LCCC ENGLISH DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Bible Quotation for today/Those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them
John 14,21-27/They who have my commandments and keep
them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my
Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’Judas (not Iscariot)
said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not
to the world?’Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and
my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with
them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you
hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.‘I have said these
things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind
you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give
to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be
troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For June 22/14
Lebanon can parry regional fragmentation/By Michael Young/The Daily Star/June 22/14
The world is watching a once-important country die slowly and very painfully/By: Hisham Melhem/Al Arabiya/ June 22/14
ISIS in Iraq is an uprising against totalitarian rule/By: Raed Omari/AlArabiya/June 22/14
Building a Base for Iraq's Counteroffensive: The Role of U.S. Security Cooperation/By: Michael Knights/Washington Institute/June 22/14
Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For June 22/14
Lebanese Related News
Reporter Denies Obtaining Mossad Information on
Plot to Assassinate Ibrahim
Booby-Trapped Vehicles, Suicide Bombers Raise Security Measures in Beirut
Lebanon on high alert over terror threats
Witness: Lebanon suicide bomber Syrian
Witness: Lebanon suicide bomber Syrian
Lebanon releases 13 detained in Beirut raid
Hezbollah, Syrian army surround Lebanese enclave
Dahr al-Baidar victim a father of eight
Music festival to go on despite security threats
Australia offers Lebanese refugees $9K to leave
Berri, Salam Call for Political Solidarity to Confront Terrorism
Berri: Revitalize government to face terrorism
Beddawi mayor's car attacked
Hizbullah Calls for Security Coordination, Says Lebanon Not a Safe Haven for ISIL
SSNP figure's commemoration called off
Fadlallah office: Ramadan starts June 28
Lebanese banks pay high rates abroad: Sfeir
Unity is the best defense
26 Fugitives Arrested in the North's Majdlaya
Security Forces Detains Several Foreigners in Sunday Market
Army Cordons Off Tripoli Area, Fires Shots at Motorcycle Driver for Not Stopping at Checkpoint
Miscellaneous Reports And News For June 22/14
What’s in a kiss? Sisi’s ‘peck of respect’ goes viral
Putin Orders Central Russian Troops On 'Full Combat Alert'
US warns will not accept any use of Russian troops in Ukraine
Netanyahu to Obama: IDF on the Jordan is sole security guarantee against ISIS for Israel, Hashemite kingdom and Palestinians
Slipping through the cracks - Ex-Shin Bet man provides glimpse of agency during crisis
Gaza rocket hits open area in southern Israel
US urges restraint as kidnapped Israelis remain missing
Egyptian court confirms death sentence on Muslim Brotherhood leader
Photos claim Assad's brother back from the dead
ISIS seizes key towns in eastern Syria
Yemeni kills 'Al-Qaeda brother,' avenged by nephews
Iraqi militia parades as insurgents seize crossing
Only unity can rout ISIS: top Iraqi Ayatollah
US Presbyterians vote to divest from firms to pressure Israel
Denies Obtaining Mossad Information on Plot to Assassinate Ibrahim
Naharnet/Julie Abou Araj, an Israeli reporter, denied obtaining information from the Israeli Mossad on an assassination bid targeting General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, questioning the timing of the report hours ahead of Dahr al-Baydar blast. “I was surprised to read an article attributed to me concerning an alleged document over an assassination bid targeting Ibrahim,” Abou Araj, who is of Lebanese origins and holds the Israeli citizenship since 2000, told An Nahar newspaper in a letter published on Saturday. The reporter wondered about the source of the “false news,” saying that she didn't publish any report on the matter and has no information about the alleged document's content. On Friday, An Nahar newspaper said that Abou Araj revealed in an article that an armed group affiliated with the Qaida-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades is plotting to target a high-ranking security figure reportedly Ibrahim. She said in her alleged report that the Mossad received the information through its agents who are operating in Ain el-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon. However, Abou Araj slammed An Nahar journalist Abbas Saleh, questioning his intentions that compelled him to write such a report which contained “random names.”She challenged Saleh to “highlight a single proof that validates his claims.”On Friday, a suicide bombing rocked the Dahr al-Baydar crossing in the eastern Bekaa region shortly before General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim had crossed the area. The blast killed an officer and wounded several other people.Abou Araj also lashed out at Lebanese media saying: “despite I am currently in Israel, I remain a Lebanese.” Saleh's report claimed that the Mossad agents intercepted phone conversations between a terror group in Ain el-Hilweh refugee camp that indicates a huge assassination bid is being plotted. It said that a booby-trapped car was being prepared inside the camp by Chechen experts to be delivered to a Palestinian delegation that holds routine meetings with Ibrahim, without its knowledge. The alleged report said that Abdullah Azzam Brigades is seeking to assassinate Ibrahim since the Abra clashes between Salafist cleric Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir and the army in June 2013. The 45-year-old cleric who supports the overwhelmingly Sunni rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad, is nowhere to be found along with pop idol Fadel Shaker.
The attack and the fierce clashes left around 18 soldiers and more than 20 gunmen dead.
Booby-Trapped Vehicles, Suicide Bombers Raise Security Measures in Beirut
Naharnet/Political figures were informed that several explosive-rigged vehicles and suicide bombers arrived in Beirut to carry out terrorist acts and spread chaos in the capital.
According to An Nahar newspaper published on Saturday, Speaker Nabih Berri and several other politicians obtained the information from security agencies. The information prompted security forces to raid two hotels in Beirut's neighborhood of Hamra in search for wanted suspects and to deploy at all the entrances to Beirut, preventing trucks from entering the capital for fear of more bombings.
The daily said that two booby trapped cars and three other cars, in addition to a group of suicide bombers are set to carry out a large-scale terrorist operation. On Friday, a suicide bomber detonated his vehicle near a police checkpoint in the eastern town of Dahr al-Baydar, while troops raided two hotels in Hamra, arresting suspected members of an al-Qaida breakaway group allegedly plotting terrorist attacks in the country. It was not clear if the two incidents were related. But the bombing — the first since March — along with the security dragnet in and around Beirut sparked fears of renewed violence in a country which has been buffeted by the conflict in neighboring Syria. Security forces also deployed at all the entrances to Beirut, preventing trucks from entering the Lebanese capital for fear of more bombings. Meanwhile, a meeting organized by AMAL Movement scheduled to take place at the UNESCO Palace was postponed. Berri was expected to attend the gathering.
The event was scrapped based on a report of a planned terrorist attack received by the Interior Ministry. Security forces began recently enforcing strict measures at all entrances to Beirut's southern suburbs, a Hizbullah stronghold, setting up checkpoints and searching cars, after obtaining information on a plot to target hospitals in the area. Syria's civil war has spilled over into neighboring Lebanon on multiple occasions and inflamed sectarian tensions. A series of car bombs have struck Shiite areas across Lebanon, killing dozens of people.
Hard-line Sunni groups have claimed responsibility for the attacks against Shiites, saying they are meant to punish Hizbullah for fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad's troops.
Berri, Salam Call for Political Solidarity to Confront Terrorism
Naharnet/Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Tammam Salam stressed on Saturday the importance of political solidarity among the rival parties to confront terrorism in the country. The tourist season is the first “victim of terrorism, which began to thrive in Lebanon after the developments in Iraq,” Berri said in comments published in local newspapers. Berri told As Safir newspaper that the Lebanese “have no other option but to unite and to trigger the work of states institutions through electing a new president and reviving the work of the parliament and cabinet.” “Crying and condemnation press releases will not be enough,” Berri told An Nahar daily. He pointed out that expressing support to security agencies isn't enough. “We are demanded to provide them with a political cover in order to carry out their tasks.”
Berri expressed concern that the country will head into the “unknown amid the turmoil in the region, if officials failed to learn the lesson.” On Friday, a suicide bomber detonated his vehicle near a police checkpoint in the eastern town of Dahr al-Baydar, while the Internal Security Forces Intelligence Bureau raided two hotels in the capital, arresting suspected members of an al-Qaida breakaway group allegedly plotting terrorist attacks in the country. After the bombing, security forces also deployed at all the entrances to Beirut, preventing trucks from entering the Lebanese capital for fear of more bombings. The Lebanese are deeply split over the civil war in neighboring Syria, with Sunnis largely backing the insurgency and Shiites siding with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
For his part Salam urged officials in comments published in As Safir newspaper “to assume their responsibilities in order to confront the terror challenges.”“Further security measures should be implemented,” Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq told the daily. He called on politicians to put differences aside as “the country cannot endure further rift.”
SSNP figure's commemoration called off
June 21, 2014/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The commemoration of the death of Nabil Alam was canceled after tensions soared in Jbeil over the ceremony for the man who allegedly planned the assassination of President-elect Bachir Gemayel. “I am not the one who decided to cancel the commemoration ceremony,” MP Nadim Gemayel, the son of the late president, told a local radio station. “But such an annual prayer was expected to turn into a political festival that would have surely harmed civil peace.” Gemayel said he held contacts with officials and local figures in Jbeil to call off the ceremony, which he said fueled tensions in the area.
The lawmaker also visited Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki earlier this week and explained to the prelate the problems that could arise if the church allowed the ceremony to take place on June 22. The next day, the Maronite Diocese in Jbeil called off the ceremony as per a church decision late Friday. Alam, who died earlier this year, was a security official in the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and was allegedly the man who convinced Habib Shartouni to carry out the assassination of Gemayel in 1982. Alam also allegedly provided Shartouni with the explosives. Given his position in the SSNP, Alam had close ties with Syrian intelligence. Shartouni was arrested and jailed but never tried. He escaped Roumieh Prison in 1990 after spending almost eight years in detention.
Lebanon on high alert over terror threats
June 21, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Lebanon remained on high alert Saturday, with security forces deploying en masse outside government buildings around the country in light of rumors about an attack against state facilities. Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces personnel were on guard outside Beirut's Grand Serail, the Interior Ministry, General Security headquarters and the residence of Speaker Nabih Berri in Ain al-Tineh, a security source told The Daily Star. The source said authorities had information that government buildings were a target of potential attacks.
Security members are inspecting vehicles coming into buildings and have placed cement blocks outside several government offices, preventing traffic and passersby from approaching. The measures also covered all government serails in Beirut and the northern city of Tripoli, the source said, adding that the deployments were precautionary measures.
In Tripoli's Qibbeh neighborhood, the Army surrounded the state hospital Saturday and carried out raids in search of wanted suspects.
The Army opened fire at a motorcycle that failed to comply with orders to stop near the hospital. The driver was injured and admitted to the hospital for treatment. During an urgent security meeting late Friday, the government agreed with security and military forces to impose stricter measures to foil future terror plots and continue the implementation of the Army-led security plan.
The meeting came hours after a suicide bomber blew himself up at a police checkpoint in east Lebanon, killing an officer and wounding 32 other people, rattling the security plan that curbed the series of bombings in past months. The attack coincided with a police raid on hotels in the Beirut’s district of Hamra after security agencies received information indicating that guests at Napoleon Hotel were among an Islamist group preparing to assassinate Speaker Nabih Berri. Earlier that day, Berri canceled his appearance at a UNESCO conference, which was the suspected target of the foiled attack.
On Saturday morning, members of the ISF inspected the weekend market in Sin al-Fil and apprehended a number of people who lacked identification documents and residency permits.
In a statement issued Saturday, the ISF said they arrested 26 people wanted for several arrest warrants on charges of attacking police officers, robbery, and shooting.
The arrests took place late Friday at the Vehicle Registry Center in Majdalya, north Lebanon. Meanwhile, the Baalbek Security Council called on municipalities and security agencies to join efforts in combating terrorism in light of the suicide attack in the Bekaa Valley’s Dahr al-Baidar area. Baalbek-Hermel Gov. Bashir Khodr called on security forces to “ensure the safety of the main roads and subregions by intensifying patrols and keeping checkpoints active 24 hours a day.”He called on security agencies to boost their efforts in implementing the government-commissioned security plan “and to establish a development plan to coincide with security measures to ensure an atmosphere of stability and tranquility."The council stressed "the necessity of activating the role of municipalities to monitor the establishment of camps for displaced Syrians” calling for increased supervision and coordination with all security agencies. It also called for "full coordination among all security forces in suppressing crimes, arresting wanted persons and in processing sensitive security files.”
Fadlallah office: Ramadan starts June 28
June 21, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: The office of the late Shiite preacher Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah announced Saturday that the first day of Ramadan would be June 28.In a statement, the office said the fasting month would begin Saturday June 28, based on precise astronomical calculations. Neither Dar al-Fatwa nor the Higher Shiite Council has announced the beginning of the month in which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, according to Islamic doctrine. Ramadan starts roughly 10 days earlier every year, due to the Islamic lunar calendar.
Unity is the best defense
June 21, 2014/The Daily Star/The various security incidents across the country Friday served as a dark reminder to this country’s leaders, should they need one, that national unity is needed more than ever, and that all must work toward minimizing sectarian threats and tension. From the suicide bombing in Dahr al-Baidar, to road closures in the capital and Tripoli, police raids in Hamra and cross-border shelling in Tfail, all events fed into a generally tense atmosphere, highlighting just how small and fragile this country is: an earthquake in the Bekaa can be felt in Beirut. The work of the security forces is to be commended, and their successes are the result of having the guts to make difficult decisions, and decisions which transcend sectarian, religious or party political divisions. In order to be the best that they can be, the Army and the Internal Security Forces need to feel that they have the whole country behind them. National unity is more important than ever. Acts of violence are committed indiscriminately – all Lebanese are at risk, so all Lebanese must work together to shield the country from such fractures. But it is most vital that all of the country’s leading figures take similar stances and rise above previously entrenched differences. It is clear from all such security incidents over recent months that they all seek to sow discord between Sunnis and Shiites: that much cannot be denied. So it is imperative that all religious and political actors work toward reducing any such tension. From education to preaching, it is their job to ensure that this country is insulated from the growing sectarianism sweeping through the region.
Berri: Revitalize government to face terror threat
June 21, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri broke his silence Saturday after being the alleged target of an assassination plot, saying Lebanese politicians must quickly elect a new president and revitalize the work of the government along with heightened security measures to face the threat of terrorism. “The security solution is not enough,” Berri told As-Safir in remarks published Saturday. “Just as the government was formed with a political will to ease tensions, the only solution now is to unite in politics and reactivate institutions particularly by electing a new president and resuming work in Parliament and the Cabinet.” The speaker’s remarks come a day after Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said Berri was likely a target of an assassination plot, which would have taken place at a UNESCO conference for mukhtars in Beirut. Hours after the conference was canceled Friday morning, police raided two Beirut hotels and arrested 17 people who were allegedly planning a terrorist attack.Around 11:30 a.m. Friday morning, a suicide bomber attacked a police checkpoint in east Lebanon, killing an officer and wounding 32 other people. Authorities said the intended target of the bomber was an unidentified location in Beirut. In separate remarks to An-Nahar, Berri said there was a “fear that these people could have infiltrated the conference and blown themselves up among the participants.” “Lebanon cannot bear such a catastrophe if it happened, God forbid,” he said. “The tourism season that carried high hopes for Lebanon in Beirut and other areas is the first victim of terrorism, which returned to surface and infiltrated Lebanon after the recent developments in Iraq.”The speaker also said that lawmakers should also approve outstanding draft laws including the public sector wage hike instead of “watching this tragedy and threats that surround Lebanon.”“These statements of condemnations and cries are no longer enough and are useless,” he warned. Speaking to As-Safir, Machnouk echoed the speaker, urging politicians to come together to face the terror threat in Lebanon. “We need more security measures and political understanding in all fields because we cannot afford the luxury of a dispute right now under any circumstances and regardless of how important it is.”
Lebanon can parry regional fragmentation
June 19, 2014/By Michael Young /The Daily Star
There has been much talk lately of the possibility that the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East will lead to a redrawing of the region’s borders.
While these borders have lasted for almost a century, in the last decade Sunni-Shiite antagonism has escalated, bringing into doubt the survivability of states with mixed sectarian or ethnic populations.
At the end of World War I, when the borders of the modern Middle East were drawn by the Western powers, a principle defended by the League of Nations was the protection of minority rights. Yet after World War II the situation changed. By then minority treaties had been scrapped and the victorious powers sanctioned vast population transfers in Eastern Europe.
The historian Mark Mazower has written, “Minorities were now seen as sources of destabilization, and liberals and socialists were as passionate in demanding their eradication as fascists ... Ethnic homogeneity [was regarded] as a desirable feature of national self-determination and international stability.”
Such a tendency now seems evident in the Middle East, where religious pluralism and coexistence are increasingly viewed as unrealistic and threatening. This attitude was kept in check for a long period by Arab nationalism, which imagined an Arab identity transcending religious and sectarian affiliation. As Arab nationalism lost all credibility in the 1970s and 1980s, the space it left was filled by religion and the emergence of religious-political forces that would gain ground in many Arab countries.
The utter discredit of modern Arab states, with their brutal regimes, corruption and undemocratic social contracts, only pushed people to abandon all hope in the state and fall back on primary identities such as sect or tribe in times of crisis. From there to a recognition that people of different sectarian or ethnic origins could not live together the distance was not very large. In Iraq and Syria this mood has been reinforced in the past three years, while in Lebanon it has remained latent, though real.
As the Lebanese look toward the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, there is no reason to be reassured. Lebanon’s sectarian makeup is similar, while the presence of over 1 million mostly Sunni Syrian refugees who are not likely to soon return home may emerge as a major source of instability. That is why Hezbollah and Iran have an interest in ensuring that President Bashar Assad allows the refugees to come home, so they do not reverse Sunni-Shiite demographics in Lebanon to their disadvantage. Lost in the sectarian free-for-all are Lebanon’s Christians. Already, they can sense, national dynamics are being largely driven by Sunni-Shiite relations. This has led some Christians to discuss the introduction of alternative political systems for the country, above all federalism. The only problem with federalism is that there are no truly homogenous areas in the country: Lebanon is not Switzerland, and minorities in federal districts dominated by other sects will never feel secure.
If, as some are predicting, the states of the region break down into separate entities, the impetus to follow suit will likely reach Lebanon. The country was created in 1920 against the aspirations of many of its Muslims to be part of a larger Arab nation. One of the principal motives of the Maronite supporters of the Lebanon project was to avoid becoming citizens of a state in which they would be swallowed up by a Muslim majority. The fragmentation of Lebanon would represent a complete reversal of such tendencies. Muslims, who once aspired to an Arab state of which geographical Lebanon would be only a part, would effectively be abandoning coexistence and a common destiny to embrace the antithesis of the Arab nationalist ideal. While this is not comforting, it’s usually the way separation is achieved that makes all the difference. As in Bosnia during the 1990s, divorces can be violent as everyone tries to grab as much land as possible, expelling or killing those from other communities in the areas conquered. We are seeing such impulses in Iraq and Syria, and they are very worrisome. But against this, as Mazower observed, there is also a pervasive sense that sectarian or ethnic purity ultimately bring stability.
The Lebanese went through a similar experience between 1975 and 1990, but they never went all the way in formalizing new entities. Perhaps the country is, quite simply, too small. But more effort is required to ensure that Lebanon can weather the storms gathering on the horizon. Unfortunately, very little in the behavior of Lebanon’s political actors generates optimism.
That is why the continued bickering over a new president seems so out of place at this time. Hezbollah, clearly, sees things in a different light, viewing the choice of president as vital in its effort to protect its weapons in Lebanon, therefore maintain a role in Iran’s regional strategy. And that is why Michel Aoun seems so petty in his refusal to accept that he cannot be elected as a consensual candidate. Constitutionally, the president is the symbol of the nation’s unity, yet neither Hezbollah nor Aoun appears to have given this much thought, while the decision of March 14 to stick to Samir Geagea shows a similar obstinacy. But beyond Hezbollah, Aoun and March 14, Lebanon must better prepare for the riptide that is coming. If the communities opt for coexistence, as they must in so diminutive a country, then there are underlying prerequisites for it to succeed. And if coexistence becomes impossible, then peaceful change of the political system must be discussed. But war must at all costs be averted. Lebanon has already been there, and Iraq and Syria offer models that no one has any desire to follow.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.
Lebanon releases 13 detained in Beirut raid
June 21, 2014//By Youssef Diab/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities released 13 people detained in a police raid Friday for lack of evidence, leaving four others suspected of having links to terrorist groups in detention, a high-ranking judicial source said Saturday. "Between last night and this morning, we only have a Lebanese and three others of Arab nationalities in detention,” the source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Daily Star.
Police are interrogating the four remaining suspects and the judiciary will make a decision later in the day, the source said. On Friday morning after receiving a tip-off that a group of Islamists planning an assassination plot against Speaker Nabih Berri were in a Beirut hotel, a joint raid by police intelligence and General Security resulted in the apprehension of 17 people. Berri was to speak during a conference at UNESCO Friday morning. Western intelligence informed security agencies in Lebanon of an imminent terrorist attack against a gathering, prompting the speaker to cancel the event altogether, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk has said. Hours later, a suicide car bombing targeted a police checkpoint in east Lebanon, killing a 49-year-old officer and wounding 32 other people. Authorities say the target of the attack was a location in Beirut. The bombing and the security measures throughout the day Friday heightened fears of a return to the series of car bombing attack that hit Lebanon earlier this year and last year. During an urgent security meeting late Friday, Prime Minister Tammam Salam said Lebanese security forces would continue implementing a nationwide security plan that curbed the rise of terrorism in the country for a three-month period. The shadowy group Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigade claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying they could not “reach their target today but they will do so later.”
Hizbullah Calls for Security
Coordination, Says Lebanon Not a Safe Haven for ISIL
Naharnet/Hizbullah official Mohammed Raad called on Saturday for further coordination between security agencies in the fight against terrorism, stressing that jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) will not find safe haven in Lebanon. “The security developments in Lebanon require discreet, accurate and serious followup,” MP Raad, the head of Hizbullah's Loyalty to Resistance parliamentary bloc said. He praised the efforts exerted by the security agencies, in particular the army intelligence, to apprehend “terrorist extremist groups.”On Friday', a suicide bombing targeted an Internal Security Forces check point in Dahr al-Baydar, killing an officer and wounding several others. General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim had driven past the site of the explosion in his convoy shortly before the blast. The attack also coincided with a series of raids in the Lebanese capital following reports of a plot to target security posts. “Had we not interfered in battles in Syria at the appropriate moment, ISIL would have done the same” in Beirut, Raad said, reiterating Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah's stance. “There is no place in Lebanon for ISIL or those who are supporting it,” Raad noted. ISIL, which grew from the ranks of al-Qaida before splitting with the global terror network, is active in both Syria and neighboring Iraq and seeks to set up an Islamic state that straddles both countries.
Hezbollah, Syrian army surround Lebanese enclave
June 21, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: Hezbollah-backed Syrian regime troops Saturday took control of the Syrian territory surrounding the Lebanese village of Tfail, a Lebanese security source said.
Some 70 rebel fighters surrendered to the Syrian army and handed over their arms, the source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Daily Star. The Syrian regime has launched a military offensive to root out rebels in regions bordering Lebanon and Saturday’s operation succeeded in gaining control of the outskirts of Tfail on the Syrian side. Syrian fighters who were in Tfail along with their families were allowed to return to Syria, the source said. Dozens of Lebanese families have abandoned the village in recent days, fleeing clashes between the Syrian army and rebel forces. Tfail is located east of Brital on a promontory of Lebanese territory surrounded on three sides by Syria and has almost been completely isolated as a result of the conflict in the neighboring country. The Lebanese government was able to send two aid convoys with food and medical supplies into the village last month with the help of Hezbollah. The Federation of Aid and Development Organizations in Lebanon asked the government Saturday to intervene to save the village and its residents, saying the village had been taken over. “There was no resistance against those who entered the village, which only means that the residents are peaceful and there were no fighters inside the village,” a statement by the federation said. The federation said “hundreds of women, children and elderly people, both Lebanese and Syrian refugees, have fled Tfail to surrounding mountains and valleys and we do not know what happened to them.”
Witness: Lebanon suicide bomber Syrian
June 21, 2014/The Daily Star /BEIRUT: The suicide bomber behind the attack against a police checkpoint in east Lebanon was Syrian, the shop owner who tipped off police said Saturday. “He had a Syrian accent and told me he was Syrian from Zabadani,” Ramzi Sayegh, the owner of a shop in the eastern village of Sofar, told Al-Jadeed television. During the interview, Sayegh identified the man in a photo released by the Lebanese Army a day earlier as the man who he reported to police. The Army released a photo of a man suspected of being the suicide bomber behind the explosion, asking citizens with information to come forward. Sayegh said the man he encountered was wearing a hat, a yellow T-shirt and a pair of faded jeans. The man’s demeanor, his suspicious behavior and his silver Nissan Murano, which the shop owner said was in bad shape, prompted Sayegh to contact the Sofar Police department. “Two policemen came to me in a jeep, and I told them the direction where the man went,” he said, adding that his son contacted him an hour later to tell him that the man he reported had blown himself up at a police checkpoint. On his way from the Bekaa Valley to Beirut, the suicide bomber stopped in Sofar for coffee, a security source told The Daily Star Friday. The shop owner immediately contacted police after he noticed the customer was too nervous. The bomber then made his way to Aley but raced back to the Bekaa after security forces intercepted his vehicle. At the Dahr al-Baidar checkpoint, police officers cut off the road with a pick-up truck. When asked to step out for inspection, the driver detonated the explosive-rigged vehicle, killing a 49-year-old police officer and wounding 32 other people. The 4WD was rigged with at least 25 kilograms of explosives and an investigation is ongoing to determine the bomber’s target and who was behind the attack. The shadowy group Free Sunnis of Baalbek Brigade claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying they could not “reach their target today but they will do so later.”
US Presbyterians vote to divest from firms to pressure Israel
June 21, 2014/Agence France Presse
WASHINGTON: The nearly 1.9 million member Presbyterian Church USA voted Friday after a contentious debate to divest from three companies that provide supplies to Israeli forces and settlers in the occupied West Bank. The 310 to 303 vote at the influential Protestant denomination's meeting in Detroit, Michigan, means the group will pull financial investments out of Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, the church's official news service said. The church has about $21 million invested in the three companies, a spokeswoman told The New York Times. Assembly moderator Heath Rada emphasized that the decision "in no way reflects anything but love for both the Jewish and Palestinian people," the church's news service said. The measure also included a reaffirmation of Israel's right to exist, an endorsement of a two-state solution and encouraged interfaith dialogue, The Times reported. It also included a provision to encourage "positive investment" to improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians, the Times said. The close vote came after a week of intense lobbying and "most contentious debate of this assembly," the church's news service said, noting that divestment has historically been seen as a "last resort" after "other engagement tools have failed."In a statement ahead of the vote, Presbyterian Church USA said it was considering divestment in Caterpillar because the company provides the bulldozers "used in the destruction of Palestinian homes, clearing land of structures and fruit and olive tree groves, and in preparation for the construction of the barrier wall." Hewlett-Packard, it said, "provides electronic systems at checkpoints, logistics and communications systems to support the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, and has business relationships with illegal settlements in the West Bank."And Motorola Solutions "provides military communications and surveillance systems in the illegal Israeli settlements."At the 2012 General Assembly, Presbyterian USA voted to boycott products made in the Israeli settlements and to "begin positive investments in Palestinian businesses." HP spokeswoman Kelli Schlegel said that "respecting human rights is a core value at HP." The HP systems used at checkpoints allow people to "get to their place of work or to carry out their business in a faster and safer way," Schlegel said. Motorola Solutions said it has long worked in the Middle East and "supports all efforts ... to find a peaceful resolution" to conflict. It also said that its human rights policies are designed to ensure that its "operations worldwide are conducted using the highest standards of integrity and ethical business conduct." Caterpillar, which described itself as "a values-based company," said it has "deep respect and compassion for all persons affected by the political strife in the Middle East and support a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "However, we believe it is appropriate for such a resolution to be reached via political and diplomatic channels," the company said in a statement.
What’s in a kiss? Sisi’s ‘peck of respect’ goes viral
By Staff writer | Al Arabiya News
Saturday, 21 June 2014
As he stepped on a plane to meet Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah on Friday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was perhaps unaware of the online buzz he was about to create as he planted a kiss on the king’s forehead. Snapshots of the moment were wildly shared on Twitter and Facebook, while a hashtag in Arabic, #Sisi_kisses_Saudi_king’s_forehead, immediately began trending, with many praising Sisi’s move. Sisi and King Abdullah held a meeting inside the airplane carrying the Saudi monarch. “Sisi’s kiss on the king’s forehead is nothing but an expression of respect and appreciation to his old age, and for his stand with Egypt during its ordeal,” Twitter user @AbdulazezQ posted. “I salute your excellency, from a Saudi citizen who loves his country, and loves Egypt on your good graciousness,” tweeted @rsam466, directing his message to Sisi. “All I see in the picture is a deserving king and a polite and courteous president, [our fatherly] king always making us proud,” @A_kooshak tweeted.
“A brother kissed the forehead of his older brother… and as the people of Saudi Arabia and Egypt we will kiss the forehead of our elderly… and continue to be brother and sisters as one people with one destiny,” @discovery2020 posted.
Kissing: cultural confusion
But for many non-Arabs, a forehead kiss between two males may seem enigmatic. This was also seen in a Twitter comment by user @beybinn, who wrote: “Sisi and King Abdullah. I thought an intimate forehead kiss photo is a must for weddings.”In Arab culture, however, the kiss between two men is usually seen as a mark of respect, “just as a son would kiss his father's forehead,” explained Saudi columnist Abdullah Hamidaddin.“When a son kisses his father’s forehead it is usually a mix of affection and respect. If someone kisses the forehead of an elderly person or someone he regards with high esteem – such as a religious leader – then it is usually a sign of respect only. If an elderly person or one of a higher status kisses the forehead of someone younger or of a lesser status then it’s a sign of affection,” Hamidaddin told Al Arabiya News on Friday. In Sisi’s case, the kiss can be considered as a sign of both respect and affection, he said. “Heads of state do not usually kiss each other in this manner. They consider themselves to be peers. But when it comes to King Abdullah the matter is different. He is seen by many as more than a head of state. He is also a father figure. His wisdom, humane approach to political issues, and age earned him that. We need to remember that even President Obama expressed a somewhat similar affection to the King when he bowed before him,” Hamidaddin added. The forehead kiss is popularly seen by religious figures such as Pope Francis, while Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid al-Maktoum was snapped last year honoring one of his teachers, kissing his forehead at a school celebration. More uncommon was a picture of forehead kiss being snapped in Australia last year, when Prime Minister Tony Abbot was welcomed at a market by one of the workers.
See also: Nose kiss, anyone? How the Gulf Arab greeting has evolved
Of course in the West, a forehead kiss is more commonly
seen shared by members of the opposite sex.
Sisi meanwhile, who had previously served as defense attaché in Riyadh earlier in his career, has spoken extremely fondly of Saudi Arabia, particularly on the day of his inauguration earlier this month.
In fact, the monarch was the only foreign leader Sisi mentioned by name in his first speech as president, when he thanked the king for organizing the funding conference.
Shortly after Sisi was officially declared president earlier this month, King Abdullah issued warm congratulations and called for a donor conference to help Egypt “overcome its economic difficulties.”
He urged Egyptians to disown the “strange chaos” of the Arab uprisings, saying Egypt “needs us today more than ever.” According to Hamidaddin, there is more to considering the king as being a father figure to Egypt, “Egypt is deeply indebted to Saudi Arabia for its support in the past three years. Many of Egypt’s friends turned away but the Kingdom stood firm. It was not just President Sisi who was kissing the Saudi monarchs forehead. It was a kiss on behalf of the Egyptians thanking Saudi Arabia,” he added.
Iraq: Chronicles of a death foretold
Saturday, 21 June 2014/Al Arabiya/By: Hisham Melhem
Iraq’s death has been foretold a long time coming. The stunning success of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its local allies in overtaking a large swath of Northern Iraq, including the country’s second largest city, Mosul exposed the Iraqi state as a house of cards. Once again Iraqis were burning their country, and as always with more than just a little help from their friends in the region and beyond. And once again Iraqis were being made refugees or displaced in their own country, uprooted from neighborhoods and villages because of their religious or ethnic backgrounds.
The ugly cancer of sectarianism is spreading fast in the already weak Iraqi body politics. The once diverse Baghdad, a bustling metropolitan with a rich human mosaic of Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Muslims of various sects, Christians and Jews (at the turn of the 20th century Jews made up 20% of the population of Baghdad) is now a pale capital of mostly Shiites, (75 to 80%) its old mixed neighborhood have been cleansed to become almost exclusively Sunni or Shiite. The fate of the Christians of Iraq, who helplessly watched their religious leaders being killed and their churches torched and burned, since the U.S. invasion is likely to be similar to the fate of the Jews. Already half the Christians of the various Iraqi churches have emigrated or sought temporary refuge in the Kurdish north as a result of a campaign of terror by radical Islamists.
The fraying of Iraq is part of a larger phenomenon of fragmentation, polarization and radicalization that is sweeping the region since the beginning of the season of Arab uprisings. The emergence of ISIS as a powerful non-state actor throwing its weight around in both Syria and Iraq is part of this new unprecedented nightmarish reality. The ability of ISIS to operate in both states, and Iraqi Shiite volunteers and militiamen entering Syria to help the Assad regime, in addition to sectarian demonization and violence led to the obliteration of the Syrian-Iraqi borders and the morphing of the two wars into a giant nasty one. But Iraq’s accelerated descent to hell in recent years was unique, and America had a decisive role in it.
“The world is watching a once-important country die slowly and very painfully”
President Bush’s naïve and dangerous belief that the invasion of Iraq will lead to a wave of democratization in the region, instead opened the gates of hell and unleashed the primitive and dark forces of sectarianism, which became the rallying cry in the competition for power between the Sunnis and the Shiites, and the absolute violence of al-Qaeda and its offshoots, as well as making Iran the arbiter of Shiite politics in Iraq and the outside power with the most influence in the country that President Bush wanted to transform from a dictatorship to a democracy with American bayonets. While America’s role in the unraveling of Iraq cannot be denied, still the reality is that Iraqis in the main are responsible for their fate. By the time the U.S. withdrew its forces from Iraq in 2011, the country was relatively quiet, before the cumulative blunders of al Maliki’s government which totally alienated the Sunni Arabs were fully felt and led many Sunnis to acquiesce or reluctantly accept collaboration with a bloody terror group like ISIS.
Who lost Iraq? The Violence on June 10th set in motion a torrent of events and reactions. In Baghdad, the autocratic and hapless Nouri al- Maliki government and its allies engaged in the kind of naked sectarian mobilization, that ISIS and some of its allies have been engaging in. The Kurds swiftly moved from their autonomous region to take over the prized city of Kirkuk and its environ, thus consolidating their control over all of what they consider to be Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurds of Iraq, who paid dearly for their struggle for self-determination, find themselves today on the cusp of a truly transformative moment in their long history.
In Iran, the Islamic Republic, which sees itself now as the defender of the Shiites in the region, dispatched two battalions of its Revolutionary Guards to Iraq along with the commander of Iran's Quds Force, Qasem Solaimani, one of Iran’s most powerful leaders, to help set up more effective defenses. The Arab states in the Gulf held al-Maliki’s discriminatory policies responsible for the crisis and rejected outside interference in Iraq’s affairs, an implicit reference to Iran. Predictably, in the United States politicians and pundits engaged in the usual rituals that follow such disasters; finger pointing and the perennial question: Who lost Iraq, a variation on an old refrain of who lost China? Who lost Vietnam? And who lost Iran? As if these countries were America’s to lose. The president’s men blamed al-Maliki and or President George W. Bush for invading Iraq, while the critics blamed Obama’s failure to keep a residual force and his disengagement from Iraq. The sad truth is that the Iraqis themselves created this nightmarish reality, and they, as the rightful owner of Iraq lost Iraq.
A history of violence
Iraq’s short history as a state since 1920 was marred by political instability, coups and attempted coups and wars against some of its ethnic and religious components. Iraq fared better under the monarchy, where a semblance of political life, (parties, and parliaments) was tolerated. The violent fall of the monarchy in 1958 however, put the country on a long and bloody trajectory. The ascendency of the Baath party to power in 1968 and the emergence of Saddam Hussein as the strong man in the regime before he became president in 1979 signaled Iraq’s beginning descent towards tyranny, chauvinism, corruption, debauchery, wars and invasions.
Iraq’s slow death was set in motion by Saddam Hussein’s chauvinistic interpretation of Arab Nationalism, which led him to invade Iran and Kuwait, wage wars on the Kurds, and the Shiites of Iraq. Some of the roots causes of the current unraveling of the Iraqi state can be traced back to Saddam Hussein’s fateful blunder of invading Iran, a country three times the size of Iraq. What’s worse is that Saddam invaded a country undergoing a revolution, and such states can withstand tremendous violence, and fight back ferociously as was the case after European states attacked the French and the Bolshevik Revolutions. The invasion of Iran made Iraq a popper state, which led Saddam to Invade Kuwait to fill his coffers with the wealth of his tiny neighbor. The invasion of Kuwait was Saddam’s epilogue to the invasion of Iran. Of course the occupation and annexation of Kuwait led to the 1991 Gulf war and the defeat of Iraq and the imposition of a crippling sanction regime. President George W. Bush wanted the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to finish the mission his father did not complete, that is to topple Saddam’s regime and to use Iraq to transform the region. Iraq has been living in a constant state of violence, tumult, wars, civil wars, sanctions, uprisings and occupation since 1980. No wonder it is falling apart and breaking up.
Maliki’s eight lean years
Prime minister Maliki’s governing record has been atrocious. Maliki used the so-called de-Baathification law, designed to keep members of Saddam’s regime out of power, to target his political opponents. He pursued overtly sectarian policies to weaken Sunni politicians and to exclude them from senior positions, and he reneged on agreements for power sharing with them. His sectarian paranoia is legendary. He monopolized power by keeping in his hand the defense and interior ministries. His regime was marred by cronyism and widespread corruption. Al-Maliki labeled his critics as terrorists and worst he used violence when people demonstrated against corruption in 2011. The persistent Sunni-Shiite divide is the result of the failure of Iraq’s political classes in undertaking successful nation-building, viable and strong institutions and the adoption of exclusionary politics by the Sunnis when they ruled under the guise of Arab Nationalism (the Baath) as well as under the Shiites since the fall of Saddam’s regime.
The consensus in Washington is that unless al-Maliki is ousted nothing meaningful can be done by the U.S. and its allies to prevent Iraq from sliding towards civil war and partition. It remains to be seen if al-Maliki will quietly go into the night, or will put up a nihilistic fight that will accelerate Iraq’s unraveling. History shows that cunning local players have staying powers because they see their fights as existential, while outside powers don’t necessarily have similar tenacity or patience. President Obama’s decision to dispatch 300 military advisors (mainly special forces) is likely to be too little and too late to stop the unraveling. As retired general David Petraeus said the U.S. cannot afford to be the Shiite’s air force. The reforms that President Obama is correctly calling for in Baghdad may not be enacted in time to make a difference and they may never be enacted if al-Maliki remains in power.
The American reaction to the unraveling in Iraq was initially slow, ambiguous and confused. The secretary of defense Chuck Hagel and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey admitted that they were surprised at the speed with which the Iraqi army that the U.S. trained and equipped melted away. Then the discourse turned a bit surreal, when Secretary of state John Kerry suggested that the U.S. will be open to cooperate with Iran politically and even militarily to check ISIS and the spreading Sunni uprising. This is the same country that trained Iraqi militias to kill hundreds of American soldiers, and helping prop up the Syrian dictator Assad. Then the Pentagon and the White House made it clear that Kerry was freelancing, and the secretary claimed later that he was misunderstood.
It was entertaining to see Kerry in bed with one of the administration’s harshest critics, Republican senator Lindsey Graham who said that the US should contemplate military coordination with the Islamic Republic. Another jarring sight was the legion of former officials in the Bush administration who were among the architects of the Iraq invasion appearing on television or writing columns denouncing Obama’s handling of Iraq or providing free advice without a shred of irony. Such is political life in Washington during the dog days of summer.
The end is near?
The partition of Iraq is already underway. Iraq, as we have known it for almost a century is dying. There is already a Kurdish state in all but name. The control of the oil rich Kirkuk will put the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in a strong position vis-à-vis the Baghdad government, and makes the establishment of an independent Kurdistan too tantalizing to resist. The KRG has its own armed forces, its own prime minister, its border check points and visas, and its own oil wealth. It has a thriving tourism industry and thriving universities. Most Kurds under the age of thirty barely speak Arabic.
The fortunes of the Kurds in Iraq have improved tremendously in the last quarter of a century, and particularly in the last five years with the marked improvement of relations with Turkey. Trade between Turkey and the KRG is more than $8 billion a year, and will increase further with the prospects of more Kurdish oil going through Turkish pipelines to foreign markets. The transformation of Turkey from an opponent of Kurdish self-determination to a supporter is one of the most significant political transformations in the region in recent decades. Following the takeover of Kirkuk, a spokesman of Turkey’s ruling party said “The Kurds of Iraq can decide for themselves the name and type of the entity they are living in," The spokesman Huseyin Celik added "The Kurds, like any other nation, will have the right to decide their fate". The prime minister of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region Nechirvan Barzani has told the BBC he does not believe the country will stay together, and that it would be "almost impossible" for Iraq to return to the status quo that prevailed before the fall of Mosul and Kirkuk.
Breaking up is hard to do
With the Kurds going their way, the Sunni Arabs will feel more marginalized in what is left of Iraq. This will harden their position and would embolden the Shiite hard liners in Baghdad. And unless a new political arrangement that would satisfy the Sunnis is found quickly, the situation is likely to revert to the dark days of 2006 and 2007 when Sunnis and Shiites visited untold violence on each other. This time there will be no American arbiter or a mediator. Iraqis will be on their own, and regional powers will be part of the problem not the solution. The breakup of empires and countries is rarely peaceful and usually happens in the context of conflicts and wars as we have seen in the Balkans and the case of South Sudan. There may have been a time when a decentralized system could have been created that would give Iraq’s main components the right to self-rule while maintaining a federal structure. That moment may have passed.
Just as the wars in Syria and Iraq have morphed into one, the breakup of Iraq could reverberate throughout the region and lead to further fragmentation in Syria and maybe Lebanon. The world is watching a once-important country die slowly and very painfully. And even if we are talking about chronicles of a death foretold, it is nonetheless awful to watch. Iran, the self-appointed defender of the Shiites will step in to defend a Shiite regime in Baghdad; the Arab Sunni majority states and Turkey feel threatened and are sullen but unwilling to take on Iran directly, and all of these developments are taking place against the background of unprecedented Sunni-Shiite confrontation on a long front stretching from the Gulf to the Mediterranean.
ISIS in Iraq is an uprising against totalitarian rule
Saturday, 21 June 2014/By: Raed Omari/AlArabiya
Day by day, the escalating Iraqi crisis replicates an element from the ongoing Syrian war, making the possibility of a new large-scale suffering in the region just a matter of days.
Despite the numerous crowds taking over city after city in Iraq, projecting their irreversible goal to be the eradication of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government, the international community’s only stake in this massive scene is so far the “miniature” Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Inasmuch as the Syrian crisis has been reduced to the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front and the al-Qaeda-inspired ISIS, i.e. terrorism, there is in the international community’s rhetoric on Iraq now too much talk about ISIS with no mentioning whatsoever of the other elements in the escalating crisis there that is prophesying a prolonged civil war. The large-scale suffering of the Syrian people and the massive destruction to their country is not that big of a concern to the international community compared with its alarm towards the rising radicalism there. The world’s style of action on Syria has been already determined how ISIS will be dealt with.
Too late for Syria
The world’s handling of the Iraqi crisis is so far still lacking the realization that Syria has turned into, and Iraq is turning into, a terrorism-fertile territory all due to the international community’s inaction on the two crisis-hit countries. As it is too late for Syria now, there needs to be an understanding of the real situation in Iraq before it is also too late there.
Syria has been left to all possibilities with the international community’s inaction. Radical groups have entered the scene, fighting first alongside the Free Syrian Army (FSA) on the basis of the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” and then against themselves. This chaotic scene has helped in considerably tarnishing the FSA’s image which has ended up being misconceived as a radical entity. Like the FSA, the Arab Sunnis of Iraq are now put as the embodiment of ISIS. No second thought is given to such a misconception.
No one wants to admit that it was the heavily armed Arab Sunnis of Anbar and not Maliki’s army who once fought ISIS in Anbar and Ramadi in western Iraq just a few months ago when they decided to put on hold their peaceful uprising against the marginalization policies of Iran-backed government of Baghdad. It was neither Maliki’s militia nor the U.S. army that weakened the military operations of al-Qaeda in Iraq, but the Arab Sunni Awakening Council of Anbar (the Sahawat) in 2007. All is purposely forgotten now.
ISIS is not the Red Army
However, this is not meant in any way to underestimate the threat posed by ISIS but to put incidents on the right course and to pinpoint the unfairness of describing what is witnessed in Iraq now and before then in Syria only within the context of terrorism and radicalism. ISIS is no doubt an extremist, violent and religiously intolerant militia but is not, militarily speaking, the Red Army. “A well-equipped platoon of an organized army could easily defeat ISIS”, I was told by a retired general, who added, “Notice, ISIS and such groups are only active in chaotic states like Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, where there is actually no state.”
“In Iraq and Syria, the situation is clearly the following: a public uprising against totalitarian rule”
It is unquestionable that both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Maliki have used ISIS and al-Nusra as a “scarecrow”, in part to sound appealing to the West, knowing its sensitivity towards al-Qaeda, and to distract the world’s attention from the real situation in their countries. In Iraq and Syria, the situation is clearly the following: a public uprising against totalitarian rule. Assad’s departure at the beginning of the crisis could have averted Syria’s hostile fate, Maliki’s resignation and the formation of a national salvation government could help immensely alleviate the tension in Iraq now.
The Iraqi Arab Sunnis have passed a point of no return. Facts on the ground in Iraq reveal day by day that ISIS is a marginal issue, constituting just a small part but not the whole scene there. The heavily armed Iraqis marching in massive numbers from the northern, western and central provinces of Iraq seem to be determined on bringing the downfall of Maliki’s government in Baghdad. In doing so, they see it their right to build alliances with the Arab Sunni countries of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and UAE and later maybe with Egypt the same way Maliki is allied with Shiite Iran.
Although such a projection of incidents might be a recipe for a prolonged Sunni-Shiite civil war, this is the real situation in Iraq now. The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will be faced with such a reality during his upcoming tour to the region. The future scenarios in Iraq will be no doubt determined according to the plan the U.S. puts forward to deal with the crisis-hit country. The Americans would have much say over the course of actions in Iraq, be it to end a civil war, prolong unrest or promote peace.
Building a Base for Iraq's Counteroffensive: The Role of U.S. Security Cooperation
By: Michael Knights/Washington Institute
June 19, 2014
A U.S. contribution could help blunt ISIS advances in at least three ways.
Encouraging signs have emerged that the collapse of federal government control in Iraq may have slowed and that Baghdad is beginning the transition to counteroffensive operations to regain ground. Massive mobilization of largely Shiite volunteers has given Baghdad an untrained but motivated "reserve army" that can be used to swamp cross-sectarian areas around the Iraqi capital. All available formed military units have been pulled out of reserve and brought toward Baghdad to defend the capital. In this effort, all Department of Border Enforcement units have been relocated from the country's borders, and Iraqi army and Federal Police units have been redeployed from southern Iraq. Isolated federal government units are scattered across northern Iraq, in some cases hanging on against Sunni militants with the support of adjacent Kurdish forces. Fighting is now taking place on five fronts:
Southern Salah al-Din. In the Tigris River valley (TRV), the government is fighting to regain control of the mixed Sunni-Shiite areas up to sixty miles north of the capital, with the northernmost point being the "stop line" at Samarra, beyond which Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki dictated there be no further retreat. This line appears to be holding. Between Samarra and the massive army depot at Taji, on Baghdad's northern flank, the federal government is contesting insurgents' control by using its ground and aerial forces, seeking to maintain highway lines of control to Samarra.
Diyala River valley. To the northeast of Baghdad, in the Diyala River valley (DRV) and adjacent corridors, the government is fighting to protect Sunni-Shiite areas on the main highway between Baghdad and the Iranian border. The Badr Organization, an Iran-backed paramilitary group, has historically maintained a close focus on Diyala and today dominates Iraqi military and police paramilitary forces in the province. Baquba, the provincial capital, is now under attack from insurgents led by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).
Western Baghdad "belts." In Baghdad's outer suburbs to the west (Falluja, Karma, Abu Ghraib) and the south (Jurf al-Sakhar, Arab Jabour), ISIS-led forces are probing the capital's defenses, and other militant groups are periodically shelling Baghdad International Airport. The insurgents seem to have lifted the government's siege of Falluja, but for now nearby Ramadi remains loosely under combined federal and provincial government control.
The Kurdish front. The Kurdish peshmerga have moved into the disputed districts claimed by both Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), filling the vacuum left by collapsing Iraqi army units. Though the Kurds are mostly holding back from attacking ISIS, they have inherited areas such as Jalula where ISIS was fighting the Iraqi army and regularly killing Kurdish civilians before the uprising. Skirmishes meanwhile have been reported all along the KRG's new front line, and a number of Kurdish troops have been reported killed in social media martyrdom statements.
Jazirah and Mosul. In the upper TRV and the Jazirah desert abutting Syria, the insurgents are consolidating their position in the absence of government forces. However, in Bayji, an oil-refining center, and Tal Afar, a large Shiite Turkmen town west of Mosul, the government still holds pockets of terrain and is reinforcing its outposts with small contingents of air-transported Iraqi special forces.
In the TRV and DRV, the government will likely be able to prevent the further expansion of ISIS and insurgent uprisings. Cities like Samarra, Baquba, and Muqdadiyah will remain under government control because both old and new Shiite militias are deeply committed to those fights and are being deployed in great numbers. Furthermore, Shiites make up significant increments of the population in these cities and their rural suburbs: rather than ISIS igniting the dry tinder of discontented Sunni populations, the group's operations will be frustrated by the large Shiite populations in the Baghdad-Samarra-Muqdadiyah triangle. Baghdad can also probably focus sufficient forces close to its center of command and logistical base in order to maintain control of the capital's western arc. The Kurdish front will remain mostly static unless the federal government can craft a very attractive grand bargain for the Kurds, a scenario that may be impossible under Maliki's leadership.
The final front, including the more open desert areas leading from Samarra to Mosul, will be one of the most difficult for the federal government to control. The largely Shiite "reserve army" is probably limited by its lack of training, equipment, and logistics to fighting defensive battles in the capital and the mixed Sunni-Shiite areas 60 to 90 miles north of Baghdad. Only Baghdad's regular armed forces, utilizing armored vehicles, heavy weapons, and air forces, stand a chance of making the long-distance movement across 250 miles of hostile terrain. Even then, significant numbers of such units will be needed for potential fights in Tikrit, Bayji, al-Sharqat, Tal Afar, and Mosul. Probably as many as 40 out of the remaining 180 or so Iraqi army and Federal Police combat battalions will be required if armed force is required to reconquer these areas.
Implications for U.S. Policy
If Iraq's government makes painful compromises to win back Sunni Arab and Kurdish support, U.S. security cooperation with Iraq will increase, as evidenced in President Barack Obama's speech today.
But if the United States does intervene, the correct subtheater is not the areas immediately around Baghdad and the DRV. These battlefields are likely to witness messy, morally ambiguous fights where sectarian cleansing could be widespread. As Gen. David Petraeus noted in a recent panel discussion, the United States cannot be "the air force for Shia militias, or a Shia-on-Sunni-Arab fight." If the militia-led forces around Baghdad try to go north of Samarra into the Sunni heartland, a sectarian Gotterdammerung could follow and the United States should not add another layer of complexity to the resultant fighting or become too closely associated with it. Indeed, the United States needs to carefully monitor the sectarian situation in mixed areas, noting that Shiite militias in Baghdad have already begun marking Sunni homes with red crosses as a warning to leave. The Iraqi government needs to be warned in the strongest terms to crack down on such behavior, which is as potentially destabilizing to Baghdad's security as any of ISIS's plans.
The United States should also focus its effort on three areas where Washington can make a significant contribution to the effort to roll back ISIS influence in northern Iraq:
Splitting the insurgency. Fighting through the Sunni communities of the north is a daunting prospect and might only aid insurgent recruitment. Better would be to aim for a partial restoration of government authority through agreement with more moderate elements of the uprising. The military councils that rose up to exploit ISIS's success at Mosul include many unsavory elements from the Saddam Hussein regime, but these are desperate times. Many Sunnis would react favorably to an offer of increased local autonomy that still allowed for the provision of federal government services and also avoided crushing military campaigns in their streets. The United States can play a key role in bringing together deal makers from both sides and keeping up momentum.
Fostering federal-KRG security cooperation. Iraq's Kurds have moved forward in many, but not all, of the internal border areas where the federal military existed. Pockets of federal forces remain around Rashad, Tuz, Tal Afar, and Lake Hamrin. Even if Kurdish forces are not keen to drive westward against ISIS at this stage, KRG cooperation could greatly assist the reprovisioning of these forces from the northeast. Federal air forces based at Kirkuk can likewise assist KRG forces and have done so this week in some armed engagements. Close coordination between federal and KRG forces using the Combined Security Mechanisms was a U.S. specialty before 2011 and could be a low-visibility way of maintaining pockets of federal forces and minimizing "friendly fire" incidents.
Maintaining federal launchpads in northwest Iraq. The road from Baghdad to Mosul is long, and Iraqi logistical arrangements are in chaos. The United States has direct experience from a period in 2003 of undertaking long-range road and helicopter advances up the TRV and toward Mosul. The United States is also well placed to help logistically sustain government-held air bases in largely unpopulated desert areas, delivering U.S.-provided supplies directly to the front rather than to Baghdad. U.S. airpower could, if required, defend such launchpads without getting drawn into complex sectarian fighting: any force that attacks such air bases, most of which are in remote areas, will be regarded as the enemy.
**Michael Knights is a Boston-based Lafer Fellow with The Washington Institute.
Netanyahu to Obama: IDF on the Jordan is sole security guarantee against ISIS for Israel, Hashemite kingdom and Palestinians
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report June 21, 2014/Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu posted notes Friday, June 20, to President Barack Obama, King Abdullah of Jordan and Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, debkafile’s exclusive sources in Washington and Jerusalem reveal. They dealt with the rapid advances made by Al Qaeda-related Sunni Islamist fighters in Iraq, now heading towards the Iraqi-Syrian-Jordanian border intersection and how they bore on the security of Israel, the Palestinians and Kingdom of Jordan just next door. Netanyahu’s main point was that Israel’s armed forces (the IDF) are the only army in the region with the capabilities and counter-terrorism experience for standing up to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and therefore buttressing the rule of Jordan’s King Abdullah and Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah against jihadist incursions. And so it is essential to maintain the fortifications on the River Jordan border manned by the IDF and continue to work in partnership with the Jordanian army to provide a solid bulwark against a potential ISIS push from Iraq toward the west. Netanyahu cited Obama’s proposition Thursday, June 19, with regard to the Iraq crisis. The president said: “I think that the key to both Syria and Iraq is going to be a combination of what happens inside the country… and us laying down a more effective counterterrorism platform that gets all the countries in the region pulling in the same direction.” In the prime minister’s view, one of those platforms is already in place in southern Syria as a result of a combined US- Israeli-Jordanian military effort.
Saturday, June 21, the Iraqi jihadists seized the strategic Iraqi-Syrian border crossing at Qaim (pop: a quarter of a million). Witnesses reported hundreds of Iraqi soldiers dropping their weapons and fleeing in all directions after 30 of their number were killed in battle. This conquest brought ISIS that much closer to the intersection of the Iraqi, Syrian and Jordanian borders, which is situated in terrain marked by deep wadis and dense foliage, and therefore popular with the smugglers of arms, drugs and oil, who move between Iraq and Jordan.
That being so, the Sunni Islamists’ control of the Qaim crossing point poses a direct threat to Jordan, as well as providing them with an open route for the easy transfer of fighters and heavy weapons between their two battlefields in Iraq and Syria, and of fuel from the Syrian oil fields which they now manage to their brothers fighting in Iraq.
In eastern Jordan, Al Qaeda owns a reserve of adherents, some of whom fought under its flag in Afghanistan, others against American forces in Iraq under the command of their compatriot, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the years 2003-2007. In the last three years, Jordanian extremists have fought with Al Qaeda and other Islamist elements in the Syrian civil uprising against Bashar Assad.
debkafile’s counter-terror sources report that thousands of these Islamists, some after advanced combat training, are concentrated in and around the Jordanian towns of al-Zarqa, al-Rusaifa, Salt and Irbid.
Jordanian security services, concerned to stop them heading out for Iraq, this week opened the jail door for the influential Islamic leader, Sheik Isam al-Barqawi - aka as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdis - who is the head of the Jordanian Salafi movement. In the deal for his early release from a long prison sentence, the sheik undertook to use his sermons to preach against the Jordanian Islamists joining up for the ISIS-led jihad. According to our sources, Netanyahu inserted in his note to Obama a new piece of intelligence, that ISIS liaison officers had recently entered the Sinai Peninsula to embed a branch of their organization in the local Al Qaeda network, known as Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, which has operational ties with the Palestinian Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip.