February 19/15

Bible Quotation for Today/Do Not be a hypocrite whenever you give alms
Matthew 06/01-04: "‘Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. ‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

Letter to the Romans 15,14-21.
"I myself feel confident about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. Nevertheless, on some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ. Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of him shall see, and those who have never heard of him shall understand.’"

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 18-19/15
Information about the US-Iranian nuclear dialogue is no longer “sensitive.” For Obama it’s a done deal/DEBKAfile/February 18/15
Kirkuk is just one question mark for the Kurds/David Ignatius/The Daily Star/February 18/15
Iran faces an uphill battle in Yemen/Tariq Alhomayed/Asharq Al Awsat/February 18/15
New partners in struggle against terrorism/Yohanan Plesner/Ynetnews/February 18/15

Lebanese Related News published on February 18-19/15
Lebanese Parliament fails to elect president again, session postponed to March 11.
Geagea: State must control anti-terror strategy.
Mustaqbal, Hizbullah Begin Discussions on 'National Anti-Terror Strategy'
Salam, Bassil meet EU delegation.
Best Friends: Geagea, Aoun trade birthday tweets.
Berri urges accord ahead of void in Cabinet.
Hariri, UN official discuss Lebanon, region.
Aoun Meets Hariri over Dinner at Center House
Hezbollah demands France release Georges Abdallah.
Jumblatt sticks to Nusra stance after Nasrallah call out.
March 14: Participation in Anti-IS Coalition Proves State Alone Responsible for Protecting Lebanon.
Suleiman Responding to Aoun: Electing President Fastest Way to Withdraw Confidence from Minister.
'Dangerous' Gang that Robbed Churches Arrested.
Berri Says It's Time to Steer Clear of Speeches and Take Decisions.
Beirut Port Basin Filling Stops after Truckers Issue Warning.
Hariri and Aoun Could Meet Soon.
U.S. Downplays Lebanon's Boycott of Washington Conference
Mashnouq Says Extension of High-Ranking Officers Part of Ongoing Glitches.
Bilal Deqmaq Deported from Turkey, Arrested at Beirut Airport.
Abou Faour Says Unified Prescription Form to Create Qualitative Change.
Visiting EU Delegation Voices Solidarity with Lebanon.
Joint Security Force in Bekaa Arrests Syrians, Confiscates Illegal Items.
Report: Lebanese Authorities Reject Obtaining Russian TOS-1 Systems.

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 18-19/15
Yemen’s Houthis buying off local tribes: sources .
Iran's Khamenei threatens world gas supply .
Obama view of Arab world role faces challenges .
Killers of Copts were “foreign nationals”: Libyan ex-minister .
Egyptians mourn Coptic Christians beheaded by ISIS.
Sisi tours border with Libya after bombing ISIS.
Street cleaner killed by Cairo bomb: official.
Italy: ISIS poses ‘evident risk’ in Libya.
Egypt drops U.N. bid for Libya military intervention: ministry
Street cleaner killed by Cairo bomb: official.
Russia the warlord.
Saudi King receives Qatari Emir in Riyadh .
Syria willing to suspend Aleppo strikes 6 weeks: UN envoy .
Over 100 killed in regime’s Aleppo offensive.
Battles leave more than 150 as rebels make gains near Aleppo.
Arab states to ask UN to ease Libya arms embargo.
Netanyahu: Tzipi Livni is a danger to Israel .
Herzog: As PM, I will not negotiate with Hamas .
UN tells donors to make good on Gaza pledges.
Israel court quashes election ban for Arab MP.
Jordanian rapper sues Netanyahu over campaign clip.
Tunisia says 4 policemen killed in Al-Qaeda attack.
Airstrike on Niger village kills up to 30.
Bosnian police arrests alleged supporters of ISIS.
Gay Catholic group gets VIP treatment at Vatican.
Nigeria claims over 300 Boko Haram fighters killed in town recapture

Jihad Watch Site Latest Reports
Obama: “Many Muslim Americans across our country are worried and afraid”
UK: Muslim teacher fined for posting pro-Hitler image on FB aimed at Jews
Copenhagen imam day before jihad murder at synagogue: Muhammad didn’t dialogue with Jews, he fought them
Muslim stabs non-Muslims; WaPo: “Man stabs two at a bus stop after asking them if they’re Muslim”.
Mehdi Hasan blames Muslim attack on non-Muslims on “anti-Muslim hate speech”.
White House touts Boston’s success in “countering violent extremism”.
Sudan President: CIA, Mossad behind Boko Haram, Islamic State.
Holder: “Radical Islam, Islamic extremism – you know, I’m not sure an awful lot is gained by saying that”.
Muslim cleric rejects that Earth revolves around the Sun.
The Atlantic: “The Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic.”
Video: Walking in Paris while Jewish

Egyptians mourn Coptic Christians beheaded by ISIS
By ARIEL COHEN/J.Post/02/18/2015
The Egyptian government knew of the disappearance of the victims 45 days before their death, but refrained from taking action to rescue them. Hundreds of Christians gathered at a Coptic mass at Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo on Tuesday evening.
Families of the victims also gathered in the church. Of the 21 men executed by Islamic State, all were Christian. The Copts were taken hostage by the Islamic State last month while residing in Surt, Libya. In the video produced by Islamic State media, “A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross,” the Copts were beheaded by the militants. In the video, militants suggested that these killings were in response to both the death of Osama bin Laden as well as a five-year-old dispute over the disappearance of a Coptic Christian woman.
The Egyptian government knew of the disappearance of the victims 45 days before their death, but refrained from taking action to rescue them, according to a statement from the Mapsero Youth Movement. Furthermore, they claim that even though the families of the victims repeatedly begged the government to intervene, they choose silence over action. On Sunday, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi announced seven days of national mourning in reaction to the killings. In a televised address he said that Egypt would take necessary action to avenge the deaths. On Monday morning Egypt announced that it had carried out airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Libya. Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb announced in an official statement that the families of the victims will be granted "martyr privileges," including pensions from the Ministry of Social Solidarity as well as a new church to be built in Al-Minya, in honor of the victims.

Lebanese Parliament fails to elect president again, session postponed to March 11
The Daily Star/Feb. 18, 2015/BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri postponed a parliamentary session to elect a new president of the republic to March 11, after the 19th attempt to break the nine-month-long presidential deadlock failed Wednesday. Like previous attempts, the 19th session to elect a head of state was doomed to fail over a lack of quorum, owing to the absence of an accord between the rival factions on a consensus candidate. Some 56 lawmakers representing the March 14 coalition attended parliament for Wednesday's session. There have been 19 sessions over the past nine months that have aborted due to ack of a quorum, raising fears of a prolonged vacancy in the country’s top Christian post. Lawmakers from MP Michel Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, Hezbollah’s bloc and its March 8 allies have thwarted a quorum since April 2014 by consistently boycotting parliamentary sessions, demanding an agreement beforehand with their March 14 rivals over a consensus candidate. The failure to pick a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year tenure came to an end May 25, has plunged the country into a presidential impasse that has paralyzed Parliament and is threatening to cripple much the government's work.

Aoun Meets Hariri over Dinner at Center House
Naharnet/Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun held talks Wednesday evening with al-Mustaqbal movement chief ex-PM Saad Hariri at the Center House in downtown Beirut, in the first public meeting between the two leaders since at least five years.
Future TV said Aoun was accompanied by his son-in-law, Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, and that talks were expected to continue over a dinner banquet. For its part, Hariri's press office said the talks were also attended by the ex-PM's adviser former MP Ghattas Khoury.
The discussions tackled “the general political situations in the country and the latest regional developments,” Hariri's office said. Hariri then threw a dinner banquet in Aoun's honor, the office added. The meeting comes after Bassil attended on Saturday a rally commemorating the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Hariri's father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Al-Akhbar newspaper reported Wednesday that Bassil represented the FPM after al-Mustaqbal invited the movement as a positive step towards rapprochement between two sides.
Al-Mustaqbal is already engaged in talks with the FPM's top ally Hizbullah since December. The representatives of the two parties are discussing ways to limit sectarian tension and possible ways to resolve the presidential crisis. Bassil and ex-MP Khoury have held a series of contacts to set the stage for the meeting, the daily said.

Geagea: Anti-terror strategy must be in state’s hand
The Daily Star/Feb. 18, 2015
BEIRUT: Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea Wednesday agreed with Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah that Lebanon should develop a national strategy to fight terrorism, but stressed that the power of decision-making must be in the hands of the government.
"Nasrallah called for the establishment of a national strategy to counter terrorism, but it must include all parties and the [final] decision should be in the hands of the state,” Geagea told a news conference. “This strategy should not mean that Hezbollah will take a decision and then all the Lebanese bear the consequences,” he added. “Therefore, we hope to reach a national strategy that does not put us in another place."Geagea said he agrees with Nasrallah that “terrorism” and “Israel” are Lebanon’s enemy, “but we disagree on who takes the decision to confront Israel, where? and how?”Geagea also said preliminary talks between representatives of the Lebanese Forces and Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement have come a long way. “There is progress, but we are still looking into the presidential issue and other issues, too,” he said. “We are now preparing the basic principles.” "We are working to overcome all the obstacles that some are trying to create,” Geagea added. “And we will exert every effort to make this dialogue a success, but so far we have not reached a clear vision on the presidential election.”Lebanon has been without a president since Michel Sleiman’s term ended in May with lawmakers failing to elect a successor over lack of consensus.

Mustaqbal, Hizbullah Begin Discussions on 'National Anti-Terror Strategy'
NaharnetظAl-Mustaqbal movement and Hizbullah announced Wednesday after their sixth dialogue session that they explored means to find a “national anti-terror strategy,” amid a continued dispute between them over the state's role in such a plan of action. The conferees “discussed the mutual calls for finding a national anti-terror strategy and the debate was launched over its mechanisms,” the two parties said in a joint statement. The dialogue session comes in the wake of al-Mustaqbal movement leader ex-PM Saad Hariri's return to Beirut to take part in a rally commemorating the tenth anniversary of the assassination of his father, former premier Rafik Hariri. Although Hariri delivered a sharp-toned speech on the occasion, he affirmed that dialogue with Hizbullah will continue in order to “protect Lebanon.”
Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah for his part stressed commitment to dialogue during a speech on Monday, endorsing Hariri's call for devising an anti-terror strategy. Nasrallah, however, responded to Hariri's demand that Hizbullah withdraw its fighters from Syria by calling on all Lebanese to “go together to Syria and Iraq” to combat “the threat of terrorism.” In an interview on Future TV, Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq said discussions over the sought strategy consumed three hours of the sixth dialogue session.
“It is necessary to find a national anti-terror strategy under the sponsorship of the state, and we must exert efforts to combat terrorism on the basis of national consensus, away from some parties' regional alliances and commitments,” Mashnouq, who took part in the session, told the TV network. Meanwhile, the joint statement said the two parties “positively evaluated the Bekaa's security plan and the steps that occurred to remove flags and pictures from various regions.”The conferees also called on the political forces and leaders to contribute to the efforts aimed at curbing celebratory gunfire “during all occasions.”Dialogue between the two parties had kicked off on December 23, 2014. In previous sessions, the conferees agreed to remove political flags and banners from the streets to “defuse sectarian tensions,” speaking of “clear progress that might contribute to consolidating national stability.”

Beirut Port Basin Filling Stops after Truckers Issue Warning
Naharnet/The head of the truckers syndicate warned on Wednesday that the drivers will take action after claiming workers resumed filling the controversial fourth basin at Beirut Port in violation of an agreement that they had reached with Prime Minister Tammam Salam. The warning of Naim Sawaya prompted work to stop, Education Minister Elias Bou Saab said. Earlier this month, the drivers suspended their open-ended strike and work in the basin was halted after Salam promised to find a solution to the row over the filling in agreement with all parties, including Christian religious figures. But Sawaya, who heads the syndicate, told Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) that the filling resumed on Wednesday. “We are heading towards escalatory measures,” he said. Bou Saab, who had previously mediated in the case, told LBCI that he contacted Salam, who said he had no knowledge about the resumption of activity on the basin. Bou Saab said the PM confirmed to him that all works would stop until a solution is found. The truckers syndicate claims that the filling of the basin would end the role of Beirut Port and harm the economy. Port Officials argue, however, that the project will give more space to store containers. But there are fears that the move would direct large vessels to the Port of Tripoli because the fourth basin will no longer be able to accept big cargo ships. This will allegedly cause hundreds of Beirut Port employees, mostly truckers, to lose their jobs. The rival Christian parties back the truckers. Another controversial issue linked to the filing of the basin is the scrutiny on the manner in which Abdul Rahman Hourie Company was awarded the $123 million worth contract to carry out the work.

Berri urges accord ahead of void in Cabinet
The Daily Star/Feb. 18, 2015 /BEIRUT: Parties must reach an agreement on a formula to replace the current decision-making mechanism in order to allow for Cabinet to resume its sessions, Speaker Nabih Berri told his visitors Wednesday. Three days after Prime Minister Tammam Salam said he would not call for a Cabinet session until an agreement is reached, Berri told his visitors that relevant parties must achieve an accord in order to enable government to resume its work and avoid the negative repercussions caused by the current deadlock. A weekly Cabinet session scheduled for Thursday has been canceled due to the aforementioned disagreement over a new decision-making formula. After President Michel Sleiman’s term ended last May, Cabinet adopted a system which requires unanimous backing among all 24 ministers to approve decisions. With the presidential seat still vacant, the government is still exercising the powers of the president. The current system, not stipulated in the Constitution, allows any minister to veto a decision, which has led to a political impasse. The speaker also expressed his concern over the ongoing paralysis of state institutions, urging a solution to tackle hindrances to the government’s work.

Best of friends: Geagea, Aoun trade birthday tweets
The Daily Star/Feb. 18, 2015 /BEIRUT: Political rivalry did not stop Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea from extending his heartfelt wishes to Free Patriotic Movement chief Michel Aoun, who celebrated his 80th birthday Tuesday. “I hope that we will have achieved [a] full agreement before your next birthday” Geagea said to Aoun on his official Twitter page.  The FPM leader responded by thanking Geagea for his greetings and expressed a tinge of birthday optimism by anticipating that an accord would be reached before next year. “I hope our agreement will be achieved by the end of the fasting period so that we present it as a gift to the Lebanese,” Aoun tweeted in reference the Lenten fast which ends on April 5. Aoun and Geagea are the country's two main presidential candidates, but neither currently has enough support in Lebanon's divided Parliament to win the election. Preparations are currently underway for talks between the two rival politicians that aim to achieve Christian rapprochement to end the presidential election impasse. Though the two have yet to meet, an agenda for dialogue sessions has been set and preliminary talks are being carried out in anticipation for the meeting.

U.S. Downplays Lebanon's Boycott of Washington Conference
Naharnet/A U.S. diplomat underestimated Lebanon's decision to boycott a conference expected to be held in Washington after Beirut claimed that it cannot take part in a meeting to confront terrorism with the Jewish state's participation. “Cooperation between the Lebanese and U.S. security agencies is ongoing,” the diplomatic source said in comments published in al-Liwaa newspaper on Wednesday. Washington, according to the daily, informed Lebanon its regret that Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil will not take part in the conference. However, the diplomat pointed out that Interior Minister Nouhad Mashnouq will head to Washington in March upon a formal invitation. Media reports said that Washington received an official apology from Lebanon on its participation in the “White House conference on efforts to counter violent extremism,” as Beirut argued it cannot be a “partner with Israel in confronting terrorism.” More than 60 countries, including 14 Arab nations and Israel, are expected to take part in the summit slated on February 18 at the White House and presided by U.S. President Barack Obama. The White House planned the conference in light of the recent shootings in France and earlier attacks in Canada and Australia. The meetings are expected to continue the next day where the foreign ministers will meet at the headquarters of the U.S. State Department, headed by Secretary of State John Kerry. The third day is devoted to meetings of experts and specialized committees in Washington. Bassil has apologized for the participation in the conference after consultations with Prime Minister Tammam Salam.
The Islamic State controls several areas in Syria and Iraq and aims to spread to Lebanon as its fighters position in the outskirts of Bekaa towns bordering Syria and the Lebanese army is in adamant efforts to stop their efforts to infiltrate the country.

Gay Catholic group gets VIP treatment at Vatican for first time
Philip Pullella| Reuters/Feb. 18, 2015
VATICAN CITY: A prominent American Catholic gay rights group was given VIP treatment for the first time at an audience with Pope Francis Wednesday, a move members saw as a sign of change in the Roman Catholic Church. "This is a sign of movement that's due to the Francis effect," said Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, which ministers to homosexual Catholics and promotes gay rights in the 1.2 billion-member Church. Gramick and executive director Francis DeBernardo led a pilgrimage of 50 homosexual Catholics to the audience in St. Peter's Square. They told Reuters in an interview afterwards that when the group came to Rome on Catholic pilgrimages during the papacies of Francis's predecessors John Paul and Benedict, "they just ignored us." This time, a U.S. bishop and a top Vatican official backed their request and they sat in a front section with dignitaries and special Catholic groups. As the pope passed, they sang "All Are Welcome," a hymn symbolizing their desire for a more inclusive Church. A list of participants released by the Vatican listed "a group of lay people accompanied by a sister" but did not mention that they were a gay rights organization. "What this says is that there is movement in our Church, movement to welcome people from the outside closer to the inside," Gramick said in St. Peter's Square.
Several months after his election, Francis made his now-famous remark about how he could not judge gay people who are have good will and are seeking God. But he so far shown no sign the Church will change its teaching that while homosexuality is not sinful, homosexual acts are. Last October, bishops from around the world meeting in Rome to debate questions concerning family issued an interim report calling for greater acceptance of gays in the Church. That passage was watered down in the final version of the report after conservative bishops complained. A second and final meeting on family issues is scheduled for October. DeBernardo said Catholic gay and lesbian couples and other non-traditional families should be invited to the meeting, known as a synod, to speak to the bishops about their faith and their sexuality

Hariri, UN official discuss Lebanon, region
The Daily Star/Feb. 18, 2015/BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag to discuss the presidential election stalemate, the Syrian refugee crisis, as well as other developments in the region. “It is natural that the meeting dealt with the situation in Lebanon and the region, with a particular focus on security and stability,” Kaag said following the meeting at Hariri’s Downtown Beirut residence, according to a statement from Hariri’s office. She said the meeting also tackled important issues such as the presidential deadlock and the social and economic impact of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon. “We discussed the necessary support needed for the [Syrian] refugees ... in addition to the need for continued support for all efforts made by the [Lebanese] government and Lebanese partners to maintain Lebanon’s stability and isolate it from any dangers and threats,” Kaag added. She also underlined the importance of respecting U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, while pledging support for the government of Prime Minister Tammam Salam. The statement said Hariri also held separate meetings with Economy Minister Alain Hakim and a Kataeb Party delegation composed of MPs Elie Marouni, Nadim Gemayel, Samer Saadeh and Fadi Habr.

Jumblatt sticks to Nusra stance after Nasrallah call out
The Daily Star/Feb. 17, 2015/BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt defended Tuesday his refusal to classify the Nusra Front as a terrorist organization, one day after Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah called him out over his stance. In a televised speech Monday, Nasrallah insisted that no distinction should be made between ISIS and the Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria. Without addressing him by name, Nasrallah called on Walid Jumblatt to explain his logic behind distinguishing between the two.
“As long as there is a single Syrian fighting Bashar Assad’s terrorist regime, then I am with this Syrian,” the PSP chief wrote in a post on his Twitter account after several users questioned his logic. “This is my opinion, I know it won’t change many of the equations being drawn up for the region, but my conscience is clear,” he added. Jumblatt has in the past noted that Nusra is made up of Syrians, whereas ISIS includes jihadis from all over the world. But he has never explicitly said that he supports the Nusra Front, which was behind several car bombs and suicide attacks in Lebanon, in addition to the killing of two Lebanese captive servicemen on the outskirts of Arsal.

Hezbollah demands France release Georges Abdallah
The Daily Star/Feb. 17, 2015/BEIRUT: Hezbollah deputy chief Naim Qassem Tuesday condemned France's ongoing imprisonment of leftist militant Georges Ibrahim Abdallah. “We call on France to release Georges Abdallah as soon as possible, and we consider his continued detention to be a blatant violation of human rights,” Qassem said in a statement released by the Hezbollah media office after meeting with representatives from the International Campaign for the Release of Georges Ibrahim Abdallah.  The remarks were the first by a ranking official in Hezbollah to demand the release of Abdallah, but the party in 2013 released a statement of support. Abdallah was arrested in Lyon in October 1984 and condemned three years later to life in prison for alleged involvement in the killing of an Israeli diplomat and an American military attache in Paris in 1982.
Abdallah has maintained his innocence.
Abdallah should have been freed in 1999 by virtue of France's penal code, but Paris has rejected nine appeals for his release. His supporters have accused the United States and Israel of lobbying to keep Abdallah behind bars. Under the French judicial system, a life sentence means 15 years in prison, after which the prisoner has the right to demand his release. In 2013, French courts accepted a request to release Abdallah, and within the 24-hour deadline, no appeals were made. His supporters in Lebanon were preparing his reception and the date of his return was set. But then-Interior Minister of France Manuel Valls denied the deportation order. Hezbollah had maintained a low profile in supporting his release, with party official Ghaleb Abu Zeinab once explaining that the party did not want its support to be negatively exploited.But on Tuesday Qassem openly denounced French authorities over the delay in releasing Abdallah, accusing the United States of exerting pressure on France to keep him behind bars.
“Is American pressure... more important than France’s dignity?” he asked.

Kirkuk is just one question mark for the Kurds
David Ignatius/The Daily Star
Feb. 17, 2015
From the roof of his office, Gov. Najmaldin Karim can see multiethnic Kirkuk laid out below. He points toward the Sunni suburb of Huwija about 24 kilometers west, which is controlled by ISIS. Two weeks ago, the extremists staged a ferocious assault there that almost broke through the defense lines. “ISIS has its eyes on Kirkuk. It is the big prize for them,” Karim says. This very morning, a gray day when poor visibility favored the attackers, ISIS launched an artillery and mortar strike in a Sunni suburb called Daquq, south of the city. Coalition airstrikes have pounded ISIS targets in Kirkuk twice this week.Kirkuk sits uneasily on the fault line between Kurdistan to the east, the Shiite-led Baghdad government to the south, and Sunni regions to the west. Karim is a Kurd himself, and a member of one of its big political parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. But “as governor, I’m governor of everybody,” he insists.Kirkuk illustrates the dilemmas facing the Kurdish regional government in Irbil, about an hour’s drive north.
The Kurds regard Kirkuk as part of their ancestral homeland, and the Iraqi constitution calls for a referendum in which the city’s Kurdish majority could vote to leave the orbit of Baghdad and become part of Kurdistan.But can the Kurds swallow Kirkuk without choking on the other groups that live here? Karim reckons that Kurds make up a little over 50 percent of the Kirkuk population, while Sunnis account for 32 percent to 35 percent and Turkmen 13 percent to 14 percent. It’s a microcosm of the larger Iraqi ethnic puzzle.For now, the common enemy of ISIS seems to be bringing Iraqis together in the city. The Kurdish peshmerga rings Kirkuk and provides the most important security force. But inside the city, security is managed by a local police force that Karim says is roughly 39 percent Arab, 36 percent Kurd and 26 percent Turkmen. “If they say it’s only the Kurds who are keeping order in the city, that’s not true,” Karim argues. Karim says he favors a special status for Kirkuk within Kurdistan, like what Quebec has in Canada. But Falah Mustafa Bakir, Kurdistan’s minister for foreign affairs, rejects this formula. “We have waited too long,” he says in an interview in his office in Irbil. “We don’t want to continue with transition and delay.
”Kirkuk is just one of the question marks for a Kurdistan that, in many ways, has been the great Iraqi success story. The region has security, jobs and most of all, the dynamism of a homogenous population where nearly everyone shares the same dream of eventual Kurdish independence.But Kurdistan also has some mundane problems, starting with corruption. The territory is run by traditional political parties dominated by the Barzani and Talabani clans, who have historically controlled the Kurdish Democratic Party and the PUK, respectively. Having the right connections, and greasing them with some cash, has become a way of life here.It’s “absolutely right” that Kurdistan has been weakened by corruption, concedes Masrour Barzani, the chief of the regional security council who oversees all intelligence activities. “We don’t claim perfection,” Bakir agrees, but he argues that corruption in Kurdistan is far less than the circus of thievery in Baghdad.
The ruling KDP government gave a smaller reform party known as “Change” control of the Finance Ministry and oversight of the peshmerga. But when asked if these reforms have removed payoffs and nepotism, a prominent local businessman just rolls his eyes.Even the Kurds’ beloved peshmerga had its troubles in the first days of the war against ISIS last August. “The pesh had been dormant for a long time,” Barzani explains. Some inexperienced commanders buckled, and grizzled veterans had to be mobilized. Since August, they’ve lost more than 1,000 killed in action and over 4,500 wounded. The Kurds still want their own country someday, but for now they are still Iraqis.Kurdistan’s problems are manageable, if leaders take them seriously. The danger is that corruption and political tension could weaken the foundations of the Kurdish region, just as they have the rest of Iraq. For now, the Kurds maintain the strongest platform in the region – and they’ve done the best job in battling ISIS. But nothing lasts forever. Kurdistan must solve the problems of success as well as it did those of centuries of isolation and betrayal.
**David Ignatius is published twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR.

Iran faces an uphill battle in Yemen
Tariq Alhomayed/Asharq Al Awsat
Tuesday, 17 Feb, 2015
The Yemeni crisis has reached a critical moment of truth. The Gulf and the international community have both declared their opposition to the Houthi coup, with these stances resulting in the subsequent closure of several foreign embassies in Sana’a, leaving the Houthi coup without international cover bar Iran’s support. By “critical” above I mean that five regions in Yemen oppose the Houthis coup, with the remaining one accepting it only partially through coercion, oppression and violence.
Well, what is the mood in the Gulf right now, particularly since it is the party that is now communicating with the international community and explaining what should be done in Yemen?
According to reports I have personally heard from several well-informed Gulf sources, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—which launched the main initiative that led to Ali Abdullah Saleh’s departure from power in 2012—has resolved its position on the issue and will not tolerate any laxity here.
“Yemen has changed, and we have to think in a different way devoid of emotions,” one source said.
According to another source, what happened in Yemen was “a full-fledged coup and will not be accepted by the international community or neighboring countries.”
“No country keen about its security can accept the presence of a militia armed with weapons coming from countries with whom it shares its borders,” the source added.
“The Houthi coup and efforts to legitimize it provide a recipe for a sectarian civil war. No peaceful solution can be reached without things returning to normal, and weapons, particularly the medium and heavy ones, being returned to the state, as well as dialogue being resumed,” he said.
Of course, the Gulf’s view of this dialogue has changed drastically. Gulf states are seeking genuine dialogue with guarantees, particularly since the Houthis, according to the source, previously signed “more than 65 agreements without complying with any of them, instead using these agreements as a way to catch their breath before continuing their march towards the other regions.”
As such, GCC countries believe the next agreement, if it ever takes place, will, naturally enough, differ from the previous ones. This is a natural result, particularly after Iran’s involvement in the Houthi coup became apparent to everyone. It was therefore remarkable that this week’s UN resolution on Yemen, unanimously adopted by the Security Council, called for an end to foreign intervention in the country—by Iran of course.
So, in case a future agreement on Yemen is reached, will the Gulf again fall victim to Saleh and the Houthis’ machinations? And how will Iran be dealt with? What I heard was remarkable: reports suggest that Saleh and the Houthis have sent several messages, all with the same content: “Rest assured.”
Another Gulf source told me: “We are confident and reassured as to our ability to maintain our security and [protect] our borders, and the ones who should be sent messages of assurance are the Yemeni people, from across the spectrum. The Yemenis are fed up with Saleh’s ploys and the Houthis’ treachery.”
But it was what one source said about Iran that particularly stood out: “Those who think that the bisht of Qom can protect against the Yemeni thorns should reassess their calculations quickly.”
The bisht, a cloak worn by clerics from the Iranian city of Qom, indeed cannot protect Iran from the pricks of the Yemeni thorns. And we should not forget either that Tehran is yet to get a taste of the Yemeni dagger.

Information about the US-Iranian nuclear dialogue is no longer “sensitive.” For Obama it’s a done deal

DEBKAfile Special Report February 17, 2015
Some US and Israeli media have reported that the Obama administration reduced the exchange with Israel of sensitive information about its nuclear negotiations with Iran - because Binyamin Netanyahu has leaked “details of the US position to the media.”
This is a skewed account of the situation. The fact is that US President Barack Obama and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani have agreed on the final draft of a comprehensive nuclear accord. Its terms are therefore an open secret. The deal would be in the bag if Iran’s paramount leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could be brought round to endorsing it.
For now, Washington and Tehran are using media spin tactics in an effort to persuade him. Those tactics were dismissed as “unprofessional media games,” by Iranian Foreign Minister spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham Sunday, Feb. 15, when she denied a Wall Street Journal report that Khamenei had answered a letter from the US president.
"There has been no new letter from Iran's side," she asserted in reference to a letter from Obama to Khamenei last October which, according to the US press, suggested cooperation with Iran in fighting the Islamic State.
No reference was made to the nuclear issue in her remarks. The Iranian leader preserves a sphinx-like silence, which has nothing to do with Binyamin Netanyahu, but does in fact refute Obama’s propaganda game that pins the blame on the Israeli prime minister.
For five years, Obama ran a back-channel dialogue with Iran. Then too he kept its content secret not just from Israel but from other closely affected allies, Saudi Arabia and certain Gulf emirates. Israel at times offered Washington relevant intelligence on Iran, but was rebuffed.
The Israeli opposition campaigning against Netanyahu and his Likud party for the March 17 election has seized on this dispute to accuse him of jeopardizing the country’s strong ties of friendship with the United States - when in fact it is a one-on-one brawl with the US president.
Relations would be seriously harmed only if Obama went all the way and cut off military and intelligence ties, a step that would hurt America’s strategic interests no less than Israel’s.
And indeed, Philip Gordon, the Middle East director for President Obama’s National Security Council, arrived in Israel Monday, Feb. 16 for meetings with Israeli national security adviser Yossi Cohen and Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz.
Only last week, Washington had to admit that US intelligence had been taken by surprise by the fall of the pro-American regime in Yemen and Sanaa’s takeover by the Iranian-backed rebel Houthis. While reluctant to admit as much, the administration was deeply disappointed by this act of deceit by Tehran, on which the White House counts heavily for military and intelligence cooperation as a trusted ally in the future war against the Islamic State.
Out of Obama’s intelligence loop on Iran, Israel may be equally reluctant to share its intelligence data on Yemen or even on the situation in Syria and Iraq.
Israel’s Netanyahu is not the only Middle East stand-out against Obama’s Iranian policy. Other leaders are in even worse relations with Washington. The Obama administration and Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi are not even on talking terms, much like the late Saudi monarch Abdullah who died last month. His successor, King Salman has yet to make his intentions towards the United States known.

New partners in struggle against terrorism
Yohanan Plesner/Ynetnews
Published: 02.18.15
Op-ed: We in Israel join our Danish friends as they mourn terrible incident, but we also call on them to join us in helping to lead Europe and West in an uncompromising war on terrorism.
If there is anything we should avoid saying right now, when the Danish people are grieving over the terrorist attack and mourning its victims, it is remarks of the sort that have often been typical of us Israelis: “Now you’ll finally understand what we have been going through all these years, what we are experiencing, and why we must combat terrorism.”
At such a time, Israel's leadership should be transmitting a different message, one that is less confrontational and more inclusive: a message of partnership among democracies battling terrorism without sacrificing their democratic values. Such a campaign requires striking a balance between competing values, and steps that will minimize the violation of fundamental rights while guarding national security.
Denmark has already shown that it knows how to take drastic measures to safeguard its security. During the last decade, under its previous two prime ministers, Lars Løkke Rasmussen and his predecessor Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Denmark's immigration regulations have been amended and made more stringent several times over. Cameras and inspectors have been stationed at its borders, restricting the free movement of migrants who do not have a residency permit.
During his tenure, Lars Løkke Rasmussen was assailed for this by other members of the European Union, on the grounds that he is harming the vision of a “Europe without borders.” But he has remained firm, justifying his actions on national security grounds.
The Danish people must now serve as an example to Europe in another way: Denmark must encourage all the countries of the EU, and in fact the entire Western world, to establish a set of clear cut rules for democratic countries involved in the war on terror. In Israel we have been doing this for years, because we understand that military operations alone will never defeat terrorism.
An effective war against terrorism cannot be fought without a legal and moral defense, which is essential both for internal justification and to protect against external charges and suits that may be filed—and indeed are already being filed—with international tribunals such as the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
A democracy that delves deeply into these issues and tries to clarify them for itself encounters many dilemmas: Is administrative detention—also known as preventive detention—a legitimate tool? Israel employs this measure occasionally in the areas that may one day be part of a Palestinian state; but ought it also be exercised in sovereign territories?
Is it acceptable to deviate from regular procedures when the security services deem it essential? If so, to what extent? Can detention be extended beyond its normal duration?
When the conflict spirals into actual hostilities, the dilemmas that we know all too well become even more challenging: Should possible harm to innocent bystanders rule out military action? Is it legitimate to raid religious sites that are suspected of harboring terrorists or of serving as hotbeds of incitement?
Israel has been dealing with these questions for many years. Now France, Denmark, Britain, and Sweden are beginning to face the very same issues. The last Knesset made progress in drafting a comprehensive anti-terrorism law that includes guidelines for dealing with “supporting organizations”; however, it was not passed into law. The new Knesset will have to complete this legislation.
At the same time, the Knesset would be well advised to engage in a joint effort with our friends in Europe to enact laws and define norms that will meet international standards and that perhaps will be adopted by other countries as well.
We in Israel join in sympathy with our Danish friends as they mourn this terrible incident. But we also call on them to join us in helping to lead Europe and the West in an uncompromising war on terrorism, while holding on dearly to our most cherished, democratic values.
**Yohanan Plesner is the president of the Israel Democracy Institute, home of the Center for National Security and Democracy, and the chairman of the Association of Friends of Denmark in Israel.