Daily Archives: June 18, 2014

Iraq crisis exclusive : US rules out military action until PM Nouri al-Maliki stands down

The US has told senior Iraqi officials that the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, must leave office if it is to intervene militarily to stop the advance of Sunni extremists, The Independent has learnt. The Sunni community sees Mr Maliki as the main architect of its oppression and the Americans believe there can be no national reconciliation between Sunni and Shia unless he ceases to be leader of the country.

Mr Maliki is showing every sign of wanting to cling to power despite the disasters of the past 10 days during which his army of 350,000 men, on which $41.6bn (£24.5bn) has been spent by Iraq since 2011, has disintegrated after being attacked by a far less numerous foe. He has blamed Saudi Arabia, the Kurds and treacherous generals, but has offered no real explanation nor taken responsibility for the defeat.

Mr Maliki was effectively appointed by the US in 2006 but is today seen as being under the influence of Iran. The Iranian leadership is divided on whether or not to withdraw its support from Mr Maliki and see Shia dominance and Iranian power in Iraq diluted. Iranian commanders have taken over central direction of the Iraqi army, but Iraqi politicians do not believe that Iran has a coherent plan to rescue the Baghdad government from the crisis. The Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, said that “the great Iranian nation will not hesitate to defend the holy [Shia] shrines”. These are at Samarra in the front line, al-Kadhimiya in Baghdad and Najaf and Karbala further south.

The most effective shape for US military support would be air strikes on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) fighters called in by American forward air controllers operating with Iraqi units. Drones would be largely useless against an elusive and lightly armed enemy, though US air strikes of any type would raise the morale of the Iraqi military and the Shia population.

There is a constitutional way of getting rid of Mr Maliki when the Iraqi parliament meets before the end of June. It must chose a speaker and a president who will then ask a member of the largest party to form a government. It is unlikely that Mr Maliki would be chosen Prime Minister as other parties unite against him. “It is impossible that he should serve a third term,” said an Iraq politician who did not want to be named.

But parliamentary procedures may be too slow to remove Mr Maliki and put in place a new Iraqi leadership capable of withstanding an uprising by Iraq’s five or six million Sunni population, led by Isis but including seven or eight other armed groups. The pace of the Isis advance has slowed north of Baghdad in recent days, but it is still capturing Sunni towns and villages where much of the armed male population joins it. The original force of Isis fighters, sometimes put at 10,000 men, is thereby multiplied many times.

This happened in the Sunni town of Hibhib near Baquba, which is 40 miles north-east of Baghdad, over the last two days. A local woman speaking by phone said: “Less than 100 Daesh [Isis] came into the town and soon became more than 2,000 armed men. Even teenagers aged 14 and 15 are carrying rifles and setting up checkpoints.”

The general support for the Sunni revolt in northern and western Iraq will make it very difficult for any counter-offensive, which would be facing far more opponents than Isis originally fielded. Isis now controls almost all the Euphrates valley from Fallujah west of Baghdad through western Iraq and eastern Syria as far as the Turkish border. Any long-term campaign against Isis by the Iraqi government backed by US air power would require air strikes in Syria as well as Iraq. The two countries have effectively become a single battlefield.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki

The success or failure of the US and Mr Maliki’s domestic opponents in replacing him in the next few weeks will be crucial in determining the future of the conflict. A chief reason why Isis, Sunni armed groups and the Sunni population have been able to form a loose common front against the government is the antipathy of the Sunni population to Mr Maliki. They see him as systematically reducing them to second-class citizens and putting as many as 100,000 in jail, with prisoners often held because of confessions extorted by torture or without any charge at all. Hostility to Mr Maliki provides part of the glue that holds the Sunni coalition together.

But the Iraqi government’s problems are immediate and require intelligent leadership which continues to be lacking. This was shown in Mosul last week where two senior generals took off their uniforms and fled to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s semi-independent zone. Overall, some 230,000 soldiers are reported to have deserted their units.

Mr Maliki continues to take many military decisions himself. Iraqi sources say that just before Isis stormed Tal Afar, a Shia Turkoman city of 300,000 west of Mosul, last weekend the KRG President Masoud Barzani sent a message to Mr Maliki offering to send peshmerga (Kurdish soldiers) to defend it. Mr Maliki rejected the proposal. Such peshmerga as were in Tal Afar were withdrawn and Isis took over.

Unless it is too over-extended to make further advances, Isis may think it in its interests to strike quickly at Baghdad before the US and Iran decide what to do and while the political and military leadership in Baghdad is in turmoil. The Shia are the majority in the capital but there are Sunni enclaves in west Baghdad which might rise up.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce meets with Iraqi Ambassador to the United States Luqman Abd al-Rahim Fayli on Capitol Hill (Getty)

Living conditions all over northern and central Iraq will get more difficult as the economic unity of the country is broken. Baghdadis mostly cook on bottled propane gas, but this can no longer be supplied from Kirkuk because the road is cut by Isis. The insurgents have also taken three-quarters of Baiji refinery according an official speaking from inside the plant. The government’s version of what has happened at Baiji according to state television is that 44 Isis fighters were killed and survivors fled.

Mr Maliki’s best chance of staving off calls for his departure is that the threat to Baghdad will get so severe that Washington and Tehran will have to give support even if he stays. He has already been strengthened by the Shia clerical leadership in Najaf calling for people to join the Iraqi army. Not everything that has gone wrong in Iraq is Mr Maliki’s fault, but his responsibility for the present catastrophe is too great for him to play a positive role in averting a sectarian civil war.

 The Independent.

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Crown Prince Felipe of Spain takes the throne

Juan Carlos (L) embraces his son Felipe (R)

Crown Prince Felipe of Spain took the throne at midnight  becoming King Felipe VI and facing the challenge to save the image of Spain’s royals and settle problems facing the nation.

The ceremony of enthronement begins at 10:30 on Thursday at a joint session of the lower and upper houses of parliament.

The new king, who enjoys support of most Spaniards, will take the oath and will make a speech to outline the main directions of his activity as the new head of state.

King Juan Carlos of Spain abdicates

King Juan Carlos of Spain abdicates

The 46-year-old Felipe is seen as a worthy successor to his father, Juan Carlos I. The prince received good education in Spain, Canada and the United States as well as went through military training in all branches of troops. For many years he was making official foreign trips, providing an opportunity for him to personally get acquainted with many foreign leaders and members of royal families. He has also visited all autonomous regions of Spain and is well aware of their problems. He is notable for modesty, balanced judgments, self-control and good breeding. He has never been marred in scandals, and his family life is an example of love and deep mutual respect.

Spanish Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia

Spanish Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia

However, he takes the throne at a rather difficult for the country and for the royal family time. Citizen’s trust in state institutions and politicians has declined as a result of a deep economic crisis and not always efficient policy of two major political organizations – the Socialist Workers’ Party and the People’s Party – succeeding each other as party in power. This could not but have affected the attitude towards monarchy, which for some Spaniards is relic of the past, an anti-democratic institution that must be abolished.

Besides, national problems have worsened in Spain in the past decade, triggering a growth in separatist moods in Catalonia and the Basque Country.

A scandal around the youngest daughter of Juan Carlos I, Infanta Cristina and her husband Inaki Urdangarin, who are suspected of fraud, had dealt a major blow to royal family’s prestige. All this makes a new king especially responsible to his subjects, who expect from him irreproachable conduct and more active role in the settlement of problems facing the country.

Opinion polls show that the new monarch enjoys support of the majority of the population and major political parties. Time will show now whether he will manage to live up to the expectations of rank-and-file Spaniards and political elite.

UK scrambles jets to intercept Russian planes in intl airspace over Baltic

Royal Air Force Typhoons

Typhoon fighter jets from the UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF) were launched to intercept a number of Russian aircraft which were carrying out a routine training mission, as part of NATO’s ongoing mission to police Baltic airspace.

On Tuesday the British jets identified a number of Russian aircraft, including four Sukhoi Su27 fighters, a Tupolev 22 bomber, a Beriev A50 early warning aircraft and an Antonov An26 transport aircraft, the RAF reported.

The Russian aircraft appeared to be carrying out routine training.

Wing Commander Ian Townsend said that this was also a routine deployment for his aircraft.

“We regularly intercept Russian and civilian aircraft from UK Quick Reaction Alert and so this type of mission is core business for us and exactly what we were sent to the Baltic region by NATO to do,” he said as quoted by the Royal Air Force website.

Flight Lieutenant Mark Long, one of the pilots of the Typhoons also remarked that there was nothing unusual about the interception.

“Todays’ interception of the Russian Flankers [SU27 fighters] is all in a day’s work for an RAF fighter pilot,” he said.

The increased military activity in the Baltic region comes after 10 NATO countries launched Sabre Strike, along with Baltic Host 2014 and Baltops 2014 naval drills. Up to 4,700 troops and 800 military vehicles are taking part.

READ ALSO: Tanks, troops, jets: NATO countries launch full-scale war games in Baltic

In response, Russia, which sees NATO as a threat, ordered military exercise in the Kaliningrad region, which are comparable in size to the NATO war games.

No airstrikes for now : US lacks intel to carry out attack in Iraq

American officials confirmed on Wednesday that the Iraqi government has explicitly asked the Pentagon to conduct airstrikes against insurgents taking their country by storm, but the United States is reportedly ill-prepared to wage suck attacks.

Intelligence gaps have left the White House uncertain about when or where to strike the militants, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday, worsening the likelihood that any aerial attack would prove to be successful.

“We have a request from the Iraqi government for air power,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told US lawmakers during a Senate hearing early Wednesday.

Dempsey added, however, that the results of a strike would be unknown “until we can clarify this intelligence picture” in Iraq.

“It’s not as easy as looking at an iPhone video of a convoy and then striking it,” the chairman told a Senate appropriations subcommittee, the AP reported.

Confirmation of the request from Baghdad comes less than two days after President Barack Obama announced that 275 US trooped would be deployed to America’s embassy there to protect diplomats in the midst of escalating violence.

In recent day, militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Syria group affiliated with Al-Qaeda have escalated a campaign that as of mid-week has led to the capture of two major cities and put Baghdad on high alert.

Following nearly a decade-long war on the heels of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Pres. Obama last week said that America will not “allow ourselves to be dragged back into a situation” similar to what happened after that campaign.

“The United States is not simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they’re prepared to work together,” he said.

That refusal to strike ISIS insurgents has since proven to be a dividing concept in the US, where lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are split with regards of what role, if any, American troops should have in the escalating crisis.

“I think most important is that we take direct action now against ISIS, marching down to Baghdad, and prevent them from getting into Baghdad,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) told reporters this week.

Pres. Obama was expected to meet at the White House on Wednesday with key congressional leaders, and the AP reported that Feinstein’s democratic colleague, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), expressed a difference of opinion before meeting with the commander-in-chief.

“It’s time for the Iraqis to resolve it themselves,” Reid told the AP. “Those who attack President Obama for bringing our troops home from Iraq are wrong and out of step with the American people. After a decade of war, the American people have had enough.”

If the US has clearer intelligence to rely on, however, then military officials believe a successful strike would be easy to undertake.

“I’m very confident that if the order comes down … our Air Force would be ready,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told the Defense Writers Group at a breakfast in Washington this week.

During Wednesday’s briefing, Dempsey added that the US has mobilized “a great deal of manned and unmanned ISR to gain clarity” in the region, according to the Guardian, referring to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance planes and other aircraft.

Breaking News – Iraq formally asks US to launch air strikes against rebels

top US military commander Gen Martin Dempsey

Iraq has formally called on the US to launch air strikes against jihadist militants who have seized several key cities over the past week.

“We have a request from the Iraqi government for air power,” confirmed top US military commander Gen Martin Dempsey in front of US senators.

Earlier the Sunni insurgents launched an attack on Iraq’s biggest oil refinery at Baiji north of Baghdad.

Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki earlier urged Iraqis to unite against the militants.

Government forces are battling to push back ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and its Sunni Muslim allies in Diyala and Salahuddin provinces, after the militants overran the second city, Mosul, last week.

US President Barack Obama is due to discuss the Iraq crisis with senior Congress members on Wednesday.

Ahead of the meeting Senate leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said he did not “support in any way” getting American troops involved in the Iraqi “civil war”.

But Gen Dempsey told a Senate panel that it was in America’s “national interest to counter [ISIS] wherever we find them”.

In other developments:

Militants, Iraq security forces clash at country’s largest oil refinery

Baiji oil refinery, 180km (112 miles) north of Baghdad

Baiji oil refinery, 180km (112 miles) north of Baghdad

An official at Iraq’s largest domestic oil refinery says Sunni militants have taken over 75 percent of the facility following clashes with Iraqi security forces.

“The militants have managed to break in to the refinery. Now they are in control of the production units, administration building and four watch towers. This is 75 percent of the refinery,” an official speaking from inside the refinery in Beiji told Reuters on Wednesday.

A state oil official told The Wall Street Journal that two fuel-storage tanks were in flames after hours of fighting before dawn Wednesday, some 155 miles north of the capital, Baghdad. The official said militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targeted the oil refinery with mortars and machine guns.

In response, Iraqi security forces and helicopter gunships bombarded positions of the militants inside the refinery, another state oil official added.

But Iraq’s government denied reports that the facility has been overrun.

Iraq’s chief military spokesman, Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, told The Associated Press that government forces repelled the siege.

Al-Moussawi said 40 attackers were killed in fighting there overnight and early Wednesday. There was no independent confirmation either of his claims or those of the Iraqi military’s retaking neighborhoods in Tal Afar. The areas are in territories held by insurgents that journalists have not been able to access.

The Beiji refinery was shut down on Tuesday and workers were flown out by helicopter, according to Reuters.

The refinery accounts for a little more than a quarter of the country’s entire refining capacity — all of which goes toward domestic consumption for things like gasoline, cooking oil and fuel for power stations. Any lengthy outage at Beiji risks long lines at the gas pump and electricity shortages, adding to the chaos already facing Iraq.

Meanwhile, in a televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki struck an optimistic tone and vowed to teach the attackers a “lesson” — even though Iraqi soldiers abandoned their posts in the wake of the initial militant offensive.

“We have now started our counteroffensive, regaining the initiative and striking back,” al-Maliki said.

The campaign by the Al Qaeda-inspired ISIS has raised the specter of the sectarian warfare that nearly tore the country apart in 2006 and 2007. The relentless violence that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion now haunts those trying to decide how to respond.

At the White House, President Barack Obama was to brief lawmakers later Wednesday on what options the U.S. could take.

The U.S. is pressing al-Maliki to undermine the insurgency by making overtures to Iraq’s once-dominant Sunni minority, which has long complained of discrimination by al-Maliki’s government and excesses by his Shiite-led security forces.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, has consistently rejected charges of bias against the Sunnis and has in recent days been stressing the notion that the threat posed by the Islamic State will affect all Iraqis regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliations. He appeared Tuesday night on television with Sunni leaders and politicians as a sign of solidarity.

The prime minister’s relatively upbeat assessment came as the Iraqi military said its forces regained parts of the strategic city of Tal Afar near the Syrian border, which Islamic State fighters captured on Monday. Its closeness to the Syrian border strengthens the Islamic State’s plan to carve out an Islamic caliphate, or state, stretching across parts of the two countries.

The Indian government also said Wednesday that 40 Indian construction workers have been kidnapped near Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, which ISIS and allied Sunni fighters captured last week. Roughly 10,000 Indian citizens work and live in Iraq, with only about 100 in violent, insecure areas like Mosul, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin.

And the Turkish Foreign Ministry said its diplomats were investigating a Turkish media report that militants abducted 60 foreign construction workers, including some 15 Turks, near the northern Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk.

Ethnic Kurds now control Kirkuk, moving to fill a vacuum after the flight of Iraqi soldiers. They too are battling the Sunni extremist militants.

On Wednesday, Kurdish security and hospital officials said that fighting has been raging since morning between Kurdish fighters known as peshmerga and militants who are trying to take the town of Jalula, in the restive Diyala province some 80 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Two civilians were killed and six peshmerga fighters were wounded, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The Sunni militants of the Islamic State have vowed to march to Baghdad and the Shiite holy cities of Karbala and Najaf in the worst threat to Iraq’s stability since U.S. troops left in late 2011. The three cities are home to some of the most revered Shiite shrines. The Islamic State also has tried to capture Samarra, a city north of Baghdad and home to another major Shiite shrine.

Iran, a neighboring Shiite country, already has seen thousands volunteer to defend the shrines. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, speaking Wednesday to a crowd gathered at a stadium near his country’s border with Iraq, said that the Islami State and others would be defeated.

“We declare to all superpowers, their mercenaries, murderers and terrorists that the great Iranian nation will not miss any effort in protecting these sacred sites,” Rouhani said.

The U.S. and Iran are discussing how the longtime foes might cooperate to ease the threat from the Al Qaeda-linked militants. Still, the White House ruled out the possibility that Washington and Tehran might coordinate military operations in Iraq.

Some 275 armed American forces are being positioned in and around Iraq to help secure U.S. assets as Obama also considers an array of options.

Another 9/11 in store for America

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A country that sponsors terrorist training inevitably becomes a victim of terrorists. The U.S. persistently continues running short-sighted policies, jeopardizing its own population. After Iraq, where Islamists threaten to remove U.S. puppet Maliki, it is now Right Sector militants in Ukraine, who will soon be fighting against puppet Poroshenko and their “parent number 2” – the Poles.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina warned on Sunday that the next large-scale terrorist attack, similar to 9/11 attacks in 2001, can be organized by the Jihadi group that terrorizes Baghdad today – the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL). The senator proposed to immediately conduct air strikes on militants’ positions to prevent such a development. “We need air power immediately to stop the advance toward Baghdad,” said Graham on “Face the Nation.” According to him, he proceeds from the information obtained from CIA sources. “I think it’s inevitable. The seeds of 9/11 are being planted all over Iraq and Syria. You don’t have to believe me, this is what they’re telling you they’re gonna do. They’re not hiding their agenda. They want an Islamic caliphate,” Graham said. “They plan to drive us out of the Mideast by attacking us here at home.”

The ISIL 8,000-strong army, which the Americans help to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, is sponsored by the money of their allies – the Gulf countries: Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. This is evidenced by the report made by the Brookings Institution. “Over the last two and a half years, Kuwait has emerged as a financing and organizational hub for charities and individuals supporting Syria’s myriad rebel groups. These donors have taken advantage of Kuwait’s unique freedom of association and its relatively weak financial rules to channel money to some of the estimated 1,000 rebel brigades now fighting against Syrian president Bashar al-Asad,” the report says.

According to the report, the money comes to Syria through Turkey or Jordan. The U.S. Treasury Department is aware of this activity (sponsoring the ISIL), the report says. However, Western diplomats and officials simply shrugged it all off.

On Monday, it became clear that ISIL militants already control not only eastern regions of Syria, a part of Lebanon and Jordan, but also a significant part of Iraq. They are some 80 kilometers far from Baghdad. The offensive began on June 11 with capturing the cities of Mosul and Tikrit and 31 Turkish citizen. At the same time, Kurdish militants took Kirkuk, the capital of the eponymous oil province of Iraq, and stated that they were controlling it. Thus, Iraq – the country that peacefully existed under Saddam Hussein – threatens to collapse into three states as Iran, of course, will not allow the transfer of the Shiite south under the authority of the Sunnis.

The struggle against the Soviet “occupation” of Afghanistan pushed the U.S. towards the creation of the infamous Al-Qaeda terrorist network, which then organized the biggest terrorist attack in U.S. history, questioning American invulnerability. History repeats itself, and now the United States is growing a new threat in Syria in the face of a far more dangerous enemy.

President Obama said Friday that he would not send troops to Iraq. Obama blamed the al-Maliki government, which, in his opinion, did not ensure conditions for equal coexistence of ethnic and religious minorities. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon warned that air strikes were “not a panacea.” The United States invested nearly $18 billion in the Iraqi armed forces and the army, but, as we see, the morale of the army is extremely low. Iraqi soldiers surrender and flee.

“If the U.S. had agreed to such help, it would have meant that the Americans are fighting against themselves, as supporting one group in Syria, it’s impossible to fight against it in Iraq, – Andrey Areshev, a political scientist, columnist for Noah’s Ark newspaper told Pravda.Ru. – But they will continue to use manipulated chaos as a method of maintaining their supremacy. The objective is to prevent the formation of a force in Eurasia that could challenge them. The costs of this policy of manipulated chaos, namely, victims on the part of American citizens, have long been understood and accepted. This is the price that one should pay to preserve American hegemony in the world.” However, contrary to this strategy, the US supremacy has been fading away.

Senator Graham said that the collapse of the Iraqi government would be the “worst case scenario.” To avoid this, the U.S. will have to rely on Iran, “likening the situation to the American alliance with Joseph Stalin during the Second World War to ensure victory over Adolf Hitler.” The senator was right. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday that the Islamic Republic reached an agreement with the United States and other participants in the negotiations to lift sanctions. He also noted that the country would be allowed to enrich uranium.

Thus, the U.S. policy to sponsor terrorists and provide political support to them in the fight against legitimate governments, is flawed. In addition to threats of terrorist attacks in the United States or in third countries against American citizens, it still implies the strengthening of strategic rivals.

Let’s go back to Ukraine. We may expect the growth of terrorist activities conducted by trained fighters, renamed as the National Guard of Ukraine. One shall expect the strengthening of Russia’s strategic position as well. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the militants were trained in Poland. This was stated by Polish politician Janusz Korwin-Mikke as well. Although Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk denied the data, the Polish press had described those camps in detail long before Maidan. Prior to that, Poland was violating domestic law by participating in operations to support the organization of secret CIA prisons. Poland does have some experience of conducting illegal activities.

Sunday’s attack of Right Sector fighters on the Russian Embassy in Kiev shows that they feel complete impunity. What will happen when they get out of control, topple Poroshenko and turn their bayonets against their sworn enemy – the Poles? History knows such examples, for example, the Volyn (Volhynia) massacre, in which thousands of innocent Poles were killed. “Such an option can not be excluded, because such structures are deliberately cultivated. It is quite possible that they can be used against Poland or another European country, but, in my opinion, they are grown to be used against Russia,” Andrei Areshev told Pravda.Ru.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recalled that eleven years ago, the U.S. announced victory of democracy in Iraq. However, the situation in the country has been worsening steadily. According to Lavrov, the unity of Iraq was called into question: “The development of terrorism takes place because occupying forces were not contributing to the national dialogue. They were engaged exclusively in their own interests.” Just replace “Iraq” with “Ukraine.” The time, when Western peacemakers are deployed in Ukraine is drawing near, and there you have the description of the situation in five years.

Lyuba LulkoPravda.Ru