Fallujah. “I dont know what to do. wish to go falluja and fighting but fighting with whom ?”

In another note, Capt. Saad wrote: “ISIS everywhere and looking for us.”

Mr. Weston told Capt. Saad that he wishes he could do more. He wrote that he was upset by what he saw as a lack of empathy in Washington to Fallujah’s plight.

In a Sept. 10 email, Capt. Saad sent Mr. Weston a photo of the commemorative “challenge coins” that military commanders routinely hand out to boost troop morale.

Capt. Saad called them medals, and his collection includes two from the Marines and another from Donald Winter, the visiting secretary of the Navy.

“It was honor time,” Capt. Saad told Mr. Weston. Mr. Weston responded: “The medals show how close the ties were between us over many years. Your work and sacrifices continue.”

Mr. Winter says he doesn’t recall Capt. Saad. The former Navy secretary often gave out several hundred coins during each three- or four-day visit to U.S. and Iraqi personnel. The coins “were highly appreciated,” he says.

Hundreds of other families from Fallujah are in the Kurdish-controlled north, where Capt. Saad lives with 10 family members in a three-bedroom home. Capt. Saad, his wife and their four children share one room. “Just try to stay strong,” Mr. Weston wrote in a recent email.

Capt. Saad lamented the sorry state of the Iraqi police, who gave up their arms in Fallujah without a fight. In contrast, he told Mr. Weston, “we were heros” and made a “great team.”

Capt. Saad’s messages implicitly asked whether America has forgotten its friends in Fallujah.

Mr. Weston wrote his response carefully, using the first person, because he knew he could speak only for himself, not his country.

“I have not forgotten, and I will not,” Mr. Weston wrote.
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Post #22 by Vic Ferrari » Sun Jan 11, 2015 6:37 pm

Paris Attackers Had Ties With Tunisia Islamic State Leader:

PARIS-A day after gunmen in Paris killed the staffers of Charlie Hebdo magazine last week, Islamist radicals announced they had killed two more journalists.

The men behind these attacks have known each other ever since trying together to fight U.S. forces in Iraq a decade ago, according to evidence and testimony made public during trials in France.

The killing of prominent Tunisian journalists and democracy activists Sofiane Chourabi and Nadhir Guetari after their kidnapping in Libya was claimed Thursday by Boubaker al Hakim, a leader of Islamic State’s branch in Tunisia.

Mr. Hakim, a 32-year-old Paris-born French citizen, was a leading figure in the so-called Buttes-Chaumont network that recruited fighters from a northeastern Paris neighborhood to combat American troops in Iraq. One of his network’s members was Cherif Kouachi, who along with his brother Said gunned down 12 people at Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday.

The connection between Mr. Kouachi, who claimed allegiance to al Qaeda in Yemen, and Mr. Hakim, now one of the most senior figures in Islamic State, highlights how fluid are the boundaries between the two Islamist organizations—and how, despite hostility at the top, their members often come from the same tight networks bound by close personal links.

”What I fear we are seeing now is the simultaneous start of a European campaign and of the liquidation of revolutionaries in the Arab world,” said Jean-Pierre Filiu, an expert of radical Islam at Sciences-Po university in Paris who researched the Buttes-Chaumont network.

Mr. Kouachi’s path to radical Islam began in Paris’s 19th district, near the Buttes-Chaumont park, where he followed a preacher named Farid Benyettou. Mr. Benyettou didn’t advocate attacks against France—which had opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq—urging the young Muslim men of the neighborhood to go fight American forces in the Middle East country instead, according to the evidence and testimony made public. The Wall Street Journal hasn’t independently reviewed the court documents.

Shuttling between Iraq and France, and coordinating that influx, was a veteran of the struggle, Mr. Hakim, now with Islamic State. He was already in Baghdad as part of so-called human shields backing Saddam Hussein when the U.S. began the war in March 2003. In a phone interview he recorded with France’s RTL that month, he is heard screaming in French: “The Americans are nothing. If they come here, we will kill them in two hours. I am ready to blow myself up. Some dynamite and -Boom! Boom! We want death. We want paradise.”

Instead of blowing himself up, however, Mr. Hakim made a career out of steering to Iraq other French men, several of whom—including his brother Redouane—died in the fighting there. They usually traveled via Syria.

Mr. Kaouchi was supposed to travel to Iraq via Damascus in early 2005. Shortly before his departure, however, he was arrested by French law-enforcement, and imprisoned. Mr. Hakim, too, also ended up in a French prison, as did Mr. Benyettou.

Released in 2011, Mr. Benyettou, French newspapers reported Sunday, is now a nurse at a Paris hospital and isn’t known to be involved in militant activity. But several other members of the Buttes-Chaumont ring wasted no time in traveling abroad to link up with other jihadists after emerging from incarceration.

While under siege in a town north of Paris last week, Mr. Kouachi said he had traveled to Yemen to meet Anwar al Awlaki, a U.S.-Yemeni citizen and a prominent al Qaeda leader until he was killed by a U.S. drone strike in September 2011. Mr. Kouachi’s brother, Said, who also took part in the Charlie Hebdo attack, also spent nearly two years in Yemen from 2009.

Mr. Hakim, whose family hails from Tunisia, resurfaced after the Arab Spring led to the downfall of Tunisian President Zine-el-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.

Mr. Chourabi, a journalist and popular blogger who was kidnapped alongside fellow journalist Mr. Guetari on a trip in Libya last September, was a key figure in that revolution.

In following months, thousands of Islamists detained under Mr. Ben Ali’s rule were freed by the new government, dominated by moderate Islamist party Ennahda. Soon, some of the most radical ones formed a violent network that attacked the U.S. Embassy in 2012, and the following year killed leading secular politicians Chokri Belaïd and Mohamed Brahm.

Mr. Hakim, implicated by Tunisian security authorities for those assassinations, fled and is now believed to be with Islamic State in Syria where Tunisians make up one of the largest contingents of foreign fighters, alongside French.

In a video released in December, as the Tunisians went to elect a new president, Mr. Hakim railed against elections and called on Tunisia to rally behind Islamic State.

Dressed in a black head covering and speaking in eloquent classical Arabic, he also proclaimed Tunisia “the land of war,” meaning attacks were permissible there, and claimed responsibility for the deaths of Messrs. Belaïd and Brahm. “In God’s will, we will return and will raise the flag of no god but God, and Muhammad is the Prophet of God,” he said.

Mr. Hakim isn’t the only Frenchman prominent within Islamic State who has links to the Buttes-Chaumont network. In September 2014, the U.S. State Department designated as a global terrorist one of Islamic State’s executioners in Syria, Salim Benghalem, who was connected with several members of the network after meeting them in a French prison.
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Post #23 by Vic Ferrari » Sun Jan 18, 2015 4:40 pm

Alleged Israeli Copter Strike in Golan Heights Kills ‘Several’ Hezbollah

TEL AVIV—Several Hezbollah fighters were killed in Syria on Sunday by an Israeli helicopter strike near the border town of Quneitra in the Golan Heights, according to a statement by the Lebanese Shiite group.

The attack ratchets up pressure on Hezbollah to retaliate and risks unraveling an eight-year truce that has held since the two sides fought a month-long war and that survived even as Hezbollah fighters have come to bolster Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war there.

The organization released a statement that a team of its fighters were conducting a field operation near Quneitra when they were hit by an Israeli rocket strike. A Hezbollah spokesman said the names would be released.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged last week spies for Israel had penetrated the Iran-backed Shiite group’s ranks, allowing Israel to strike Hezbollah’s operations. Sheikh Nasrallah also said that Syrian and its allies have the right to retaliate against Israel for the attacks carried out on Syrian territory in the last few years.

An Israeli army spokesman declined to confirm or deny the attack, part of long-standing policy to maintain an air of ambiguity around attacks attributed to Israel in Syria during the civil war so as to avoid further escalating tensions.

Separately, seven Israeli Arabs were indicted in court on Sunday on charges of establishing a local cell of the Islamic State extremist group, Israel’s security agency said, pointing to growing concern over what authorities allege is the spread of the militant group’s influence in the country.

Israel’s Shin Bet security agency said in a statement that the members of the cell met to discuss jihadist ideologies, received training in making Molotov cocktails and slaughtered sheep in mental preparation for executions. The security agency also accused the members of trying to procure weapons to carry out attacks on an Israeli security officer.

Muhammed Bashir, a former mayor of the Israeli Arab town of Sahknin whose son Fadi was among those arrested and charged, called the accusations overblown and denied that Islamic State was recruiting members in Israel.

The agency didn’t offer any evidence, but one of those charged has given interviews to the Israeli media in support of Islamic State.

The announcement comes two weeks after the Shin Bet said it exposed a smaller cell of Palestinians in the West Bank who aspired to carry out attacks in the name of Islamic State, the militant group that has captured swaths of Syria and Iraq in the past year.

The seven people indicted on Sunday in the city of Haifa, northern Israel, were charged with membership in an illegal organization, supporting a terrorist group and contacting a foreign agent, the Shin Bet said, alleging that they communicated with Islamic State activists in Syria through the Internet.

One cell member was arrested trying to leave the country to join Islamic State militants in Syria, the agency said.

The Shin Bet said an eighth Arab citizen had also recently been indicted on charges related to membership of Islamic State after making contact with organization activists while studying in Jordan.

The arrests “point to a dangerous escalation among Israeli Arabs,’’ the agency said in a statement.

Last year, one Israeli Arab was killed in Syria after leaving Israel to join the ranks of Islamic State.

—Dana Ballout in Beirut contributed to this article.

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Post #24 by Vic Ferrari » Sun Jan 18, 2015 11:11 pm

Israel is playing a dangerous game. Not a fan of Assad, not a fan of Hezbollah, but I am a fan of stability.
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Post #25 by Vic Ferrari » Mon Jan 19, 2015 12:04 pm

Thomas Malthus wrote:I didn't know Obama frequented Broads.


Nice. I'm no cowering Obama, I'll strap up to go to war. Just when its in my interest. Iranians have no intent to attack the US. Israel is acting like a rabid dog. They need to chill a bit and show they actually want to work towards some type of agreement. Not stir shit up, blame it on someone else and demand action. Fuck you Bibi, you're not dragging my boys and friends to war for some bull. Israel better get its shit together or they will self destruct. All he does is pull out military stunts to try and blur the fact he's a fucking failure and his economy is trash.

Israel is a strategic liability to the US and everyone knows it.
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Post #26 by Vic Ferrari » Tue Feb 03, 2015 8:35 pm

What a fucking mess..

Former Dictator Challenges Nigeria Leader

YOLA, Nigeria—

Goodluck Jonathan strode into a sports stadium in northern Nigeria packed with thousands of people last week, but by the time he began his speech all but a few hundred had walked out on him.

It was the latest show of disdain for Mr. Jonathan in this war-weary region as he campaigns to win another term as Nigeria’s president.

Four years ago he was greeted here in Adamawa state by cheering crowds who awarded him 56% of the vote.

This time around, the reception has been hostile. On Thursday, young men stoned his convoy in the neighboring Taraba state, furious that Mr. Jonathan has struggled to stop the Islamic insurgency Boko Haram from killing thousands in this region.

Later that day, Mr. Jonathan arrived here, only to watch his crowd walk away from him.

“I know the burden I carry because of Boko Haram,” he said in a speech that was received with just a smattering of lukewarm applause from the audience.

On Monday, Boko Haram itself weighed in, carrying out a suicide bombing at a stadium just minutes after the president’s convoy drove away, officials said. Four people died.

Sixteen years into Nigeria’s fourth try at democracy, Mr. Jonathan faces the prospect of becoming the first president in the country’s history to lose an election.

Voter surveys show Mr. Jonathan and his rival, retired Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, a former dictator, in a dead heat ahead of the Feb. 14 election.

It isn’t just Mr. Jonathan’s political future that is at stake. Also at issue is whether Africa’s biggest democracy can handle the pressure of its first competitive election, an achievement only a handful of African nations like Ghana and Zambia can claim.

Under Mr. Jonathan, balloting has become fairer, and his administration hasn’t reverted to widespread vote-rigging. Consequently, the opposition has won 16 of the country’s 36 governorships.

The twin problems of a ferocious Islamist insurgency and a growing population that is vastly outpacing job growth—half of Nigeria’s 174 million people are under age 18—have undermined the incumbent’s popularity.

Besides the inability of Mr. Jonathan’s government to end the threat posed by Boko Haram, alleged corruption is still a common grievance.

Last year, a central-bank official accused the administration of pilfering $21 billion in oil revenue, an allegation Mr. Jonathan denied.

Also working against the incumbent are falling oil prices, which have sent the value of the country’s currency, the naira, to record lows. Civil servants have gone months without pay.

Job prospects for the young remain bleak, with a 2012 Gallup poll estimating that 91% of Nigeria’s working-age population lacks full-time employment.

Mr. Jonathan says the army is preparing for a renewed campaign against Boko Haram, and he could still prevail at the polls.

The country has enjoyed an average annual growth of 7% during his presidency, the fruit of what billboards here tout as his transformation agenda.

“We are accomplishing so much under this president,” Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said in a January interview. “We are not that good at communicating it, but we’ve done it.”

And yet Nigeria’s windfall has mostly landed in its majority Christian south, where Mr. Jonathan retains avid followers.

By contrast, he remains deeply unpopular among many northern Nigerians, who haven’t hidden their displeasure. Some have chanted his rival’s name at the president’s own rallies.

For the opposition, it is a rare opening for to challenge the incumbent.

“I don’t think they can steal this one,” Gen. Buhari said last week as he walked across an airport tarmac to his campaign plane.

One recent afternoon, some 7,000 people awaited the ex-dictator at a campaign event. Almost all of them were men and most were under the age of 25, too young to remember Gen. Buhari’s brief tenure in office. He took power in a military coup in 1983 and led a purge of corrupt officials, before he was overthrown after only 20 months in office.

There was no room to stand, so scores of men climbed a light tower and clung to it for more than hour in the midday sun. Many were dropouts, orphans or survivors of Boko Haram attacks. All were unemployed.

In Gen. Buhari, the young men said they saw a military man who would jail corrupt leaders, distribute money to the poor, and quash Boko Haram. They included 18-year-old Mohammadu Maman.

“The killings have been too many,” said Mr. Maman, whose town was ravaged by the insurgents. He now makes a living cutting men’s toenails on the street.

The following day, Mr. Jonathan held a rally nearby, and his crowd was similar in size to Gen. Buhari’s and included women. The festivities featured a marching band, dance troupes and dozens of jesters carrying drums.

Many in attendance were there in expectation of a cash payout from Mr. Jonathan’s campaign organization, a motive they made no effort to hide.

“Nigeria is for Goodluck, sir!” a man shouted at a passing campaign aide. “Now give me money, I go eat.”

Mr. Jonathan sat onstage, on a couch, watching politicians take the podium and assure the president he would carry the vote in Adamawa.

“All the people of Adamawa state, especially our women, are for you, your excellency,” said the leader of a woman’s group.

“Mr. President,” said a second politician. “Adamawa belongs to you.”

Only a few hundred spectators remained by the time the president spoke. Many of those left were watching a brawl that had broken out in the stands.
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Post #27 by Vic Ferrari » Wed Feb 04, 2015 8:31 pm


Jordan Considers Expanding Role in Coalition to Hit Islamic State in Iraq

WASHINGTON—Jordan is considering airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq, officials in the U.S.-led coalition fighting the jihadists said Wednesday, a day after the extremist group released a video showing a captured Jordanian pilot being burned to death.

Strikes on Iraq would significantly expand the kingdom’s military involvement in the coalition’s campaign and mark the first time an Arab member conducts bombings outside of Syria.

The Royal Jordanian Air Force in recent days has begun rehearsals for a large-scale attack on Islamic State forces. But the initial wave of reprisal strikes, which will include Jordanian and U.S. warplanes, is being focused on targets in Syria, coalition officials said. Any strikes in Iraq would come later.

Jordanian officials had vowed to exact revenge after Islamic State released its video on Tuesday of the pilot’s death. In apparent response, militants issued a “fatwa” or religious edict, justifying the killing on Wednesday. They pressed even further by releasing a list with names and addresses of 60 more Jordanian pilots, offering a bounty for jihadists to kill them.

Jordan’s airstrikes have typically involved small formations of planes, while the reprisal for the killing of the pilot will involve as many as two dozen warplanes, officials said. In recent days, the U.S. has helped develop potential targets in Syria for Jordanian warplanes, coalition officials said.

Expanding into Iraq would allow the Jordanians to strike at more targets, coalition officials said. Iraqi officials weren’t available to comment, but the Shiite-led government so far has balked at allowing Sunni Arab nations such as Jordan to conduct operations.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II told lawmakers during a visit to Washington on Tuesday that the death of First Lt. Muath al-Kasasbeh means his country was going to step up its involvement in operations against Islamic State, according to people briefed on the meetings.

Jordan’s preparations for stepped-up operations come as the Senate Armed Services Committee asked the Obama administration to speed up supplies of arms and ammunition to the country.

On Tuesday, before cutting short his U.S. visit and returning to Amman, King Abdullah met with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and told them his country was having trouble obtaining aircraft parts, night-vision equipment and precision munitions needed to secure its border with Syria and conduct air operations there, according to a letter released by the committee.

The potential expansion of Jordan’s role marks a new phase of the international effort, but comes amid questions over the U.S.-led coalition in the wake of hostage dramas involving the Jordanian pilot and two Japanese citizens.

The U.S. has dominated coalition operations since strikes began in Iraq in August. In Iraq, the U.S. has conducted 888 of the airstrikes, or 72%, while Western allies have conducted 348. In Syria, the U.S. has carried out about 932 strikes, or 92%, while Arab allies have conducted 79.

The United Arab Emirates, a key member of the coalition which flies sophisticated versions of F-16 fighter jets, hasn’t flown since December, flying its last bombing runs days after the Jordanian pilot was taken captive.

Another Arab member, Qatar, has flown its aircraft only in support roles and hasn’t conducted airstrikes. Bahrain hasn’t flown since the early days of the campaign.

Nonetheless, U.S. officials maintain that the continued participation of Arab allies in any capacity is of critical importance to show that Muslim countries support the campaign against Islamic State and that the West isn’t acting alone. A U.S. official said that Jordan and Saudi Arabia have continued to fly warplanes in support of the mission, but declined to provide details.

Officials noted even Jordan, which is considered the most active of the Arab members of coalition, usually takes a weeklong break between strikes.

Officials also said that airstrikes by Arab countries mostly have been against fixed targets in Syria, while the U.S. has focused on vehicles and other moving targets. As time has gone on, the number of fixed targets has decreased, U.S. officials said.

U.A.E. officials raised concerns about the location of American search and rescue equipment assets following Islamic State’s capture of Lt. Kasasbeh in December, U.S. officials said. His plane went down after a bombing mission over Syria for the coalition.

The U.A.E. officials had asked U.S. officials to position tilt-rotor V-22 Ospreys, which are useful in rescues because they can like both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, closer to Syria.

The V-22s currently are located in Kuwait. The U.S. has been unwilling to move the V-22s to northern Iraq, closer to Syria, in part because they then would have to move more forces into Iraq to protect and maintain the helicopters.

The U.S. has also wanted to station the planes in Turkey, but Ankara has balked at allowing the U.S. to use its bases. The status of U.A.E. forces was first reported by the New York Times on Wednesday.

U.S. officials played down suggestions that the U.A.E. would leave the coalition, noting that it has continued to give access to its military bases and participate in planning exercises.

The U.A.E. has taken a hard line against Islamist extremist groups, supporting the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State. The country has also—without the blessing of the U.S.—struck Islamists in Libya.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. is committed to supporting Jordan and pointed to a Tuesday announcement that the U.S. will increase assistance to Jordan to $1 billion a year for 2015-2017, up from $660 million a year.
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Post #28 by Vic Ferrari » Sun Feb 08, 2015 8:06 pm

[SIZE="4"]Oil Earnings From Kurdistan Prove Elusive[/size]

LONDON—Starting last year, oil began coursing through a new pipeline running from Iraqi Kurdistan to Turkey, seemingly the first payoff for a handful of companies with the opportunity to drill in one of the world’s biggest untapped oil patches.

A year later, the firms still haven’t been fully paid, highlighting the conundrum of Kurdistan’s oil: Its reserves are among the cheapest to access, but they are a potential target of Islamic State militants and the subject of a paralyzing dispute in Iraq that is only now being resolved

Firms that bet early on Kurdish oil and won rights there— Genel Energy PLC and Gulf Keystone Petroleum Ltd. of London and Norway’s DNO AS A, among others—watched their share prices get pummeled as Iraq’s central government and Kurdistan’s regional leaders fought over the resource last year.

On Friday, Gulf Keystone said it would temporarily halt oil exports from its giant Shaikan field, diverting the crude to the domestic market, where prices are lower but payment is more reliable. DNO and Genel are also planning to sell more oil locally.

“In Iraq, the easy part is getting the oil out of the ground,” said Ali Khedery, the chairman and CEO of consultancy Dragoman Partners and a former executive with ExxonMobil Corp. in Kurdistan. “The hard part is dealing with the politics.”

Kurdistan’s oil riches are particularly hotly contested. Its efforts to exploit its oil resources infuriated Baghdad, which cut off payments to the region after it had agreed to export oil through a new pipeline to Turkey at the end of 2013. The region was plunged into an economic crisis, even as the local government ramped up exports by truck and pipeline, leaving it unable to pay firms their share for international sales.

Genel is still owed about $230 million for oil exported via the pipeline, or almost half the revenue it expects to report for 2014. Gulf Keystone said in November it was owed $100 million, and HSBC estimated that DNO was also owed $100 million, though the company won’t confirm that.

To date, the firms have gotten just one $75 million payment between them at the end of 2014.

On Jan. 29, a budget agreement in Baghdad cemented a fragile truce between the Iraqi central government and Kurdistan, paving the way for more than $400 million in payments owed to oil companies.

But Gulf Keystone and DNO’s decision to halt exports, for now, dashed hopes regular payments would start soon. Gulf Keystone shares fell more than 17% on the news. Genel and DNO fell 2.4% and 7.4% respectively, on Friday, underperforming the sector.

Henrik Madsen, a research analyst at Norwegian investment bank Arctic Securities AS, expects the firms to get just half the money they will be owed for oil exports this year. “It’s going to probably be 2016 and maybe longer before you see stable and regular payments received,” he said.

The Kurdistan Regional Government declined to comment.

For the oil companies, Kurdistan’s vast oil riches could make it worth the risk in the long term.

Situated in northeastern Iraq, the Switzerland-sized region is estimated to hold 45 billion barrels of oil. That’s roughly equivalent to the amount BP PLC, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Exxon and others have extracted from the U.K.’s North Sea since the 1970s.

Crucially, that oil is onshore and relatively straightforward to access, making it cheaper to develop than more technologically challenging offshore fields elsewhere. It costs Genel about $2 a barrel to pump oil from its Kurdish fields, compared with an average of about $26 a barrel for North Sea oil.

But the political problems of producing in Kurdistan are joined by two other looming worries: oil trading at less than $60 a barrel and a surprise advance by Islamic State militants.

One IS attack last summer was close enough that Gulf Keystone Chairman Simon Murray could see the smoke rising over the city of Mosul from his hotel room in Erbil. IS fighters didn’t cross the Kurdistan borders and reach the oil fields, but many were shaken by the experience.

“The oil fields are two hours from Erbil. They’re vulnerable, there’s no question about that,” said Mr. Murray, referring to his company’s fields.

Overall, the circumstances have rocked the firms’ share prices. In the past 12 months, as of Friday’s close, Genel and DNO share prices have fallen around 36% and 18% respectively. Gulf Keystone is down more than 67%, as of Friday’s close, in part due to a board struggle, now resolved, over executive pay that led to the departure of the CEO in June.

The companies remain outwardly optimistic, but the lack of clarity on payments leaves them in an uncomfortable position.

Genel is well funded at the moment, thanks to a bond issue last year that raised $500 million, but it’s slashing its capital-expenditure budget 30% for 2015. “It was a roller-coaster year, but we weathered the storm,” said Genel CFO Julian Metherell, who is leaving the company in April.

DNO reported a net loss of $252.5 million for the fourth quarter. “2014 was clearly a difficult year, and we’re happy to have it behind us,” DNO Executive Chairman Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani told investors this week. The company plans to cut back on spending this year amid lower prices and uncertainty over payments. It has “one foot on the accelerator and one on the brake,” the executive said.

Gulf Keystone is in a more difficult position with $575 million in debt. CEO John Gerstenlauer said in a statement Friday that the company’s board is evaluating some longer-term financing options and “taking a prudent approach” to its capital expenditure in 2015.
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Post #29 by Vic Ferrari » Fri Feb 13, 2015 9:04 pm

Iran’s Ayatollah Sends New Letter to Obama Amid Nuclear Talks
Tone Described as ‘Respectful’ but Noncommittal on Cooperation Against Islamic State


Iran’s paramount political figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has responded to overtures from President Barack Obama seeking better relations by sending secret communications of his own to the White House.

The Iranian cleric wrote to Mr. Obama in recent weeks in response to an October presidential letter that raised the possibility of U.S.-Iranian cooperation in fighting Islamic State if a nuclear deal is secured, according to an Iranian diplomat. The supreme leader’s response was “respectful” but noncommittal, the diplomat said.

A senior White House official declined to confirm the existence of that letter. But it comes as the first details emerge about another letter Mr. Khamenei sent to the president early in his first term.

That letter outlined a string of abuses that in the supreme leader’s view the U.S. had committed against the Iranian people over the past 60 years, according to current and former U.S. officials who viewed the correspondence.

The White House official confirmed that the president received that letter in 2009, but declined to comment on the content of any presidential correspondence.

Neither the White House nor the Iranian government has officially confirmed any correspondence between the two. Iranian officials, in recent months, though, have told Tehran’s state media that some of Mr. Obama’s letters were answered, without specifying by whom.

“The letters of the American president have a history of some years, and in some instances, there have been responses to these letters,” said Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, in November. He added that there were “contradictions” between policies laid out in the letters and U.S. actions, according to a translation of Mr. Shamkhani’s comments by Al Monitor, a Mideast-focused website.

Despite its airing of grievances, the first letter in many ways began in earnest the recent historic thaw after more than 30 years of frozen U.S.-Iranian ties, because Mr. Khamenei also didn’t rule out the possibility of accommodation with the U.S.

That omission—and the sheer fact of the letter itself—fueled initial White House hopes for some sort of breakthrough in relations on Mr. Obama’s watch.

“He left the door open,” said one former Obama administration official who saw the letter, the contents of which have never been reported.

That effort is now at a crossroads, with Mr. Obama saying this month that nuclear negotiations with Iran either yield a comprehensive agreement by March 31 or Washington will take steps, including possibly military action, to deny Tehran the capacity to build a nuclear bomb.

Congressional Republicans have invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress next month on Iran, setting off a political firestorm in Washington.

Iran says its program is purely peaceful.

Mr. Khamenei’s ambiguity about his willingness to strike a landmark deal has left U.S. officials waging little more than a guessing-game. This unsophisticated art mostly involves picking apart the supreme leader’s speeches to try to decipher his state of mind.

Mr. Obama has said that a breakdown in the negotiations could fuel further instability in the Middle East and undercut U.S. efforts to combat Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, whom Tehran is also fighting. He has also said Iran could use the end of diplomacy to “break out” and attempt to rapidly build the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon.

Into this mix, Mr. Khamenei has offered conflicting signals to the West.

Last weekend, he appeared to lend support to his nuclear negotiators, saying in a speech he agreed “with the progress in the work our statesmen have done.”

Many of Iran’s negotiators studied in the U.S., including Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and are believed to support a rapprochement with Washington.

Still, Iran’s supreme leader also set down terms for an agreement in the speech, particularly concerning the pace at which Western sanctions on Iran would be removed, which would almost certainly be rejected by the White House and Congress, said U.S. officials.

“I will agree with a deal if one is made, but I will not approve a bad deal,” Mr. Khamenei said in the speech. “No deal is better than any deal which contradicts national interests, a deal which humiliates the great Iranian nation.”

Mr. Obama believed previous U.S. overtures to the Islamic Republic failed because they had circumvented the supreme leader’s office, the country’s most powerful. He moved quickly to write Mr. Khamenei just weeks after taking office in 2009, according to U.S. officials.

In his written response, Mr. Khamenei complained of Washington’s long-ago military alliance with the late Persian monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and its support for Saddam Hussein during Iraq’s eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s.

Some administration officials viewed the fact the Iranian cleric responded at all as a signal he might be willing to forge a compromise on the nuclear file. Neither he nor his predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, had ever directly communicated with the U.S. since the 1979 Islamic revolution, said U.S. and Iranian officials.

Mr. Khamenei’s failure to reject outright the possibility of a compromise on the nuclear file also raised hopes. “You don’t know how important it is for the supreme leader of Iran to actually write a letter to the U.S.,” said a second former U.S. official briefed on the correspondence. “It’s a sign he recognizes the country.”

Other administration officials, including former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, were deeply skeptical.

The two-term defense chief, in his book, “Duty,” released last year, briefly described an “exchange of letters” between Mr. Obama and Mr. Khamenei in the spring of 2009, but without offering any specifics.

He said he supported Mr. Obama’s correspondence “because I thought that when it failed—as I believed it would—we would be in a much stronger position to get approval of significantly stricter economic sanctions.”

Mr. Khamenei never responded to a second letter sent by Mr. Obama that year, according to U.S. and Iranian officials. Obama administration officials had accused Iran’s government of rigging the 2009 re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad , a hard-liner.

The election of the more moderate Hasan Rouhani in mid-2013, however, breathed new life into the diplomatic process.

Mr. Obama spoke for 15 minutes by phone with Mr. Rouhani that year. And Secretary of State John Kerry and Mr. Zarif now have regular meetings on the nuclear agreement.

Mr. Obama, meanwhile, wrote another letter to Mr. Khamenei in October, raising the possibility of cooperation in fighting Islamic State, according to people briefed on the exchange.

In his latest response, Mr. Khamenei said improved relations could only be based on mutual trust, said the Iranian diplomat.

The 75-year old Iranian leader received treatment for prostate cancer last September and briefly was hospitalized. But he is believed to have recovered and could seek to weaken Mr. Rouhani, and other more moderate Iranian leaders, if the diplomacy collapses.

“You could see a real escalation of tensions between the U.S. and Iran. It’s very dangerous for the Mideast,” said Vali Nasr, a former Obama administration official who now leads the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. “The moderates in Tehran could be effectively purged.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Khamenei has increasingly asserted himself into the nuclear diplomacy.

In July, he appeared to blindside his negotiators in Vienna by publicly stating Iran would need nearly 200,000 centrifuge machines to produce nuclear fuel in the coming years. The Obama administration has been trying to negotiate them below 5,000.

In his Feb. 8 speech, the supreme leader also said any agreement reached next month must include the complete dismantling of Western sanctions on Iran. U.S. negotiators have been discussing a phased repeal that could take years.

“The sanctions must literally be taken away from the hands of the enemy. The sanctions must be lifted,” Mr. Khamenei said.

Iran experts worry Mr. Khamenei is demanding terms so high that they will sink the talks and underpin his narrative that the Americans can’t be trusted.

“Khamenei has had a three-part approach toward the nuclear talks,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank. “Support the negotiations, undermine the negotiations with impossible redlines, and prepare the country for a ‘resistance economy,’ which implies no deal.”
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Post #30 by Vic Ferrari » Tue Feb 17, 2015 4:33 pm

B-1 Pilots Describe Bombing Campaign Against ISIS in Kobani

For four months, the B-1B bombers of the U.S. Air Force’s 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron relentlessly hit Islamic State fighters in eastern Kobani from the air, slowly watching the line of control in that city swing back to Washington’s Kurdish allies.

The air tactics developed over Kobani, senior U.S. officials said, will hopefully prove to be a model of what close communication between an allied force on the ground and American aircraft in the skies can do. The lesson of Kobani, officials said, will be tried again when moderate Syrian rebels trained by the U.S. enter the fight against the Islamic State militants inside other parts of Syria.

The 9th Bomb Squadron deployed to the American air base in Qatar in July, prepared to close out the combat phase of the Afghanistan war and Operation Enduring Freedom, which formally ended in December.

But when President Barack Obama announced the U.S. would begin airstrikes first over Iraq and then Syria, the squadron’s mission expanded. While the planes flew regularly over Afghanistan, the bulk of the ordnance dropped by the air crews was over the Syrian town of Kobani.

The squadron started conducting operations over Kobani the first week of October. At that point, Islamic State fighters, known in the military by the acronym ISIL, were moving largely unrestricted inside the town.

On his first sortie over Kobani, Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Ed Sumangil, expected the mission to be uneventful. Instead the crew “went Winchester,” Air Force lingo for dropping all of the bombs in a payload. The B1-B planes carry 500-lb and 2,000-lb bombs.

“We got up there thinking it would be quiet. and immediately we started getting targets against ISIL command and control elements,” he said.

Reviewing the damage assessments in the next days and weeks, Lt. Col. Sumangil said, it was clear that the airstrikes, combined with a Kurdish offensive on the ground, “basically stopped their progress.”

The U.S. had established close communications with the People’s Defense Units, or YPG, a Kurdish secularist group that led the fight to defend Kobani. YPG fighters communicated with liaisons and air controllers in the operations centers set up by the U.S.

The Combined Air Operation Center in Qatar then took that information and sent bomb coordinates to the B-1s flying over Kobani.

“The YPG, prior to that, was skeptical what our contribution was going to be,” Lt. Col. Sumangil said. “It essentially stopped their advance, not completely cold … but that was the first time they felt airpower combined with their fighters on the ground can really stop their [Islamic State fighters’] progress though Kobani.”

During as much as eight hours flying over Kobani, the 9th Bomb Squadron would get targets called in to the air operations center from air controllers working with the Kurds. The B-1 crew would get the target, drop a weapon and then get confirmation from the fighters on the ground.

“It was almost like an orchestra,” said Maj. Brandon Miller, the squadron’s director of operations. “The information was flowing… almost like clockwork.”

Each day the B-1 crews would be briefed on where the dividing line was in Kobani, what the Air Force would call the Forward Line of Troops, or FLOT.

“For the four months we were there it was always moving,” said Capt. Todd Saksa, the squadron’s chief of weapons and tactics.

For the B-1 crews, the fight over Kobani was a combination of the tactics they had honed striking insurgents in Afghanistan and a more traditional, conventional battle, with opposing forces fighting over a defined front.

“It didn’t feel like 2015 or 2014,” Capt. Saksa said. “It felt like two armies going at it over a set line.”

Not long after the U.S. started dropping bombs, the line began to move. By December, Kurdish forces on the ground started taking larger parts of Kobani. By January, the town was back in the Kurds’ control.

Capt. Saksa said when he first flew over Kobani, the Kurdish fighters had only a third of the city under their control. But after four months of bombing in support of the Kurdish forces, the tide turned in their favor.

“By the time the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron came out of theater the YPG had pretty much taken the entire town” Capt. Saksa said. “We take a lot of pride in that because we spent a lot of time overhead.”
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Post #31 by Vic Ferrari » Tue Feb 17, 2015 4:37 pm

U.S. to Give Some Syria Rebels Ability to Call Airstrikes

WASHINGTON—The U.S. has decided to provide pickup trucks equipped with mounted machine guns and radios for calling in U.S. airstrikes to some moderate Syrian rebels, seeking to replicate the success Kurdish forces, aided by American B-1B bombers, had over Islamic State last month.

The plan comes as the U.S. prepares to start training moderate rebels, who are waging a two-front fight against the extremists and Syrian regime forces. Defense officials said American trainers will be in place March 1 in Jordan, with a second site due to open soon after in Turkey.

The Obama administration has been facing growing pressure to step up support for the moderate Syrian rebels from Republican hawks in Congress and from some allies.

The first training sessions are to last between six and eight weeks. The training will focus on helping the rebel forces hold territory and counter Islamic State fighters—not to take on the Syrian army.

After that the U.S. will consider introducing what it is calling “the new Syrian force” onto the battlefield in Syria, officials said.

A team of four to six rebels will each be given a Toyota Hi-Lux pickup, outfitted with a machine gun, communications gear and Global Positioning System trackers enabling them to call in airstrikes. The fighters will also be given mortars, but the administration hasn’t decided to provide the teams with more sophisticated antitank weapons.

The Central Intelligence Agency began a covert program to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels in 2013, providing ammunition, small arms and antitank weapons to small groups of trusted fighters. While that program continues, it is widely viewed as having fallen well short of its aims.

The new military program is supposed to train a larger number of fighters and, with the addition of air support, officials say they hope it will have a more dramatic impact on the battlefield.

The administration also has been grappling with legal and policy issues—including the highly charged question of whether to confront Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ’s forces if they engage the American-trained rebels.

The U.S. has begun screening some rebels who will join the program. While the U.S. hopes to train 3,000 fighters by the end of the year, officials wouldn’t say how many fighters have been selected so far.

The U.S. hopes to step up the training next year, to approximately 5,000. But officials say the moderate forces will never outnumber Islamic State extremists or regime forces. Reflecting that, the Pentagon believes the moderate forces must have superior training as well as support from U.S. warplanes.

In the Syrian city of Kobani, near the Turkish border, Kurdish forces called in targets for American B-1 bombers, helping them wrest control from Islamic State forces in late January.

Drawing on that experience, the U.S. believes its aircraft can have a devastating effect on Islamic State forces elsewhere if it works with another partner force on the ground.

“The way we envision it, it would be very similar to Kobani,” said a senior military official.

But U.S. officials don’t know whether American planes will be able to provide air support if the moderate forces it trains get in a fight not with Islamic State, but with forces loyal to the Syrian president.

Because the U.S. isn’t at war with Syria, U.S. military lawyers are wrestling with the question of whether American warplanes would have legal authorization to strike Mr. Assad’s forces, even to support a U.S.-trained rebel force.

Aside from the legal issues, officials also said that, as a policy question, the White House hasn't given a green light to supporting the rebels if they get into a battle with the Syrian military.

Some Republican lawmakers, including Sens. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), have been critical of what they see as a U.S. campaign in Syria that is too narrow to succeed.

“How can we train up a Free Syrian Army or send any other force into Syria if we don’t first deal with the Assad air threat,” Mr. Graham said at a confirmation hearing this month for incoming Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

Officials said that expanding the war to the Assad forces could fracture the international coalition gathered to fight Islamic State.

Some countries believe it should expand to take on the Assad regime. Others believe it would be a mistake to dilute the focus, and say attacking the Assad forces could quickly help Islamic State grow stronger.

Some in the military believe the U.S. needs to wait until Islamic State fighters are weakened further before it considers airstrikes against Syrian forces.

More important, U.S. officials have said if the U.S. begins attacking Assad’s forces, the uneasy peace between Iran and the U.S. in Iraq will break down and Iranian-backed militias could begin targeting U.S. forces there.

Iranian leaders have told supporters in Iraq not to attack U.S. bases, but that detente could dissolve if the war in Syria expanded to take on Mr. Assad.

“Because we have a common enemy, a common goal, everybody is moving in the same direction,” said the senior military official. “You cross a redline in Syria, you start to infringe on what Iran sees as its long-term interest and those Shia militias could turn in the other direction.”

Military officials said their ability to control the rebels will be limited once they are on the battlefield. However, the senior official said the U.S. will have some leverage, including ammunition resupply, stipends paid to the fighters and support from airstrikes. “All those things could be put at risk if they go counter to what we have asked them to do,” the official said.

The U.S.-trained rebels most likely will be calling in strikes on Islamic State fighters, rather than on fixed targets, military officials said.

The planes would drop 500- and 2,000-pound guided bombs, a typical load for the B-1s that have operated in Afghanistan as well as Syria.

Using the B-1’s sniper pod, which allows the aircrew to precisely target moving objects, the crew could target tanks, motorcycles and other moving vehicles.

Air Force pilots who have recently returned from the battle over Kobani said that communication with Kurdish fighters was decisive in targeting airstrikes.

Kurdish fighters were initially skeptical of what the U.S. strikes could do, said Lt. Col. Ed Sumangil, commander of the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron that flew missions over Kobani until earlier this month. But after hitting targets called in by the Kurds, the advance of Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, eas quickly halted, and, in the ensuing months, rolled back.

“We were getting information from the Kurds from… our command and control element,” said Lt. Col. Sumangil. “We were getting information quickly enough for the purposes of what we were trying to achieve: target ISIL fighters and their positions.”
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Post #32 by Vic Ferrari » Mon Feb 23, 2015 11:22 pm

Bomb Qatar.

DOHA, Qatar—During President Barack Obama ’s first term, some members of his National Security Council lobbied to pull a U.S. fighter squadron out of an air base in Qatar to protest the emirate’s support of militant groups in the Mideast.

The Pentagon pushed back, according to former U.S. officials involved in the discussion, saying a regional military command the U.S. maintains at the base was vital to American operations in the region. The issue was decided in late 2013 when the U.S. extended its lease on the base and didn’t pull out any planes.

The episode, not previously reported, reflects long-standing divisions within the Obama administration over America’s widening alliance with Qatar. The problem is that the very traits making the Persian Gulf emirate a valuable ally are also a source of worry: Qatar’s relationships with Islamist groups.

Secretary of State John Kerry has formed a tight partnership with Qatari diplomats, using them as conduits for messages to Hamas in the Palestinian territories, to Afghanistan’s Taliban and to jihadist rebel groups in Syria and Libya, according to State Department officials. Mr. Kerry has lauded Qatar’s role in seeking to negotiate an end to Israeli-Hamas fighting last summer.

U.S. officials also have praised Qatar for using its channels to broker the release of Westerners held hostage, including U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was swapped last year for five captured Taliban commanders.

Champions of the U.S.-Qatar alliance, especially in the Defense and State departments, say Qatar is indispensable to the struggle against Islamic State, the group also called ISIS or ISIL. U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State often launch from the air base in Qatar, al-Udeid, said American officials, who added that Qatar’s air force has provided surveillance and logistical support.

But Qatar also has given financial or diplomatic support to Mideast rebel groups, including some that seek to establish Islamic law or have ties to al Qaeda, according to U.S. and Arab officials as well as Western diplomats in the region. The support includes providing sanctuary to leaders of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, which Qatar acknowledges.

For years, Islamist rebel fighters from Libya and Syria traveled to Qatar and returned with suitcases full of money, according to rebels who were interviewed and to Persian Gulf government officials. American officials said the U.S. has uncovered Qatari connections—such as involvement by members of the emirate’s elite business, religious and academic circles—in financing for Hamas, al Qaeda and Islamic State.

In September, the U.S. Treasury Department said publicly that an Islamic State commander had received $2 million in cash from an unnamed Qatari businessman. The following month, a Treasury official publicly criticized Qatar for failing to act against what he called terrorist financiers living in the emirate.

Last week, Qatar protested when Egypt bombed Islamic State forces in Libya who had beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians. An Egyptian diplomat responded by publicly accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism, which Qatar denied.

Visit from the emir
A chance to air these issues comes Tuesday as Qatar’s emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, meets with President Obama at the White House.

In interviews, senior Qatari officials denied their government funds or has funded terrorist organizations. They said Qatar has a right to have diplomatic ties with Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements that they said have broad support in the Arab public. (The U.S. lists Hamas as a terrorist organization but not the Brotherhood.)

“We are not a bloc-mentality-belonging country. We create platforms for dialogue,” said Qatar’s foreign minister, Khalid bin Mohammad al-Attiyah. “If this approach allows us to bring long-lasting peace and security in our region, we will not be affected by any criticism.”

Washington’s ambassador to Qatar, Dana Shell Smith, said the U.S. relationship with the emirate “is a fundamentally good one, and we share a number of important interests. We don’t agree on everything, but we are always frank with each other about‎ where we disagree and why.”

U.S. and Arab officials say there are signs Qatar has begun paring back support for the most extreme militant groups following repeated warnings from Washington and certain Arab states. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates pulled their ambassadors from Doha in March 2014 to protest Qatar’s foreign policy, but have since returned the diplomats to their posts.

Washington and the American oil industry played leading roles in Qatar’s emergence on the global stage. Qatar was among the less wealthy Gulf states in the 1980s, before the export of its plentiful natural gas was made possible by technologies developed by U.S. oil companies that later became Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips . 

“The American companies were really the ones who took a big bet on Qatar when others wouldn’t,” said Mr. Attiyah. “That’s part of the core of our special relationship.”

Qatar now has the world’s highest per capita income, says the International Monetary Fund. Several U.S. universities, including Georgetown, Northwestern and Cornell, have opened campuses in Doha.

In 2003, the Pentagon moved the regional headquarters of the U.S. Central Command to Qatar’s al-Udeid air base, a move that gave the emirate a sense of security from potentially hostile neighbors.

Qatar also invests in the U.S. Last month, Qatar’s finance minister said his government would invest $35 billion in the U.S. over five years, in areas such as technology and infrastructure.

The “Arab Spring” protests of late 2010 and 2011 deepened Washington’s alliance with Qatar but also exposed divisions in the two countries’ visions for the Mideast. Qatar began promoting a brand of pro-Islamist foreign policy that confused Washington and alienated some Arab allies.

One Gulf-region government official described a Sheraton hotel in Doha as a hangout for Islamists from Libya, Syria, Egypt and the Palestinian territories. A spokesman for Sheraton owner Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. noted that the hotel hosts hundreds of international travelers daily and said, “We do not do business with terrorists nor condone or facilitate any activity that is antithetical to our company values.” He said the firm works with law enforcement, including retaining passport information for all guests.

Nusra Front
According to U.S. and regional Arab government officials, commanders of the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s arm in Syria, began visiting Doha in 2012 for meetings with senior Qatari military officials and financiers. Nusra is fighting to overthrow Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime, a regional rival of Qatar.

Syrian rebels and Persian Gulf government officials said Qatar cultivates a relationship with Nusra in part to maintain the emirate’s role in negotiations to free hostages held by militants in Syria and Lebanon. Over the past year, Qatar has gained the release of hostages including United Nationspeacekeepers, Greek Orthodox nuns and a U.S. freelance journalist. Arab and U.N. officials have said the releases involve ransoms, which Qatar denies.

Some Qatari officials view Nusra as a crucial fighting force against the Syrian regime and don’t consider it terrorist.

The U.S. in 2012 tipped off Lebanese officials that a Qatari sheik, Abd al-Aziz bin Khalifa al-Attiyah, was visiting Beirut to pass funds to Nusra, according to Lebanese and U.S. officials. A Lebanese official said that on one trip, Sheik Attiyah, who is a cousin of Qatar’s current foreign minister, was driven to the Lebanon-Syria border town of Aarsal and there distributed money for Syrian rebel fighters.

Lebanese security forces arrested Sheik Attiyah on terrorism charges in 2012, but he was freed after a Qatari protest, Lebanese and Qatari officials said. This past June, a Beirut military court sentenced him in absentia to seven years in prison on the charges.

A London attorney for Sheik Attiyah, Cameron Doley, called the charges “completely and utterly untrue.” Qatari government officials also said Mr. Attiyah wasn’t involved in terrorism and described his arrest as political. Officials of the Lebanese government and the security directorate that carried out the arrest declined to comment.

U.S. officials have been pressing Qatar to arrest a former Qatari central-bank official who was sanctioned by the U.S. and the U.N. for an alleged role as a terrorism financier and as a lieutenant of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Qatar detained the official, Khalifa Muhammad Turki al-Subaiy, in 2008 for six months after a Bahrain court convicted him on terrorism charges. He was released later that year, drawing a string of inquiries from the U.S. ambassador, according to State Department cables released by WikiLeaks.

Mr. Subaiy couldn’t be reached for comment. In September, the Treasury alleged that two Jordanians with Qatari IDs had worked with Mr. Subaiy to transfer cash to al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan. The Jordanians couldn’t be reached for comment.

In October, the Treasury’s top counterterrorism official publicly criticized Qatar for inaction on Mr. Subaiy and a second alleged al Qaeda financier, Abd al-Rahman al-Nuaymi. “There are U.S.- and U.N.-designated terrorist financiers in Qatar that have not been acted against under Qatari law,” said David Cohen , then a Treasury undersecretary.

Mr. Nuaymi, who also couldn’t be reached for comment, has in the past denied funding terrorism and called charges against him politically motivated.

Living in Doha
Qatari officials confirmed that Messrs. Subaiy and Nuaymi remain free in Doha but said they are under surveillance and their bank accounts are frozen. “We know that there is a problem, and we are building a case to take those involved to court,” said Qatar’s ambassador to Washington, Mohammad al-Kuwari. “We’re committed to working with the U.S. on these cases.”

The idea of pulling some U.S. fighter planes out of Qatar’s al-Udeid to signal displeasure with Qatar’s foreign policy—a proposal made several years ago by some National Security Council members—prompted a wrenching internal debate pitting U.S. ideals against pragmatism. One senior defense official at the time opposed the idea, saying it threatened to undermine a key Mideast relationship while having little effect on Qatar’s policy.

A senior administration official said, “Whether or not that was a view expressed or considered by an individual in the past, it was never a serious policy consideration in a broader context.”

In recent months, U.S. and Qatari officials said there has been an uptick in Qatari moves against alleged terrorist financiers. They said the emirate has expelled a Jordanian associate of Mr. Nuaymi and shut a social-media website the U.S. believed was used in raising money for al-Qaeda-linked militants in Syria.

Qatar has moved to mend its ties with Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and other Gulf countries. In November, Qatar’s emir met in Jidda with Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah and other regional monarchs, agreeing to end their feud and work to stabilize the region, said Arab officials.

But Qatar has resisted pressure from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to evict Hamas’s top leadership, according to U.S. and Arab diplomats. U.S. officials believe that many of the Qatari nationals involved in fundraising for Syrian rebels remain active. Mr. Kerry regularly raises his concerns about Qatar’s ties to extremist groups in his meeting with Doha’s diplomats, a U.S. official said.

“The Qataris need to know they can’t have it both ways,” said Dennis Ross, who was Mr. Obama’s top Mideast adviser in his first term. “But so far, they see that they can.”
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Post #33 by Vic Ferrari » Mon Mar 02, 2015 4:39 pm

BAGHDAD—Iraq’s military, heavily backed by Iran and Shiite militias, launched the largest offensive yet to reclaim Sunni-dominated territory captured by Islamic State—an operation that risked exacerbating already deep sectarian tensions in the country.

The campaign to retake Tikrit, 80 miles north of the capital Baghdad and best known as the hometown of Saddam Hussein, is a test of the security forces’ fitness for the much more daunting task of recapturing Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Islamic State took over Mosul in June and it has become the Sunni radical group’s de facto headquarters in Iraq. The Iraqis, with U.S. help, are expected to mount a major operation for the city later this year.

“Tikrit is a crucial strategic area and it represents the key for the liberation of Mosul itself,” said General Abdul Wahab al-Saidi, the commander of the Tikrit operation.

An estimated 30,000 fighters are taking part in the offensive—about half of them Iraqi military and the other half volunteer Shiite militias, according to Shiite militia leaders and local media. Sunni and Shiite officials emphasized that a smaller contingent of 1,000-2,000 Sunni tribal fighters native to the Tikrit region would also have a role in the battle.

The Shiite militias have proven to be the most effective fighters against the insurgency but carry with them political liabilities. Sunnis in Iraq severely distrust the militias, owing to years of abuse under a Shiite-dominated regime backed by the U.S. after Saddam’s ouster. The Shiite militias, in turn, see Sunnis as abetting Islamic State.

The militias are closely tied to Shiite Iran. The semi-official Fars news agency in Iran reported on Monday that Qasem Soleimani, head of the powerful Revolutionary Guard’s overseas unit Quds Force, was on the ground near Tikrit advising commanders. The involvement of Iran in the effort to liberate Sunni-dominated regions could introduce new sectarian strains in a country already teetering on breakup.

The offensive has thrown a new spotlight on Iran’s role in assisting Iraq to regain control of the country. U.S. officials said Iran is supporting the offensive to retake Tikrit, supplying artillery, rocket fire and aerial drones. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fighters were on the ground with Iraq’s units, mostly operating artillery and rocket batteries, according to a U.S. military official.

Iran is playing an increasingly influential role in Iraqi military affairs after security forces proved unable to contain the Islamic State onslaught. Iranian backing of Shiite militias and the visible presence of elite Iranian soldiers on front lines in Iraq has been widely acknowledged. In Baghdad, billboards that commonly advertise the prowess of the various Shiite militias and pay tribute to their fallen now feature the visage of Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader.

At the Pentagon Monday, Col. Steve Warren, a Defense Department spokesman, said the U.S. was not providing assistance in the fight to retake Tikrit. The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State has not conducted airstrikes in support of Iraqi forces and did not provide advice in planning the attack.

“We are fully aware of the operation, but the Iraqis did not request our support for it,” Col. Warren said. “Our presence in Iraq is at the request of the Iraqi government. We are there to advise them, to assist them, to support them, when they ask for it.”

Col. Warren would not comment on Iranian support for the Tikrit operation. But U.S. officials said one of the key reasons the Iraqis did not ask for help from the U.S. to take Tikrit was because of the support they were getting from Iran and the Revolutionary Guard.

How the military and its allied militias fare in Tikrit will likely determine the timing and strategy of the Mosul offensive, officials and analysts said. Failure in Tikrit threatens to unleash a fresh round of sectarian recriminations as Sunnis, who dominate the province in which Tikrit sits, have expressed deep suspicion over the Shiite-led governments intentions in the region. The push to free Tikrit is considered a test of Iraq’s Shiite leadership commitment to bring the nation’s Sunnis towards national reconciliation after years of policies that marginalized them. Sunni disaffection became a major contributor to the success of the Islamic State in taking large portions of the country. All the territory that Islamic State controls in Iraq is dominated by the minority Sunnis.

Taking Tikrit would also give Iraq’s military a strategic waypoint between Baghdad and Mosul. Ahmed Ali, a military analyst who has tracked Islamic State’s advance on Iraq, said an unsuccessful effort in Tikrit “will set back the government’s Mosul military campaign and also provide [Islamic State] with a psychological boost.”

American military officials had initially said a U.S. backed effort to retake Mosul would be launched by April or May. But they have pushed back the timetable over doubts that Iraq’s battered military would be ready by then. U.S. officials have said the plan would require some 25,000 Iraqi soldiers.

Monday’s offensive, announced by Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, marks the third attempt by Iraqi security forces to rout militants from Tikrit, which fell last summer during a dramatic assault by Islamic State. Previous attempts failed mostly because of poor coordination between Iraq’s military and mostly Shiite volunteer forces.

In the hours before the operation was launched, Mr. Abadi sought to ease the concerns of Tikrit’s overwhelmingly Sunni residents, saying many of the volunteer forces aiding in the fight for the city are Sunni locals supporting the military’s effort. He also reiterated a pledge to offer clemency to tribal leaders in Tikrit, who had previously aided the insurgency.

“We will forget about their bad deeds if they come back to the side of the nation,” he said in a news conference broadcast on state television.

But tensions over the aims of the battle were evident in its earliest phases, raising concerns that for the influential Shiite militias, the fight was colored by notions of sectarian revenge.

Naeem al-Aboodi, a spokesman for one of the largest and best organized Shiite militias, Asaib Ahl Al Haq, said the operation has been dubbed “Avenging the Camp Spiecher Martyrs.” That refers to an attack by Islamic State last summer that massacred nearly 1,000 Shiite Iraqi soldiers at a military base in the area.

Hours later, Iraqi state television quoted senior government officials as saying the operation was officially named “In your service, Prophet Mohammed.”

Mr. Abadi has made it a priority to dispel widely held fears among Sunnis that using Shiite militiamen to liberate Sunni-dominated regions will prevent Sunnis from returning to their homes.

“Daesh is committing atrocities daily,” Badr al-Fahal, a Sunni lawmaker from the province, using the Arabic acronym for the militant group. “There is no way to remove them without the sons of the city fighting beside security forces.”

Officials said the campaign began with troop surges from the southern, eastern and western bounds of Tikrit supported by Iraqi airstrikes.

Adday al-Thanoon, a member of the provincial council who was briefed by commanders, said ground forces had advanced towards the al-Dour district on the outskirts of Tikrit.

While Iraqi officials have given little indication how long they expect the campaign to last, military experts said security forces and their allies will face a tough battle against an enemy that is known for its ability to absorb a wave of attacks and regroup.

Michael Knights, an Iraq expert with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said no accurate estimates exist for how many Islamic State militants are operating in Tikrit but described the group as “highly entrenched” in the city.

“They have had a long time to prepare and are very quick at setting up hasty defenses,” such as fields laden with improvised explosives devices that require time and extreme caution to demine.

“That’s what they excel at,” Mr. Knights said of the militants.

How Iraq’s military asserts itself in this battle will have implications for how the Iraqi and American governments approach the planned campaign for Mosul, Mr. Knights said.

The Shiite militias backed by Iran have been more effective at wresting control from the insurgency in other parts of the country, leading to concerns for the West about backing a largely polarizing force.

“The key thing to watch is how do the formal Iraqi security forces combine with the militias in this fight,” he said. “Does the U.S. even try to have a role in the fight for Tikrit or does it let the Iranians waltz in a scoop up the credit?”
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Post #34 by Captain Roy Bringus » Wed Apr 01, 2015 2:52 pm

Thomas Malthus wrote:Could anyone post the full version of this, please?

Thanks in advance!

vCanada Finance Minister to Meet With Economists
The meeting with private-sector economists is typically one of the final steps before the Canadian government releases its budget

OTTAWA—Canadian Finance Minister Joe Oliver will meet the country’s leading private-sector economists on April 9 to discuss the economic outlook in what is typically one of the final steps before the federal government releases its budget.

The meeting will take place in Ottawa, a spokesman for the minister said Monday. He said no date has been set for the budget release.

The planned meeting comes as the Canadian economy slows amid a deep decline in crude oil prices, which has prompted economists to downgrade their forecasts for 2015 after the release of disappointing figures for exports, factory shipments and retail sales. The Canadian government uses the average forecast from the country’s private-sector economists as the basis for its budget-planning outlook.

Canada usually releases its budget before March 31, the end of its fiscal year, but Mr. Oliver said it would be delayed this year because he needed extra time to gauge the economic fallout from the swoon in crude oil prices. Crude is Canada’s biggest export.

Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz said last week there would be “quite a lot” of economic weakness in the first three months of 2015 due to lower oil prices, which reduce incomes overall in Canada.

Canada’s governing Conservatives--which must face re-election this year in a vote likely in October--have already unveiled a tax-relief plan aimed at couples with children, and set aside billions for infrastructure spending, in an effort to provide some stimulus to the economy. Even with the swift decline in oil prices, government officials have reiterated Ottawa remains on course to produce a balanced budget in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

In past years, the government’s annual budget plan was released about two weeks after the day the finance minister huddled with economists.
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Post #35 by Vic Ferrari » Thu Apr 23, 2015 7:50 pm

[color="red"]CHINA'S[/color] [color="green"]NUCLEAR [/color][color="red"]WARNING[/color].[/CENTER][/size]

Even China is now raising flags about nuclear proliferation. Beijing helped Pakistan get the bomb in the 1980s and has been North Korea’s patron from one Dear Leader to the next. But in February Chinese officials warned a group of Americans that Pyongyang has many more nuclear warheads than previously believed: up to 20 already, perhaps 40 by next year.

The new Chinese assessment, reported Thursday by the Journal, is based on updated intelligence concerning North Korea’s ability to enrich uranium. The North Koreans had no such capability when they signed the 1994 Agreed Framework with the Clinton Administration, which required them to stop their nuclear-weapons efforts.

But Pyongyang cheated on that deal, not least by developing a uranium-enrichment program first acknowledged to the Bush Administration in 2002. The North Koreans tested their first bomb in 2006 and were later discovered to be building a secret nuclear facility in the Syrian desert, which was destroyed by Israeli warplanes in 2007. The Bush Administration rewarded this behavior with a new nuclear deal—which Pyongyang again violated by testing bombs in 2009 and 2013.

That’s the depressing record of Washington’s last diplomatic attempt at stopping a rogue regime from acquiring nuclear weapons, and we only wish that it had proved to be instructive. Yet the deal the Obama Administration is now negotiating with Tehran looks to be incorporating the same mistakes. The Iran deal also has many more moving parts, making it considerably more difficult to enforce. Last time around it was relatively easy to tell when the North was breaking its promises.

Iran is also a much richer, more technologically sophisticated and strategically influential country than North Korea. At least Pyongyang doesn’t have the kind of control over its neighbors that Tehran enjoys in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Iran and North Korea have extensive diplomatic and military ties, with Pyongyang helping supply the Iranians with ballistic-missile technology and, according to news reports, hosting Iranian scientists at its nuclear tests. Nobody should rule out the possibility that a portion of Pyongyang’s growing stockpile—to say nothing of the know-how that goes into building it—may someday come into Iranian hands. Which is a stark reminder that the consequences of misbegotten arms-control with one dictatorship are rarely limited to that dictatorship.
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Post #36 by Shawnathan Horcoff » Fri Apr 24, 2015 11:50 pm

Hey guys, subscriber here just popping in with one of their shitty articles:

The Fight Over Canada’s Patriot Act
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has introduced an ambitious and unpopular intelligence reform agenda. Can anyone stop it?
Justin Ling, 24 April 2015

OTTAWA, Canada — When Michael Zehaf-Bibeau barreled through the halls of Canada’s Parliament on Oct. 22, 2014, he could have tried the door on his left. If he had — notwithstanding the blood he was losing, the security detail closing in on him, and the pile of chairs and tables stacked behind the door — he would have been face-to-face with Canada’s government. The room was full of members of Parliament. The ministers of public safety and national defense were there. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was just yards away, locked in a side room, guarded by his caucus members.

They all survived, but one army reservist was killed and a security guard was wounded that day. The attack was the second Islamic State-inspired strike in Canada in a week. Just days before, Martin “Ahmad” Couture-Rouleau, a 25-year-old from rural Quebec, drove his car into two Canadian Forces personnel, killing Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. Contacts of Couture-Rouleau confirm that he was radicalized online and sought to go abroad to fight for the Islamic State. Friends say Zehaf-Bibeau’s turn for the worst came after a business venture went south.

That fateful October week crystallized the opinion of Canada’s ruling Conservative Party: The Islamist terrorist threat is real.

That notion eventually spawned Bill C-51, a wide-ranging raft of intelligence reforms that some critics have described as “Canada’s Patriot Act.” The bill has put Harper on the ropes. A coalition of NGOs, academics, and civil liberty and pro-privacy lobby groups has pummeled the bill, picking apart its every flaw and shortcoming. Harper’s compatriots on the right have become some of the most vocal critics. The New Democratic Party (NDP), the main opposition party in Parliament, has vowed to repeal the legislation if it wins next October’s election. Street protests have cropped up and public opinion is rapidly shifting against the bill.

But the prime minister is not backing down.

* * *
Canada has had limited experience with terrorism. In the 1960s, Québec separatists ran a bombing and kidnapping campaign aimed at forcing Quebec’s independence that culminated in the murder of the province’s labor minister, Pierre Laporte, in 1970. In 1985, Sikh extremists bombed an Air India flight from Montreal to London, killing 329 people, including 268 Canadians. Aside from those incidents, Canadians have really only known failed plots: In 1966, one would-be assassin accidentally blew himself up in a bathroom down the hall from Parliament, killing only himself. The “Toronto 18” scheme, a 2006 plot to explode truck bombs through downtown Toronto while simultaneously storming the Parliament buildings in Ottawa and beheading the prime minister, was infiltrated early on and was never likely to succeed.

But the October 2014 attacks roused Canadians from their slumber. Both attacks required minimal preparation and planning: In one, the weapon was a car; in the other, it was a lever-action hunting rifle. Zehaf-Bibeau was a drug addict with mental health issues, and was unknown to police. Couture-Rouleau was a blue-collar worker who had recently converted to Islam following business troubles and was under police surveillance.

Law enforcement, intelligence services, and lawmakers all faced a difficult set of questions: How do you prevent an attack that required no planning and wasn’t discussed with anyone beforehand? Can you stop attacks that lack warning signs? Is it acceptable in a liberal democracy to arrest someone who has not actually done anything illegal, simply because he subscribes to a radical ideology?

The heads of the federal police service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and the national spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), both bemoaned their inadequate powers and resources in the lead-up to the attack and afterwards.

“We are looking, as you would expect in the aftermath of last week and ongoing concerns around security, at ways in which we can improve upon security measures, particularly as they pertain to prevention, but we’re doing so in a reasonable, not reactionary way,” Justice Minister Peter MacKay told reporters outside the House of Commons on Oct. 29, 2014, in an attempt to stem concerns about the civil liberties costs of anti-terrorism legislation. MacKay underscored the fine line the government was trying to walk — and stressed that the legislation would be crafted in “a very informed, methodical, targeted way.”

But the sales pitch seems to have fallen flat. Only about half of respondents to a recent poll felt that Canada needed any new anti-terror legislation at all. That number has been slowly decreasing since it reached a high-water mark last October.

* * *
In early February, the Harper government unveiled C-51. “Violent jihadism is not just a danger somewhere else,” the prime minister told a crowd at a campaign-style event where he introduced the bill. “It seeks to harm us here in Canada — in our cities and in our neighborhoods, through horrific acts like deliberately driving a car at a defenseless man or shooting a soldier in the back as he stands on guard at a war memorial.” The bill proved immediately popular. But then came the scrutiny as to what kind of state snooping it allows.

The bill allows the Canadian government to add individuals to a no-fly list based on evidence even if it is inadmissible in a court of law. It also lessens the threshold for police to obtain a warrant to arrest and detain terror suspects without charge for up to seven days. And it criminalizes “promoting terrorist attacks,” which means police will have the power to arrest those who encourage attacks on Canada, even in the most general sense. The legislation would knock down many of the information silos within the federal government, making it possible for every federal department and agency to route information to a host of Canadian agencies, including the RCMP, CSIS, and the signals intelligence body (CSE), which works closely with the U.S. National Security Agency.

C-51’s most controversial section grants new powers to CSIS. The spy agency, which deals primarily in counterespionage, open-source information gathering, and human intelligence, will have its mandate vastly expanded by the legislation to include the ability to “disrupt” any “activity that undermines the security of Canada.” The government has offered examples of what this disruption mandate is supposed to look like, saying that it will allow CSIS to do things like cancel a suspected terrorist’s plane tickets, or put sugar in his gas tank.

But law professors Craig Forcese, of the University of Ottawa, and Kent Roach, who teaches at the University of Toronto, write that this new mandate could also allow more serious “disruptions” — like infecting computers with malware, “draining the bank account of an anonymously foreign-funded environmental group,” taking down websites, breaking into private homes, or “starting a cyber-whisper ‘smear’ campaign” against a radical activist.

While the bill reads that the power to obtain Canadians’ data or disrupt threats is not to be applied to “advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression,” lawyers have pointed out that such a clause isn’t legally enforceable — and that CSIS is already surveilling dissident groups. Some of those lawyers and academics have put forward worrying hypotheticals: CSIS could be dispatched to break up an anti-pipeline protest, such as those that dot Canada’s West Coast, or CSIS may target Quebec’s sovereigntist movement.

Members of the government have called those hypotheticals “fearmongering.” Minister of Public Safety Steven Blaney, who introduced C-51, said much of the criticism of the legislation has come from “misunderstandings of the law,” and that the judicial oversight required for CSIS to disrupt threats will be enough to keep the spy agency in line. But even without the new powers afforded by C-51, there have already been numerous reports of the agency surveilling, tracking, and infiltrating protest movements. CSIS has paid particular attention to indigenous groups, environmentalists, and communists.

Security and privacy lawyers like Forcese and Roach have said that the information-sharing provisions of the bill are the dawn of “total information awareness.”Security and privacy lawyers like Forcese and Roach have said that the information-sharing provisions of the bill are the dawn of “total information awareness.” Daniel Therrien, the federal government’s official privacy watchdog, warned that C-51 would make available to law enforcement and CSIS “potentially all personal information that any department may hold on Canadians.” David Fraser, one of Canada’s foremost digital privacy experts, says it could create a situation where information is shared by default, instead of by request, resulting in a “big pot” of private data that is accessible by a litany of agencies.

CSE, meanwhile, would see its access to domestic information — something it’s forbidden from independently collecting under its mandate — grow exponentially. “CSE will be front and centre around the ‘big data’ analysis opened up by C-51,” Ron Deibert, the director at the tech-oriented think tank the Citizen Lab, wrote about the bill’s impact on the signals intelligence agency.

Under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada’s constitution, citizens have the right to liberty, the right to be free from arbitrary detention, and the right to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure. Canadian courts tend to construe these rights broadly, and the ability of law enforcement to obtain search or arrest warrants is narrow. C-51, however, contains a provision reading that CSIS is allowed to employ “measures [that] will contravene a right or freedom guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or will be contrary to other Canadian law” if it has authorization from a judge. CSIS doesn’t need a warrant in cases where it does not think it will be breaking the law or infringing on a citizen’s liberties. The only limits on how that could be applied are laid out in the bill: CSIS cannot pervert the course of justice, and the agency cannot maim, rape, or kill. Everything else is fair game.

But government officials are working hard to quell concerns. “Bill 51 is a great bill because it has a balance between the promotion and protection of the right and freedom enabling the Canadian government basically to share information among its different agencies and also lowering some threshold for the RCMP and doing something,” Blaney told me in a recent interview. “We are doing it in a Canadian way while providing some more additional powers to our intelligence officers. We will make sure there is judicial oversight as well as a review body so we are doing it in a Canadian way that fully respects the Canadian Charter of Rights and the privacy of Canadians.”

But Canada has nothing like the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence or the House of Representatives’ Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which provide oversight of U.S. domestic surveillance. Both CSIS and CSE have external review bodies that operate on a fraction of the budget and the staff of those of the agencies they’re charged with keeping an eye on, and yet neither have formal investigative powers. Both have complained in recent years that their requests for information from their respective agencies have been stymied and ignored.

Complementing these new powers is CA$300 million of new funding, over five years, for RCMP, CSIS, and Canada’s border service. Another CA$2 million has been promised for CSIS’s review body — the first budget increase the agency has seen in a decade.

* * *
C-51 has turned out to be one of the Harper government’s most controversial moves yet. In his nearly 10 years in power, the prime minister has generally leveraged his majority, and his incredibly tight grip on his caucus, to get bills passed without amendment. Parliamentary tricks — like forcing limits on debate, reducing opportunities for opposition parties to introduce amendments, bundling legislation together — have all proved effective strategies to get bills passed quickly and without too much public outcry. For example, after the introduction of a 457-page budget that removed federal protection for thousands of rivers and streams, debate was limited to just weeks and every proposed amendment was flatly rejected. Since they were elected with a majority government, the Conservatives have cut short debate on government legislation a total of 93 times.

C-51 may prove, like the other pieces of controversial legislation quickly adopted into law, to be no exception. After two weeks of contentious committee hearings throughout March, the government ultimately rejected all 100 of the amendments introduced by the opposition. The opposition changes would have fundamentally overhauled the bill, tightening information-sharing powers and requiring privacy assessments, removing CSIS’s ability to infringe Canadians’ constitutional rights, and improving appeal processes for Canada’s no-fly list.

Instead, the Conservatives adopted just three of their own amendments. One change made to the bill was designed to tighten language requiring what airline staff are required to do to enforce the no-fly list. Another change was added to further iterate that CSIS has no power to detain individuals. And the final amendment removed a clause that could have allowed agencies collecting information about Canadians to “further [disclose] it to any person, for any purpose.” The last change was pushed for by opposition groups, which clarified that the bill was not intended to go after protesters — removing the preface “legal” from language that said “lawful protest” should not be grounds for enacting surveillance.

These amendments did nothing to quiet the opposition. Public protests against C-51 sprung up in March, with thousands taking to the streets in dozens of cities to voice concern with the bill. Four former prime ministers, backed up by a number of Supreme Court justices and other prominent Canadians, penned an op-ed chastising the government for introducing the bill. Committee hearings on the bill, which wrapped up on March 26, heard from a range of critics, including traditional Conservative supporters. One Conservative caucus member and a slate of traditional Harper allies have come out and opposed it publicly.

Polls have indicated that support for the legislation is rapidly falling, with opposition growing as Canadians become more informed about what the bill entails.

The NDP, the official opposition in the House of Commons, has championed the fight. NDP Parliament members have run filibusters to oppose efforts from the government to limit the number of committee hearings on the bill, and they’ve vowed to put up a fight to ensure that the legislation is either amended or scrapped.

“At the beginning the government was coasting on the fact that since it said it was anti-terrorist, a vast majority of Canadians were on board,” NDP leader Thomas Mulcair told me in an interview earlier this month. “What’s happened in the few weeks since the bill was brought in is that a lot of experts — 100 or so law professors from across Canada, four former prime ministers — have all started saying: Hold on, let’s look at what this actually does and that’s one of the key concerns is that it will directly affect people’s right to privacy.”

The Conservatives were unmoved. They insisted the experts were wrong, the civil liberties and legal groups were just naysayers, and that the opposition parties were simply weak on terrorism.

The Liberal Party, the third-largest in Parliament but currently running neck-and-neck with the Conservatives in opinion polls, decided to support the legislation: partly because the Liberal Party was the architect of the original anti-terrorism act and partly, as party leader Justin Trudeau later admitted, because he was afraid of being painted as soft on terrorism by the Conservatives. Nevertheless, Trudeau has still criticized the legislation, saying there are “a number of worrying elements in it,” and that he would revoke some of them were he to win in the following election.

But this isn’t the first time that the Harper government has found itself at odds with the legal community, civil liberties groups, and the opposition. The prime minister isn’t the type to back down — and certainly not to liberals. The fight over C-51 looks to be no different. Now that the Conservatives have rejected substantive amendments to the legislation, there is little chance that the bill will be changed or defeated. It faces one more vote in the House of Commons in the coming two weeks, which it will almost certainly survive, before it goes to the Senate, where it is not expected to be changed. The bill will likely become law by early June.

A federal election is expected to be called within a matter of months. And C-51 will play a major role in the next campaign season. Both opposition parties have committed to rescinding some of these powers if they are elected. But in the meantime, Canada’s security and intelligence community is gearing up for expanded powers while it has the chance.

Clarification, April 24, 2015: An earlier version of this article neglected to mention the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182.
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Post #37 by Vic Ferrari » Sat Aug 22, 2015 12:37 pm

The Saudis Reply to Iran’s Rising Danger

President Obama knew how to soothe Arab nerves rankled by his nuclear diplomacy with Iran. In May he convened a Camp David summit with the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The only problem: Of six GCC heads of state, only two showed up. The most powerful and influential, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, wasn’t among the attendees.

The snub was a rare public expression of the kingdom’s anger at Mr. Obama. Behind Riyadh’s ire is the sense that, in its pursuit of a nuclear accommodation with Tehran, America is tilting away from its traditional Middle East allies and toward Iran’s ayatollahs. For these Arab states, the new Washington dispensation means forging security arrangements that a few years ago would have seemed unthinkable. Perhaps the most astonishing of these developments is the nascent alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Anwar Eshki, a retired major general in the Saudi armed forces, has spearheaded Riyadh’s outreach to Jerusalem. He made history in June when he appeared on a panel in Washington, D.C., with Dore Gold, the newly appointed director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry. At that event, Gen. Eshki outlined a vision for the Middle East that included Arab-Israeli peace, regime change in Tehran, democracy in the Arab world and the creation of a Kurdish state. And while Gen. Eshki says his outreach to the Israelis is a purely private enterprise, it hasn’t been interpreted that way in the region, in large part because he is a prominent and well-connected figure in the Saudi security establishment.

I sat down for an interview with Gen. Eshki Wednesday evening at the Prague Marriott, where he was attending a security conference.

“I believe this is a good deal, but—” he says, referring to the nuclear deal with Iran, then veering into what sounds like a carefully neutral discussion of the debate over the agreement in the U.S. A military man with a subtle and disciplined mind, he never explicitly criticizes the nuclear talks or the White House, toeing his government’s public line of tepid, conditional support for the accord. He goes so far as to dissociate himself from the anti-deal views of his one-time boss, former intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, whom the general served as a national-security adviser when the prince was Saudi ambassador to the U.S. in the 1980s.

And yet the key is to unpack that “but.”

Throughout the talks, Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif “agreed on many things,” Gen. Eshki says. “That surprised Russia, and it surprised many others.” The general also was surprised by Mr. Kerry: “He supported the Iranians!” Mr. Kerry and his boss were willing to see things Iran’s way, Gen. Eshki says, because they believe that putative moderates like Mr. Zarif can outmaneuver hard-liners like Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his Revolutionary Guards.

Does Gen. Eshki share that view? “I believe Iran will not change its mind as long as that regime is in power in Tehran,” he says. “Iran does many things that are not good. They want to revive the Persian Empire. And also they want to dominate the Middle East through destabilization.” Saudi Arabia is as vulnerable as Israel to such designs, if not more so, and it was the common Iranian threat that brought the general and Mr. Gold into a yearlong strategic dialogue that culminated in the Washington meeting.

“The main project between me and Dore Gold is to bring peace between Arab countries and Israel,” he says. “This is personal, but my government knows about the project. My government isn’t against it, because we need peace. For that reason, I found Dore Gold. He likes his country. I like my country. We need to profit from each other.” Jerusalem and Riyadh, he says, are two powers that “don’t want trouble in the region.”

Initially, the focus was on the Palestinian question. “We didn’t talk much about Iran at first,” Gen. Eshki recalls, “but I found that our idea and their idea was close together against Iran. We don’t like Iran to destabilize the area. We don’t like for Iran to attack Israel and destroy Israel. And we also don’t like for Israel to attack Iran and destroy Iran. This is my idea. He has another idea. But we are together.”

For Israel, the immediate Iranian-caused headache is Hezbollah, the Lebanese-Shiite terror outfit that points tens of thousands of missiles at the Jewish state. Gen. Eshki recalls once asking Mr. Gold, “ ‘When you attack Hezbollah, does Iran interfere?’ He answered, ‘No.’ ” A follow-up: “If you attack Iran, will Hezbollah support Iran?” The Israeli answered: “Yes.” Gen. Eshki’s conclusion: “Israel is thinking first of all to destroy Hezbollah, to solve the problem with Hezbollah. After that they can attack Iran.”

For the Saudis, the Iranian-backed Houthi militia in Yemen poses the immediate threat. Situated at the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen is a strategic gateway to Africa and a perennial target of Iranian meddling and al Qaeda terrorism. Gen. Eshki worked closely on Yemen issues during the 18 years he spent as a national-security adviser to the kingdom’s Council of Ministers following his stint in Washington. “I know exactly the Yemeni people, tribes and the situation,” he says. “Yemen is a central challenge for Saudi Arabia in the future.”

When the Houthis overran Yemen in the spring, Riyadh finally took action, launching a joint Arab campaign with short notice to Washington. Known as Decisive Storm, the campaign has, in fits and starts, punished and pushed back Tehran’s proxies on the kingdom’s doorstep. “Now the Storm in Yemen gave a lesson to Hezbollah and all the other [proxies] of Iran that Iran is a paper tiger,” Gen. Eshki says. “They couldn’t support the Houthis in Yemen. They couldn’t bring one plane to Yemen. For that reason, the Houthis now are talking bad against Iran on social media.”

The Islamic Republic’s imperial ambitions in the region will ultimately sound its own death knell, the general thinks. “I told the Iranians when I was there,” Gen. Eshki says. “I told [Deputy Foreign Minister Amir Hossein] Abdollahian: ‘Iran will destroy itself. If you try to revive empire, many other nationalities will ask for independence, like Azeris, like Arabs, like Turkmen, like the Baluch, like the Kurds.’ ” In other words, two can play at Tehran’s game of riling up ethnic and sectarian minorities.

Riyadh isn’t limiting itself to Jerusalem in courting potential new friends. He suggests that a thaw in the kingdom’s relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia is under way following the rupture caused by Moscow’s sharp support for its clients, Tehran and the Assad regime, in the Syrian civil war. Riyadh and the Kremlin may now work together to stabilize Syria.

“We have to concentrate to solve the problem” in Syria, the general says. “But we don’t like Assad to stay. Because the people in Syria don’t want him to stay.” He notes that Saudi King Abdullah, who died in January, “at the beginning of the revolution called on Assad six times to solve the problem quickly: ‘Don’t kill your people. Don’t ally yourself with Iran. We need Syria united and independent.’ At the end of that, President Assad said: ‘The situation is not under my control.’ That means: Iran has much influence over him.”

Now the Kremlin is gradually coming around to Riyadh’s view of the conflict. “Russia is a great country,” he says, “but they don’t like to change their promises” to allies—in contrast to you-know-who. “Russia supported by weapons Iran and Assad in the civil war in Syria. But now Russia believes, has been convinced, that they are not in the right path. Saudi Arabia needs Russia in the Middle East, not to destabilize countries but to be a friend.”

A political solution would preserve the Syrian state apparatus while replacing the regime sitting atop it. “We don’t like that regime,” Gen. Eshki says. “There’s difference between the system and the regime. When the United States came to Iraq, they destroyed the system, and the problems ensued. We have to maintain the system but remove the regime.” He believes stabilizing the region will require a “Marshall-style project to rebuild” Syria and Yemen, a cause he personally promotes.

Such a project is the only permanent antidote to the Islamist extremism of groups like Islamic State. Using the Arabic term for the group, Daesh, the general says that its terrorism wouldn’t be possible in a country “if that country is not destabilized, if it has equity. When Syria became destabilized, Daesh came to Syria. When the government in Iraq had so much corruption and pushed the Sunni out, Daesh came to Iraq quickly. If Iraq became stabilized and strong, Daesh wouldn’t be in Iraq or in Syria.”

And contrary to fashion, Gen. Eshki still talks about democratizing the Middle East. “We have in the Gulf many problems,” he says. “We need more reform. We need more democracy in that place,” albeit democracy inflected by Islamic law. “We can’t conquer the terrorists just with weapons and security acts, but also by justice inside of the country.” He even imagines a federal future for the Arab states of the Persian Gulf region inspired by the U.S. Constitution.

He adds: “I believe Daesh will like Pac Man eat all the terrorists until it becomes one big terrorist. Then we can destroy them.”

The U.S. doesn’t figure much in the moral and strategic map Gen. Eshki paints of the region. Yes, America and Saudi Arabia are still strong allies, he says, but “the United States is trying to move from the Middle East to the Far East and the Pacific Ocean. The United States doesn’t like anymore to be involved in the Middle East, but to support the Middle East.” That may be preferable to many American voters, but it comes at the price of a diminished capacity to shape events and outcomes. Little equity, little say.

So how would the birth of a nuclear-armed Iranian theocracy affect Saudi Arabia’s new strategic path? Gen. Eshki doesn’t seem worried, but others might be: “If Iran tries to make that atomic bomb, we would do that also.” ... 1440197120
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Post #38 by Vic Ferrari » Thu Jul 21, 2016 6:07 pm

Russian Strikes on Remote Syria Garrison Alarm U.S.

When Russian aircraft bombed a remote garrison in southeastern Syria last month, alarm bells sounded at the Pentagon and the Ministry of Defense in London.

The Russians weren’t bombarding a run-of-the-mill rebel outpost, according to U.S. officials. Their target was a secret base of operations for elite American and British forces. In fact, a contingent of about 20 British special forces had pulled out of the garrison 24 hours earlier. British officials declined to comment.

U.S. military and intelligence officials say the previously unreported close call for Western forces on June 16, and a subsequent Russian strike on a site linked to the Central Intelligence Agency, were part of a campaign by Moscow to pressure the Obama administration to agree to closer cooperation in the skies over Syria.

The risk that U.S. and British forces could have been killed at the border garrison hardened opposition at the Pentagon and the CIA to accommodating the Russians. But White House and State Department officials, wary of an escalation in U.S. military involvement in Syria, decided to pursue a compromise.

Yury Melnik, a spokesman for the Russian embassy in Washington, referred questions about the incidents to the Russian Defense Ministry, which didn't respond to a request for comment.

A provisional agreement reached by Secretary of State John Kerry in Moscow last week—over Pentagon and CIA objections—calls for the former Cold War adversaries to join forces in strikes against the Nusra Front, Syria’s al Qaeda affiliate. In exchange for the U.S. easing Moscow’s international isolation, Russia would halt airstrikes on the U.S.-backed rebels and restrain the Syrian air force.

Talks are still under way between U.S. and Russian experts over the designated areas where the Russians would have to get Washington’s approval before conducting strikes.

Proponents of the deal in the White House and the State Department say it will allow the U.S. to target Nusra in areas which have been off limits to American attack aircraft for months because of Russian deployments, and will provide a measure of protection to U.S. allies on the ground in Syria whom the Russians and Syrians were targeting in their air campaigns.

Critics of the deal at the Pentagon and the CIA say the White House gave in to Russian bullying and voiced doubt that Moscow would abide by the terms of the agreement. They say the U.S. needs to confront the Russians more squarely. White House and State Department officials are wary of intensifying a costly proxy fight that could exacerbate the level of violence in Syria.

Since its armed intervention on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad last September, the Russian air force has conducted hundreds of sorties against CIA-backed rebels fighting his government, fueling U.S. anger.

Mr. Melnik, the Russian embassy spokesman, said, “In reality, the only objective Russia pursues in Syria is fighting terrorism. And we believe that better coordination of Russian and American efforts would contribute to effective pursuit of this objective, as well as to a diplomatic solution of the Syrian crisis.”

Officials close to Mr. Kerry said he shares the skepticism of military and intelligence officials about Russian intentions, which was why he inserted a clause during the negotiations to allow the U.S. to unilaterally suspend cooperation with the Russians if they started bombing U.S. allies again.

U.S. and British special forces based in Jordan cross the border into Syria on missions, helping maintain an unofficial buffer zone on Syrian soil to protect Jordan from Islamic State, U.S. officials said. The special forces would rendezvous with their rebel allies at the garrison, initially used by the CIA. For security reasons, the forces wouldn’t spend the night.

A contingent of about 20 British special forces pulled out of the facility less than 24 hours before the U.S. tracked Russian aircraft on June 16 flying across Syria to the garrison, according to U.S. military and intelligence officials briefed on the strike. The aircraft dropped cluster munitions on the target, according to U.S. officials and rebel commanders.

After that first Russian strike, officers with the U.S. military’s Central Command air operations center in Qatar called their counterparts in Russia’s air campaign headquarters in Latakia, Syria, U.S. officials said. The American officers told the Russians that the garrison was part of the U.S. campaign against Islamic State and shouldn’t be attacked.

Roughly 90 minutes after the U.S. warning was delivered, U.S. aircraft circling nearby watched as the Russians launched a second wave of strikes against the garrison.

A U.S. military surveillance aircraft overhead tried to hail the Russian pilots directly using the frequencies which the U.S. and Russian governments had agreed to use in emergencies.

The Russian pilots didn’t respond.

U.S. officials said four rebels were killed in the Russian strikes.

After the Russian aircraft returned to base in western Syria, the Pentagon demanded that Moscow explain what happened.

Russian military officials initially told their Pentagon counterparts that Russian pilots intentionally struck the garrison, but thought it was an Islamic State facility, according to the U.S. officials briefed on the incident.

U.S. military and intelligence officials rejected that explanation and said the Russian pilots would have been able to tell from the air that the garrison wasn’t an Islamic State facility because of the unique ways in which it was fortified.

Among the protective measures surrounding At-Tanf were interlocking sandbag walls that are a signature characteristic of U.S. and British bases in the region.

The Russians then told the Americans that the Jordanians had approved of the strikes in advance. U.S. officials said they checked with Amman and were told by their Jordanian counterparts that they had never given Moscow a green light.

The Russians later told the Americans that their air command headquarters in Syria wasn’t in a position to call off the strikes because officers with U.S. Central Command didn’t provide Moscow with the precise coordinates for the garrison.

U.S. officials said the Pentagon didn’t specifically ask the Russians not to venture into the area around the At-Tanf garrison because it wasn’t close to any of the front lines between the Assad regime and opposing forces and because Russian aircraft didn’t operate in that part of Syria.

Moreover, distrust of Russian intentions ran so deep within the U.S. military and the CIA that U.S. officials didn’t want to tell the Russians any more than they had to, officials said.

The strike sharpened divisions within the administration. Military and intelligence officials said it showed why Moscow couldn't be trusted. Administration officials in favor of the deal said the strike illustrated why refusing to cooperate with the Russians carried risks.

Following the strike, the U.S. gave the Russians some additional information about U.S. operations along the Jordanian border. U.S. officials said they told Moscow to steer clear of the border area.

But on July 12, as Mr. Kerry was preparing to fly to Moscow to complete the agreement to increase U.S.-Russian coordination, Russian aircraft targeted another base near the Jordanian border, about 50 miles from At-Tanf, used by family members of CIA-backed fighters and other displaced Syrians, according to U.S. officials briefed on the strike and rebel commanders.

Tllass Salameh, a commander with the Lions of the East rebel group which works out of the base, said 200 people were living at the “families’ camp.”

In the strike, the Russians used cluster munitions, which increased the number of casualties, according to Mr. Salameh and U.S. officials. Mr. Salameh said two young children, aged two and three, were killed along with two young women and a man in his mid-50s. In addition, 48 people were injured, all civilians, he said. ... 1469137231

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