Inter Press Service » Middle East & North Africa http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 30 Sep 2014 17:30:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Iraq Looking for an ‘Independent’ Sunni Defense Ministerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/iraq-looking-for-an-independent-sunni-defense-minister/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iraq-looking-for-an-independent-sunni-defense-minister http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/iraq-looking-for-an-independent-sunni-defense-minister/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 13:54:06 +0000 Barbara Slavin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136909 By Barbara Slavin
WASHINGTON, Sep 27 2014 (IPS)

Iraqi President Fouad Massoum said this past week that the government was looking for an independent Sunni Muslim to fill the post of defense minister in an effort to improve chances of reunifying the country and defeating the group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS).

Massoum, in his first extended comments to a U.S. audience since his recent selection as president of Iraq, also said Sept. 26 that Iraqi Kurds – while they might still hold a referendum on independence – would not secede from Iraq at a  time of such major peril.

“Today there is no possibility to announce such a state,” Massoum, a Kurd and former prime minister of the Kurdish region, told a packed room at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

“Forming a Kurdish state is a project, and a project like that has to take into account” the views of regional and other countries and the extraordinary circumstances of the current terrorist menace to Iraq.

Kurdish threats to hold a referendum and declare independence were widely seen as leverage to force the resignation of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki,also under pressure from President Barack Obama’s administration, Iraqi Sunnis and Iran, stepped down to allow a less  polarizing member of his Shi’ite Dawa party – Haider al-Abadi – to take the top job.

Abadi, however, has been unable so far to get parliament to approve his choices for the sensitive posts of defense and interior ministers. Queried about this, Massoum said, “There seems to be some understanding that the minister of defense should be Sunni and there is a search for an independent Sunni.”

As for interior minister, Massoum said, they were looking for an “independent Shiite” to take the post.

For the time being, Abadi is holding the portfolios, but unlike his predecessor, who retained them, has clearly stated that he does not want to assume those responsibilities for long. Massoum said a decision was likely after the coming Muslim holiday, the Eid al-Adha.

The Iraqi president also said there was progress on a new arrangement for sharing Iraq’s oil revenues, a major source of internal grievances under Maliki. A decision has been made that each of the regions will have representation on a higher oil and gas council, Massoum said. He also expressed confidence in Iraq’s new oil minister, Adel Abdel-Mahdi.

Asked whether Iraq would split into three countries – as Vice President Joe Biden once recommended – Massoum said there might be an eventual move toward a more confederal system but “partitioning Iraq … into three independent states is a bit far-fetched, especially in the current situation.”

Massoum began his remarks with a fascinating explanation of how IS – which he called ISIS, for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams – came into being. He said the group began “as a marriage” between nationalist military officers and religious extremists that took place when they were in prison together while the U.S. still occupied Iraq.

The notion of combining Iraq with the Levant – made up of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan – is actually an old Arab nationalist concept, Massoum said.

As for the religious aspects of the movement, Massoum traced that to the so-called Hashishin – users of hashish. This Shiite group, formed in the late 11th century, challenged the then-Sunni rulers of the day, used suicide attacks and were said to be under the influence of drugs. The English word “assassin” derives from the term.

“Many times these terrorist practices [were used] in the name of a religion or a sect,” Massoum said.

He praised the United States for coming to the aid of Iraqis and Kurds against IS and also expressed support for the recent bombing of IS and Jabhat al-Nusra positions in Syria. But Massoum sidestepped repeated questions about whether such strikes would inadvertently bolster the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Hitting ISIS in Syria should not mean this is to support the regime or as a beginning to overthrowing Bashar al-Assad,” Massoum said. “That’s why the attacks are limited.”

Asked about Iraqi relations with Iran and whether the Iraqis and Kurds were serving as go-betweens for the United States and Iran in mutual efforts to degrade IS, Massoum noted Iraq’s historic relations with its neighbour and that Iraq also had common interests with the United States.

“We don’t look at America with Iranian eyes and we don’t look at Iran with American eyes,” Massoum said. He evaded questions about Iran’s military role in Iraq, saying that while he had heard reports that Quds Force Chief Qasem Soleimani had visited the Kurdish region, requests for a meeting were not fulfilled.

As for Iranian military advisers who were said to have helped liberate the town of Amerli and relieve the siege of Mt. Sinjar, Massoum said, there were “many  experts” who had come to help the Kurdish peshmerga forces.

Massoum attributed the collapse of the Iraqi army at Mosul to poor leadership, corruption and decades of setbacks starting with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in 1980. This was followed a decade later by his invasion of Kuwait and subsequent refusal to cooperate with the international community.

“These blows all had an impact on the psychology of the commanders and soldiers,” Massoum said. Iraqi armed forces have gone “from failure to failure.”

The president confirmed that under the new Iraqi government, each governorate will have its own national guard made up of local people. This concept – which may be partly funded by the Saudis and other rich Gulf Arabs – is an attempt to replicate the success of the so-called sons of Iraq by motivating Sunni tribesmen to confront IS as they previously did al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Asked what would happen to Shi’ite militias – which have committed abuses against Sunnis and helped alienate that population from Baghdad – Massum said the militias would eventually have to be shut down but only after the IS threat had been eliminated. He did not indicate how long that might take.

Massum was also asked about reported IS plots against U.S. and French subway systems. Abadi earlier this week made reference to such plots, but U.S. officials said they had no such intelligence.

Iraqi officials accompanying Massoum, who spoke on condition that they not be identified, said Abadi had been misinterpreted and was referring only to the types of attacks IS might mount in the West. Massoum warned, however, that “sleeper cells” in the West as well as in Iraq might be planning terrorist attacks.

Asked about Turkey – which has been reticent about aiding Iraq against IS – Massoum, who met at the U.N. this week with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he expected more help now that 49 Turkish hostages in Mosul have been freed.

Massoum also urged Turkey to do a better job vetting young men who arrive there from Europe and America, and prevent them from reaching border areas and slipping into IS-controlled areas in Syria.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Zero Nuclear Weapons: A Never-Ending Journey Aheadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 07:48:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136907 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 27 2014 (IPS)

When the United Nations commemorated its first ever “international day for the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” the lingering question in the minds of most anti-nuclear activists was: are we anywhere closer to abolishing the deadly weapons or are we moving further and further away from their complete destruction?

Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation, told IPS that with conflicts raging around the world, and the post World War II order crumbling, “We are now standing on the precipice of a new era of great power wars – the potential for wars among nations which cling to nuclear weapons as central to their national security is growing.”

She said the United States-NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) versus Russia conflict over the Ukraine and nuclear tensions in the Middle East, South East Asia, and on the Korean Peninsula “remind us that the potential for nuclear war is ever present.”

"Now disarmament has been turned on its head; by pruning away the grotesque Cold War excesses, nuclear disarmament has, for all practical purposes, come to mean "fewer but newer" weapons systems, with an emphasis on huge long-term investments in nuclear weapons infrastructures and qualitative improvements in the weapons projected for decades to come." -- Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation
Paradoxically, nuclear weapons modernisation is being driven by treaty negotiations understood by most of the world to be intended as disarmament measures.

She said the Cold War and post-Cold War approach to nuclear disarmament was quantitative, based mainly on bringing down the insanely huge cold war stockpile numbers – presumably en route to zero.

“Now disarmament has been turned on its head; by pruning away the grotesque Cold War excesses, nuclear disarmament has, for all practical purposes, come to mean “fewer but newer” weapons systems, with an emphasis on huge long-term investments in nuclear weapons infrastructures and qualitative improvements in the weapons projected for decades to come,” said Cabasso, who co-founded the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons.

The international day for the total elimination of nuclear weapons, commemorated on Nov. 26, was established by the General Assembly in order to enhance public awareness about the threat posed to humanity by nuclear weapons.

There are over 16,000 nuclear weapons in the world, says Alyn Ware, co-founder of UNFOLD ZERO, which organised an event in Geneva in cooperation with the U.N. Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA).

“The use of any nuclear weapon by accident, miscalculation or intent would create catastrophic human, environmental and financial consequences. There should be zero nuclear weapons in the world,” he said.

Alice Slater, New York director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, told IPS despite the welcome U.N. initiative establishing September 26 as the first international day for the elimination of all nuclear weapons, and the UNFOLD ZERO campaign by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to promote U.N. efforts for abolition, “it will take far more than a commemorative day to reach that goal.

Notwithstanding 1970 promises in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to eliminate nuclear weapons, reaffirmed at subsequent review conferences nearly 70 years after the first catastrophic nuclear bombings, 16,300 nuclear weapons remain, all but a thousand of them in the U.S. and Russia, said Slater, who also serves on the Coordinating Committee of Abolition 2000.

She said the New York Times last week finally revealed, on its front page the painful news that in the next ten years the U.S. will spend 355 billion dollars on new weapons, bomb factories and delivery systems, by air, sea, and land.

This would mean projecting costs of one trillion dollars over the next 30 years for these instruments of death and destruction to all planetary life, as reported in recent studies on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear war.

She said disarmament progress is further impeded by the disturbing deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations.

The U.S. walked out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, putting missiles in Poland, Romania and Turkey, with NATO performing military maneuvers in Ukraine and deciding to beef up its troop presence in eastern Europe, breaking U.S. promises to former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev when the Berlin wall fell that NATO would not be expanded beyond East Germany.

Shannon Kile, senior researcher for the Project on Nuclear Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told IPS while the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world has decreased sharply from the Cold War peak, there is little to inspire hope the nuclear weapon-possessing states are genuinely willing to give up their nuclear arsenals.

“Most of these states have long-term nuclear modernisation programmes under way that include deploying new nuclear weapon delivery systems,” he said.

Perhaps the most dismaying development has been the slow disappearance of U.S. leadership that is essential for progress toward nuclear disarmament, Kile added.

Cabasso told IPS the political conditions attached to Senate ratification in the U.S., and mirrored by Russia, effectively turned START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) into an anti-disarmament measure.

She said this was stated in so many words by Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, whose state is home to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, site of a proposed multi-billion dollar Uranium Processing Facility.

“[T]hanks in part to the contributions my staff and I have been able to make, the new START treaty could easily be called the “Nuclear Modernisation and Missile Defense Act of 2010,” Corker said.

Cabasso said the same dynamic occurred in connection with the administration of former U.S. President Bill Clinton who made efforts to obtain Senate consent to ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in the late 1990s.

The nuclear weapons complex and its Congressional allies extracted an administration commitment to add billions to future nuclear budgets.

The result was massive new nuclear weapons research programmes described in the New York Times article.

“We should have learned that these are illusory tradeoffs and we end up each time with bigger weapons budgets and no meaningful disarmament,” Cabasso said.

Despite the 45-year-old commitment enshrined in Article VI of the NPT, there are no disarmament negotiations on the horizon.

While over the past three years there has been a marked uptick in nuclear disarmament initiatives by governments not possessing nuclear weapons, both within and outside the United Nations, the U.S. has been notably missing in action at best, and dismissive or obstructive at worst.

Slater told IPS the most promising initiative to break the log-jam is the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) urging non-nuclear weapons states to begin work on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons just as chemical and biological weapons are banned.

A third conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons will meet in December in Vienna, following up meetings held in Norway and Mexico.

“Hopefully, despite the failure of the NPT’s five recognised nuclear weapons states, (U.S., Russia, UK, France, China) to attend, the ban initiative can start without them, creating an opening for more pressure to honor this new international day for nuclear abolition and finally negotiate a treaty for the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” Slater declared.

In his 2009 Prague speech, Kile told IPS, U.S. President Barack Obama had outlined an inspiring vision for a nuclear weapons-free world and pledged to pursue “concrete steps” to reduce the number and salience of nuclear weapons.

“It therefore comes as a particular disappointment for nuclear disarmament advocates to read recent reports that the U.S. Government has embarked on a major renewal of its nuclear weapon production complex.”

Among other objectives, this will enable the US to refurbish existing nuclear arms in order to ensure their long-term reliability and to develop a new generation of nuclear-armed missiles, bombers and submarines, he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

The writer can be contacted at: thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: How Obama Should Counter ISIShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-how-obama-should-counter-isis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-how-obama-should-counter-isis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-how-obama-should-counter-isis/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 10:52:48 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136896

Emile Nakhleh is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of ‘A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World’.

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

President Obama’s speech at the United Nations on Sep. 23 offered a rhetorically eloquent roadmap on how to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 

He called on Muslim youth to reject the extremist ideology of ISIL (as ISIS is also known) and al-Qa’ida and work towards a more promising future.  President Obama repeated the mantra, which we heard from President George Bush before him, that “the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam.”

There is no argument but that the Islamic State must be defeated.  But is the counter-terrorism roadmap, which President Obama set out in his U.N. speech, sufficient to defeat the extremist ideology of ISIS, Boko Haram, or al-Qa’ida?  Despite U.S. and Western efforts to degrade, decapitate, dismember and defeat these deadly and blood-thirsty groups for almost two decades, radical groups continue to sprout in Sunni Muslim societies."As the United States looks beyond today’s air campaign over Syria and Iraq, U.S. policymakers should realise that ISIS is more than a bunch of jihadists roaming the desert and terrorising innocent civilians. It is an ideology, a vision, a sophisticated social media operation and an army with functioning command and control"

The President also urged the Arab Muslim world to reject sectarian proxy wars, promote human rights and empower their people, including women, to help move their societies forward. He again stated that the situation in Gaza and the West Bank is unsustainable and urged the international community to strive for the implementation of the two-state solution.

The President did not address Muslim youth in Western societies who could be susceptible to recruitment by ISIS, al-Qa’ida, or other terrorist organisations.

Arab publics will likely see glaring contradictions and inconsistencies in the President’s speech between his captivating rhetoric and actual policies. They most likely would view much of what he said, especially his global counter-terrorism strategy against the Islamic State, as another version of America’s war on Islam.  Arabs will also see much hypocrisy in the President’s speech on the issue of human rights and civil society.

Although fighting a perceived common enemy, it is a sad spectacle to see the United States, a champion of human rights, liberty and justice, cosy up to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain, serial violators of human rights and infamous practitioners of repression. It is even more hypocritical when Arab citizens realise that some of these so-called partners have often spread an ideology not much different from what ISIS preaches.

These three regimes in particular have emasculated their civil society and engaged in illegal imprisonment, sham trials and groundless convictions.  They have banned political parties, both Islamic and secular, silenced civil society institutions and prohibited peaceful protests.

The President praised the role of free press, yet Al-Jazeera journalists are languishing in Egyptian jails without any justification whatsoever. The regime continues to hold thousands of political prisoners without indictments or trials.

In addressing the youth in Muslim countries, the President told them: “Where a genuine civil society is allowed to flourish, then you can dramatically expand the alternatives to terror.”

What implications should Arab Muslim youth draw from the President’s invocation of the virtues of civil society when they see that genuine civil society is not “allowed to flourish” in their societies? Do Arab Muslim youth see real “alternatives to terror” when their regimes deny them the most basic human rights and freedoms?

The Sisi regime in Egypt has illegally destroyed the Muslim Brotherhood, and Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have used the spectre of ugly sectarianism to destroy the opposition.  They openly and viciously engage in sectarian conflicts even though the President stated that religious sectarianism underpins regional instability.

In his U.N. speech, Field Marshall Sisi hoped the United States would tolerate his atrocious human rights record in the name of fighting ISIS.

Human Rights Watch and other distinguished experts sent a letter to President Obama asking him to raise the egregious human rights violations in Egypt when he met with Sisi in New York.  He should not give Sisi and other Arab autocrats a pass when it comes to their repression and human rights violations just because they joined the U.S.-engineered “coalition of the willing” against ISIS.

Regardless of how the air campaign against the Islamic State goes, U.S. policymakers will have to begin a serious review of a different Middle East than the one President Barak Obama inherited when he took office.  Many of the articles that have been written about ISIS have warned about the outcome of this war once the dust settles.

Critics correctly wondered whether opinion writers and experts could go beyond “warning” and suggest a course of policy that could be debated and possibly implemented. If the United States “breaks” the Arab world by forming an anti-ISIS ephemeral coalition of Sunni Arab autocrats, Washington will have to “own” what it had broken.

A road map is imperative if a serious conversation is to commence about the future of the Arab Middle East – but not one deeply steeped in counter-terrorism.  The Sunni coalition is a picture-perfect graphic for the evening news, especially in the West, but how should the United States deal with individual Sunni states in the coalition after the bombings stop and ISIS melts into the population?

As the United States looks beyond today’s air campaign over Syria and Iraq, U.S. policymakers should realise that ISIS is more than a bunch of jihadists roaming the desert and terrorising innocent civilians.  It is an ideology, a vision, a sophisticated social media operation and an army with functioning command and control.

Above all, ISIS represents a view of Islam that is not dissimilar to other strict Sunni interpretations of the Muslim faith that could be found across many Muslim countries, from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan. In fact, this narrow-minded, intolerant view of Islam is at the heart of the Wahhabi-Salafi Hanbali doctrine, which Saudi teachers and preachers have spread across the Muslim world for decades.

Nor is this phenomenon unique in the ideological history of Sunni millenarian thinking.  From Ibn Taymiyya in the 13th century to Bin Ladin and Zawahiri in the past two decades, different Sunni groups have emerged on the Islamic landscape preaching ISIS-like ideological variations on the theme of resurrecting the “Caliphate” and re-establishing “Dar al-Islam.”

Although the historical lines separating Muslim regions (“Dar al-Islam” or “Abode of Peace”) from non-Muslim regions (“Dar al-Harb” or “Abode of War”) have almost disappeared in recent decades, ISIS, much like al-Qa’ida, is calling for re-erecting those lines.  Many Salafis in Saudi Arabia are in tune with such thinking.

This is a regressive, backward view, which cannot possibly exist today.  Millions of Muslims have emigrated to non-Muslim societies and integrated into those societies.

If President Obama plans to dedicate the remainder of his term in office to fighting and defeating the Islamic State, he cannot do it by military means alone.  He should:

1.  Tell Al Saud to stop preaching its intolerant doctrine of Islam in Saudi Arabia and revise its textbooks to reflect a new thinking. Saudi and other Muslim scholars should instruct their youth that “jihad” applies to the soul, not to the battlefield.

2.  Tell Sisi to stop his massive human rights violations in Egypt and allow his youth – men and women – the freedom to pursue their economic and political future without state control.  Sisi should also empty his jails of the thousands of political prisoners and invite the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in the political process.

3.  Tell Al Khalifa to end its sectarian war in Bahrain against the Shia majority and invite opposition parties – secular and Islamic – including al-Wifaq, to participate in the upcoming elections freely and without harassment.  Opposition parties should also participate in redrawing the electoral districts before the Nov. 22 elections, which King Hamad has just announced.  International observers should be invited to monitor those elections.

4.  Tell the Benjamin Netanyahu government in Israel that the situation in Gaza and the Occupied Territories is untenable.  Prime Minister Netanyahu should stop building new settlements and work with the Palestinian National Government for a settlement of the conflict. If President Obama concludes, like many scholars in the region, that the two-state solution is no longer workable, he should communicate his view to Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas and strongly encourage them to explore other modalities for the two peoples to live together between the River and the Sea.

If President Obama does not pursue these tangible policies and use his political capital in this endeavour, his U.N. speech will soon be forgotten.  Decapitating and degrading ISIS is possible, but unless Arab regimes move away from autocracy and invest in their peoples’ future, other terrorist groups will emerge.

Over the years, President Obama has delivered memorable speeches on Muslim world engagement, but unless he pushes for new policies in the region, the Arab Middle East will likely implode. Washington would be left holding the bag.  This is not the legacy the President would want to leave behind.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

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Obama Blasts Brutality and Bullying, but Not by Israelhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obama-blasts-brutality-and-bullying-but-not-by-israel/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-blasts-brutality-and-bullying-but-not-by-israel http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obama-blasts-brutality-and-bullying-but-not-by-israel/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 03:04:24 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136882 Abu Mohammed, whose family of 15 lost their home after an Israeli bomb attack, unearths papers from the rubble of a civil government office building in Gaza. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

Abu Mohammed, whose family of 15 lost their home after an Israeli bomb attack, unearths papers from the rubble of a civil government office building in Gaza. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

When U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the U.N. General Assembly Wednesday, he was outspoken in his criticism of Russia for bullying Ukraine, Syria for its brutality towards its own people, and terrorists of all political stripes for the death and destruction plaguing Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Somalia.

But as the New York Times rightly pointed out, Obama made only a “fleeting” reference to Israel and Palestine in his 40-minute speech to the world body.

Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS much of what Obama said about the “brutality” of the Assad regime in Syria and his criticism of “a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another” applies directly to Israel.

"What is remarkable and [bears] mentioning is that despite the tension in the region, despite the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, despite the long and forbidding occupation, despite all this, the Palestinians are yet reasonable and willing to sit and have a debate." -- Vijay Prashad, author of 'Arab Spring, Libyan Winter'
But he simply paid lip service to “the principle” that two states would make the region and the world more just without any indication of what the U.S. might do – or stop doing, she added.

Addressing the U.S. president directly, Hijab said: “Mr. Obama, the world would be a lot more just, if the U.S. just stopped footing the bill for Israel’s gross violations of human rights and international law.”

In his speech, replete with political double standards and hypocrisy, Obama avoided mentioning the killings and devastation caused by Israel with its relentless bombings and air strikes in Gaza – deploying weapons provided mostly by the United States.

“Russian aggression in Europe”, he said, “recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition” (reality check: Israel and its illegal settlements in the occupied territories).

“The brutality of terrorists in Syria and Iraq forces us to look into the heart of darkness” (reality check: the brutality of Israel in Gaza in 2014 and the killings of over 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians).

Each of these problems demands urgent attention. But they are also symptoms of a broader problem – the failure of our international system to keep pace with an interconnected world, he added.

Obama also told delegates there is a vision of the world in which might makes right – a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another (reality check: Israel after the 1967 Six-Day War and its determination to hold onto the spoils of war despite Security Council resolutions to the contrary.)

Obama said: “America stands for something different. We believe that right makes might — that bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones, and that people should be able to choose their own future” (reality check: a U.S.-armed Israel, which used its prodigious military strength to prove might is right).

And these are simple truths, but they must be defended, he added.

Obama also said America is pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue, as part of its commitment to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and pursue the peace and security of a world without them (reality check: Israel, the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons and the U.S.’ refusal or reluctance to push for a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East.).

Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, told IPS it is interesting that Obama wants to insulate the Israel-Palestine conflict from the recent crises in the Middle East.

“Is that possible?” he asked.

“Has Israeli occupation of Palestine not been one of the main points of radicalisation of young people in the region?” asked Prashad, referring to Obama’s concern over the rise in radicalism among youth, specifically in the Middle East.

“What is remarkable and [bears] mentioning is that despite the tension in the region, despite the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, despite the long and forbidding occupation, despite all this, the Palestinians are yet reasonable and willing to sit and have a debate,” said Prashad, author of ‘Arab Spring, Libyan Winter’.

He said there remains, even in psycho-socially battered Gaza, a consensus for a political solution. This the President should have mentioned, he added.

At the conclusion of his speech, Obama said the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza is not sustainable.

“We cannot afford to turn away from this effort – not when rockets are fired at innocent Israelis, or the lives of so many Palestinian children are taken from us in Gaza.”

“So long as I am President, we will stand up for the principle that Israelis, Palestinians, the region and the world will be more just and more safe with two states living side by side, in peace and security,” he added.

Prashad told IPS Obama addressed the rightward turn in Israeli society, and spoke to this toxic social agenda that is against peace and against negotiations.

This second part, which he did say, is very important.

“But it is lessened by the lack of the first point: that the Palestinians remain reasonable despite the war that batters them and the crises around them.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

The writer can be contacted at: thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: ISIS Appeals to a Longing for the Caliphatehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-isis-appeals-to-a-longing-for-the-caliphate/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-isis-appeals-to-a-longing-for-the-caliphate http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-isis-appeals-to-a-longing-for-the-caliphate/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 16:41:09 +0000 Farhang Jahanpour http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136861

In this column, Farhang Jahanpour – former professor and Dean of the Faculty of Languages at the University of Isfahan, who has taught for 28 years in the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Oxford – examines the historical background to the emergence of ISIS and argues that it is basing its appeal on reinstatement of the caliphate.

By Farhang Jahanpour
OXFORD, Sep 24 2014 (IPS)

When, all of a sudden, ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) emerged on the scene and in a matter of days occupied large swathes of mainly Sunni-inhabited parts of Iraq and Syria, including Iraq’s second city Mosul and Tikrit, birthplace of Saddam Hussein, and called itself the Islamic State, many people, not least Western politicians and intelligence services, were taken by surprise.

Farhang Jahanpour

Farhang Jahanpour

Unlike in the Western world, religion still plays a dominant role in people’s lives in the Middle East region. When talking about Sunni and Shia divisions we should not be thinking of the differences between Catholics and Protestants in the contemporary West, but should throw our mind back to Europe’s wars of religion (1524-1648) that proved to be among the most vicious and deadly wars in history.

Just as the Hundred Years’ War in Europe was not based only on religion, the Sunni-Shia conflicts in the Middle East too have diverse causes, but are often intensified by religious differences. At least, various groups use religion as an excuse and as a rallying call to mobilise their forces against their opponents.

Ever since U.S. encouragement of Saudi and Pakistani authorities to organise and use jihadi fighters following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, to the rise of Al Qaeda and the terrorist attacks on Sep. 11, 2001, followed by the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, and military involvement in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria and elsewhere, it seems that the United States has had the reverse effect of the Midas touch, in the sense that whichever crisis the United States has touched has turned to dust.“Now, with the rise of ISIS and other terrorist organisations, the entire Middle East is on fire. It would be the height of folly to dismiss or underestimate this movement as a local uprising that will disappear by itself, and to ignore its appeal to a large number of marginalised and disillusioned Sunni militants”

Now, with the rise of ISIS and other terrorist organisations, the entire Middle East is on fire. It would be the height of folly to dismiss or underestimate this movement as a local uprising that will disappear by itself, and to ignore its appeal to a large number of marginalised and disillusioned Sunni militants.

In view of its ideology, fanaticism, ruthlessness, the territories that it has already occupied, and its regional and perhaps even global ambitions, ISIS can be regarded as the greatest threat since the Second World War and one that could change the map of the Middle East and the post-First World War geography of the entire region, and challenge Western interests in the Persian Gulf and beyond.

When Islam appeared in the deserts of Arabia some 1400 years ago, with an uncompromising message of monotheism and the slogan “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Prophet of God”, it changed the plight of the Arabs in the Arabian Peninsula and formed a religion and a civilisation that even now claims upward of 1.5 billion adherents in all parts of the world, and forms the majority faith in 57 countries that are members of the Islamic Cooperation Organization.

Contrary to many previous prophets who did not see the success of their mission during their own lifetime, in the case of Islam not only did Muhammad manage to unite the Arabs in the name of Islam in the entire Arabian Peninsula, but he even managed to form a state and ruled over the converted Muslims both as their prophet and ruler. The creation of the Islamic umma or community during Muhammad’s lifetime in Medina and later on in the whole of Arabia is a unique occurrence in the history of religion.

Consequently, while most religions look forward to an ideal state or to the “Kingdom of God” as a future aspiration, Muslims look back at the period of Muhammad’s rule in Arabia as the ideal state. Therefore, what a pious Muslim wishes to do is to look back at the life and teachings of the Prophet, and especially his rule in Arabia, and take it as the highest standard of an ideal religious government.

This is why the Salafis, namely those who turn to salaf or the early fathers and ancestors, have always proved so attractive to many fundamentalist Muslims. Being a Salafi is a call to Muslims to reject the modern world and to follow the example of the Prophet and the early caliphs.

When, in 1516-17, the armies of Ottoman Sultan Selim I captured Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Muslim holy places in Arabia, the sultan assumed the title of caliph, and therefore the Ottoman Empire was also regarded a Sunni caliphate.

Although not all Muslims, especially many Arabs, recognise Ottoman rule as a caliphate, the caliphate nevertheless continued in name until the fall of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War when the caliphate was officially abolished in 1922.

The fall of the last powerful Islamic empire was not only traumatic from a political and military point of view but, with the end of the caliphate, the Sunnis lost a unifying religious authority as well.

It is very difficult for many Westerners to understand the feeling of hurt and humiliation that many Sunni Muslims feel as the result of what they have suffered in the past century. To have an idea, they should imagine that a mighty Christian empire that had lasted for many centuries had fallen as the result of Muslim conquest and that, in addition to the loss of the empire, the papacy had also been abolished at the same time.

With the end of the caliphate, Sunni countries were left rudderless, to be divided among various foreign powers which imposed their economic, military and cultural domination, as well as their beliefs and their way of life, on them. The feeling of hurt and humiliation that many Muslims have felt since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and the strong longing for its reinstatement, still continues.

To add insult to injury, before the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Western powers, especially Great Britain, had promised the Arabs that if they would rise up against the Ottomans, after the war they would be allowed to form an Islamic caliphate in the area comprising all the Arab lands ruled by the Ottoman Empire.

Not only were these promises not fulfilled, but as part of the Sykes-Picot_Agreement on 16 May 1916, Britain and France secretly plotted to divide the Arab lands between them and they even promised Istanbul to Russia. Not only was a unified Arab caliphate not formed, but the Balfour_Declaration generously offered a part of Arab territory that Britain did not possess to the Zionists, to form a “national home for the Jewish people”.

In Winston Churchill’s words, Britain sold one piece of real estate (to which it had no claim in the first place) to two people at the same time.

The age of colonialism came to an end almost uniformly through military coups involving officers who had the ability to fight against foreign occupation. From the campaigns of Kemal Ataturk in Turkey, to the rise of Reza Khan in Iran, Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, the military coups in Iraq and Syria that later led to the establishment of the Baâthist governments of Hafiz al-Assad in Syria and Abd al-Karim Qasim, Abdul Salam Arif and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and so on, practically all Middle Eastern countries achieved their independence as the result of military coups.

While the new military leaders managed to establish some order through the barrel of the gun, they were completely ignorant of the historical, religious and cultural backgrounds of their nations and totally alien to any concept of democracy and human rights.

In the absence of any civil society, democratic traditions and social freedom, the only path that was open to the masses that wished to mobilise against the rule of their military dictators was to turn to religion and use the mosques as their headquarters.

The rise of religious movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Ennahda Movement in Tunisia, FIS in Algeria and Al-Dawah in Iraq, were seen as a major threat by the military rulers and were ruthlessly suppressed.

The main tragedy of modern Middle Eastern regimes has been that they have been unable not only to involve the Islamist movements in government, but they have even failed to involve them in the society in any meaningful way.

This is why after repeated defeats, divisions and humiliation, there has always been a longing among militant Sunni Muslims, especially Arabs whose countries were artificially divided and dominated by Western colonialism and later by military dictators, for the revival of the caliphate. Even mere utterance of ‘Islamic caliphate’ brings a burst of adrenaline to many secular Sunnis.

The failure of military dictatorships and the marginalisation and even the elimination of religiously-oriented groups have led to the rise of vicious extremism and terrorism. The terrorist group ISIS is making use of this situation and is basing its appeal on the reinstatement of the caliphate. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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ISIS Complicates Iran’s Nuclear Focus at UNGAhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/isis-complicates-irans-nuclear-focus-at-unga/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=isis-complicates-irans-nuclear-focus-at-unga http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/isis-complicates-irans-nuclear-focus-at-unga/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 22:05:24 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136811 Iranian FM Javad Zarif smiles during a bilateral meeting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sept. 21, 2014 in New York. Photo courtesy of ISNA

Iranian FM Javad Zarif smiles during a bilateral meeting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sept. 21, 2014 in New York. Photo courtesy of ISNA

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

Iran’s foreign minister arrived in New York last week with his sights set on a final deal on Iran’s nuclear programme. But a pressing regional conflict is hanging heavily over the already strained negotiations as Iran and world powers resume talks on the sidelines of this week’s U.N. General Assembly.

A Sep. 21 report by Reuters that Iran was seeking a “give and take” strategy in the talks by using the support it could provide in battling the Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS) as leverage challenged prior U.S. and Iranian insistence that the talks are solely nuclear-focused.

But a senior Iranian official involved in the negotiations told IPS that Iran was not discussing Iraq during talks with the P5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany).“People in Iran can survive with suspension, but they can’t survive with dismantlement.” -- Nuclear security expert Arianne Tabatabai

“We have enough on our plate with the nuclear issue,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity via a Sep. 21 email.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius supported the Iranian official’s comment to IPS during a televised conference held in New York today by the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR).

“The Iranians did not ask us to have a melange [bring ISIS into the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme]…these were different questions,” he said.

Mixed Signals

Whether or not the crisis posed by ISIS has become an issue in the nuclear negotiations, Iran appears to be exploring various avenues to combat the Sunni extremist group’s advance through parts of Syria and Iraq.

Although Iran and Saudi Arabia have traditionally maintained cold relations—the Shia and Sunni countries both seek regional dominance—the threat posed by ISIS could bring them closer together.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called a Sep. 21 hour-long meeting with his Saudi counterpart in New York a “new chapter in relations,” according to the state news agency, IRNA.

“We can reach agreement on ways for countering this very sensitive crisis,” he said.

But Iranian and U.S. officials have publicly oscillated over the extent to which Iran could work with other powers in battling ISIS.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei strongly denied a Sep. 5 BBC Persian report that he had approved military cooperation with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS in Iraq.

For its part, the United States excluded Iran from an U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition meeting in Paris.

Four days later, Secretary of State John Kerry said Iran had a “role” to play in “decimating and discrediting” the group at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Iraq.

All the while, Iranian officials have discussed ISIS with their U.S. counterparts on the sidelines of the nuclear talks—though both deny military coordination—and provided material and logistical support to some of the same parties battling ISIS in Iraq.

While Zarif ridiculed the U.S.-led group during a Sep. 17 CFR conference as a “coalition of repenters” for allegedly aiding and abetting ISIS’s rise, he also said Iran would continue supporting the Iraqi government’s fight against ISIS.

“We don’t hesitate in providing support to our friends, to deal with this menace,” he said.

“The U.S. is not desperate for Iran’s help” and cooperating with Tehran could “complicate the nuclear negotiations and be a political headache for the Obama administration,” Alireza Nader, a senior analyst at the RAND Corporation’s U.S. headquarters, told IPS.

“While some level of tacit U.S.-Iran understanding in Iraq cannot be entirely ruled out, the Iranian government should not over-estimate its leverage on the nuclear issue,” said Nader.

Dismantlement vs. Suspension

While both sides have said a final deal by the Nov. 24 deadline for the negotiations is possible, the talks appear stymied by certain sticking points, especially the future of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme.

Iran wants to maintain enough centrifuges and other nuclear infrastructure to be self-reliant and reach an industrial scale by 2021, but the U.S. wants Iran to scale back its current programme.

“The status quo is not doable for any of us,” said a senior U.S. official during on the condition of anonymity Sep. 18.

But Zarif argued last week that instead of achieving policy goals, U.S.-led sanctions on Iran have resulted in a “net outcome” of more Iranian centrifuges.

“If at the time of the imposition of sanctions, we had less than a couple of hundred centrifuges, now we have about 20,000,” said Zarif on Sep. 17.

While the U.S. has agreed to some enrichment in Iran, the Israeli government has been pushing for complete dismantlement, which Iran says is impossible.

Iran has invested too much in its nuclear programme to dismantle it, according to nuclear security expert Arianne Tabatabai.

“Iran will have to give up certain things to reach a deal, and already has under [last year’s interim deal the Joint Plan of Action], but when you start talking about dismantlement, people react,” she said. “It’s a bit of a red line.”

Until now, the negotiating parties have been surprisingly tight-lipped about the details of their talks, which helped stave off domestic criticism. But that trend appears to have been broken.

A “face-saving” proposal reported Sep. 19 by the New York Times would allow Iran to suspend rather than dismantle its centrifugal operations, but has been publicly opposed by U.S. and Iranian politicians not involved in the talks.

A group of 31 Republican senators warned against the U.S. “offering troubling nuclear concessions to Iran” to rapidly reach a deal in a Sep. 19 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.

Back in Tehran several members of the Iranian parliament rejected the proposal, according to a report Monday in the hard-line Fars News Agency.

“If such a proposal is formally presented by American officials, it indicates their childish outlook on the negotiations or stupid assumptions of the Iranian side,” said Hossein Sheikholeslam, a deputy to the speaker of parliament.

A group of conservative MPs also held a conference today in Tehran against U.S.-Iran rapproachment. The participants said a potential meeting between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and U.S. President Barack Obama in New York would be an “inappropriate act.”

Rouhani met with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who wished Rouhani success in his diplomatic initiatives, before the president departed for New York last night.

Rouhani will address the U.N. General Assembly on Sep. 25.

Tabatabai told IPS that while Iran may not be desperate for a deal, both sides want a final agreement and reports of creative solutions to the standoff demonstrate “the political will is there.”

“People in Iran can survive with suspension, but they can’t survive with dismantlement,” she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Geographical Divide in Maternal Health for Syrian Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/geographical-divide-in-maternal-health-for-syrian-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=geographical-divide-in-maternal-health-for-syrian-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/geographical-divide-in-maternal-health-for-syrian-refugees/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 15:17:22 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136741 A young mother approaches a healthcare facility inside the Domiz refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, mid-September 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

A young mother approaches a healthcare facility inside the Domiz refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, mid-September 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
DOHUK, Iraq, Sep 19 2014 (IPS)

At the largest refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, young Syrian mothers and pregnant women are considered relatively lucky.

The number of registered Syrian refugees surpassed 3 million in late August, with the highest concentrations in Lebanon (over 1.1 million), Turkey (over 800,000), and Jordan (over 600,000). In all of the above, serious concerns have been expressed about the availability of healthcare services for expectant mothers.

In Lebanon, for example – which hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees, 76 percent of whom are women and children – the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) last year had to reduce its coverage of delivery costs for mothers to 75 percent instead of 100 percent, due to funding shortfalls.Though some in the Domiz camp live in tents on the edges of the camp with little access to basic sanitation facilities, others reside in small container-like facilities interspersed with wedding apparel shops and small groceries, and enjoy the right to public healthcare

The Domiz camp in the northern Dohuk province houses over 100,000 mostly Syrian Kurds, but is in a geographical area with a 189 percent coverage rate of humanitarian aid funding requests in 2014. The Syria Humanitarian Response Plan (SHARP) has received only 33 percent of the same.

Though some in the Domiz camp live in tents on the edges of the camp with little access to basic sanitation facilities, others reside in small container-like facilities interspersed with wedding apparel shops and small groceries, and enjoy the right to public healthcare.

This does not necessarily equate with quality healthcare, however. Halat Yousef, a young mother that IPS spoke to in Domiz, said that she had been told after a previous birth in Syria that she would need a caesarean section for any subsequent births.

On her arrival at the Dohuk public hospital, she was instead refused a bed, told to come back in a week and that she would have to give birth normally. They also told her she had hepatitis.

Fortunately, she said, her husband realised the seriousness of the situation and took her to the capital, where they immediately performed a C-section and found that she was instead negative for hepatitis. IPS met her as she was leaving healthcare facilities set up in the camp, holding her healthy 10-day-old infant.

Until recently, many mothers would also simply give birth in their tents. On August 4, Médicins San Frontiéres (MSF) opened a maternity unit in the camp that offers ante-natal check-ups, birthing services headed by MSF-trained midwives and post-natal vaccinations provided by staff who are also refugees.

Information on breastfeeding and family planning advice is also provided, according to MSF’s medical team leader in the camp, Dr Adrian Guadarrama.

MSF estimates that 2,100 infants are born in the camp every year, and others to refugees living outside of it.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has long been providing safe delivery kits to healthcare providers. It also works to prevent unwanted pregnancies and provides contraceptives to those requesting them, thereby ensuring that pregnancies are planned, wanted and safer.

The clean delivery kits contain a bar of soap, a clear plastic sheet for the woman to lie on, a razor blade for cutting the umbilical cord, a sterilised umbilical cord tie, a cloth (to keep the mother and baby warm) and latex gloves.

UNFPA humanitarian coordinator Wael Hatahet told IPS that so far the programmes in Iraqi Kurdistan for Syrian refugees had received enough funding to cover the necessary services, and this was why ‘’the situation is no longer an emergency one for Syrians here’’.

Hatahet said that he gives a good deal of credit to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which – despite having seen a major cut in public funds from the central government as part of a prolonged tug-of-war between the two – continues to support Syrian refugees coming primarily from the fellow Kurdish regions across the border.

Many residents expressed dissatisfaction to IPS about what they considered ‘’privileged treatment’’ given to Syrian refugees while the massive influx of internally displaced persons (IDPs) that have arrived in the region over the past few months – after the Islamic State (IS) extremist group took over vast swathes of Iraqi territory in June – are seen to be suffering a great deal more.

Even Hatahet, who is of Syrian origins himself, noted that he had seen ‘’Iraqi IDPs wearing the same set of clothes for the past 15 days’’.

‘’We obviously try to support with garments and dignity kits,’’ he said, ‘’but it’s really, really sad.’’

However, he also noted that ‘’almost all the IDP operations are supported by the Saudi Fund [for Development]’’ totalling some 500 million dollars and announced in summer, ‘’which was strictly for IDPs and not refugees.’’

Hatahet expressed concerns that a broader shift in focus to Iraqi IDPs might result in a loss of the gains made in this geographical area of the Syrian refugee crisis, urging the international community to remember that ‘’we have 100,000 refugees scattered within the host community’’ and not just in the camps.

The Turkish office of UNFPA told IPS that, in its area of operations, ‘’it is estimated that about 1.3 million Syrian refugees have entered Turkey, of which only one-fifth of them are staying in camps due to limited space. 75 percent of the refugees are women and children under 18 years old.’’

It pointed out that ‘’women and girls of reproductive age under conditions of war and displacement are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, including sexual violence, early and forced marriage, high-risk pregnancies, unsafe abortions, risky deliveries, lack of family planning services and commodities and sexually transmitted diseases.’’

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Fighting ISIS and the Morning Afterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-fighting-isis-and-the-morning-after/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-fighting-isis-and-the-morning-after http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-fighting-isis-and-the-morning-after/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 13:14:53 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136715 Protesters in Ahrar Square in the Iraqi city of Mosul, January 2013. Credit: Beriwan Welat/IPS

Protesters in Ahrar Square in the Iraqi city of Mosul, January 2013. Credit: Beriwan Welat/IPS

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

As the wobbly anti-ISIS coalition is being formed with American prodding, the Obama administration should take a strategic look at the future of the Arab world beyond the threat posed by the self-declared Islamic State. Otherwise, the United States would be unprepared to deal with the unintended chaos.

Driven by ideological hubris, the Bush administration on the eve of the Iraq war rejected any suggestions that the war could destabilise the whole region and rock the foundations of the Arab nation-state system.Invading Iraq was a “dumb” war. Chasing after ISIS in the Iraqi/Syrian desert without a clear vision of the endgame could result in something far worse.

That system, which was mostly created under the colonial Sykes-Picot treaty of 1916, is now being severely stressed. The Obama administration should avoid repeating the tragic mistake of its predecessor. While trying to halt the advance of ISIS by focused airstrikes, and regardless of the coalition’s effectiveness in “degrading” and “defeating” ISIS, President Obama should instruct his senior policymakers to explore possible architectures that could emerge from the ashes of Sykes-Picot.

The stresses and fault lines we are witnessing in the region today could easily lead to implosions tomorrow. Rightly or wrongly, Washington would be blamed for the ensuing mayhem.

As Secretary of State John Kerry shuttles between countries chasing the elusive coalition to fight ISIS, the administration seems to be unclear even about terminology. Is it a war or a multifaceted counter-terrorism strategy against ISIS? Whatever it’s called, if this strategy fails to eradicate the Islamic State and its Caliphate, is there a “Plan B” in the making?

Briefing senior policymakers on the eve of the Iraq war, I pointed out the possible unintended consequences of the invasion. George Tenet, former CIA director, alludes to several of these briefings in his book, “At the Center of the Storm.”

One of the briefings discussed the possibility that the Iraq invasion could fundamentally unsettle the 100-year old Arab nation-state system. National identity politics, which heretofore has been managed and manipulated by autocratic regimes—tribal, dynastic, monarchical, and presidential—could unravel if the Bush administration failed to anticipate what could happen following Saddam’s demise.

The artificiality of much of those states and their boundaries would come unhinged under the pressures of the invasion and the unleashing of internal forces that have been dormant. National loyalties would be replaced by religious and sectarian affiliations, and the Shia-Sunni disputes that go back to the 7th century would once again rise to the surface albeit with more violence and bloodshed.

The briefings also emphasised Iraq’s central Islamic dilemma. While for many Sunni Muslims Baghdad represents the golden age of Islam more than 1,200 years ago, Iraq is also the cradle of Shia Islam.

Najaf and Karbala in southern Iraq are sacred for the Shia world because it was there where the fourth Caliph Ali’s son Hussein was “martyred” and buried. Iran, as the self-proclaimed voice of Shia Islam all over the world, is deeply embedded in Iraq and will always demand a central role in the future of Iraq.

Bush administration senior policymakers ignored these warnings, arguing Iraqis and other Muslim Arabs would view American and coalition forces as “liberators” and, once the dictator fell, would work together in a spirit of tolerance, inclusion, and compromise. This view, unfortunately, was grounded in the neocons’ imagined ideological perception of the region. As we now know, it was utterly ignorant of ground truths and the social fabric of the different Arab Islamic societies.

Many Bush White House and Defense Department policymakers generally dismissed briefings that focused on the “morning after.” It’s safe to say they cared less about the post-Saddam Middle East than about toppling the dictator.

The region still suffers from those disastrous policies.

ISIS did not emerge in a vacuum, and its transnational ideology, warped as it may be, seems to appeal to Arabs and Muslims who have become disenchanted with the existing political order in Arab lands.

Many citizens view their states as fiefdoms of the ruling elites with no genuine respect for individual rights, personal freedoms, and human dignity. The “securitisation” of politics has alienated many young Arabs and is driving them toward extremism.

If the borders between Syria and Iraq are erased by the transnational “Caliphate,” what will become of the borders of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq? Is the Obama administration ready to pick up the pieces when these nation-states disintegrate?

These are the critical questions the Bush administration should have pondered and answered before they invaded Iraq. They are the same questions the Obama administration should ponder and answer before unleashing American air power over the skies of the Levant.

Invading Iraq was a “dumb” war. Chasing after ISIS in the Iraqi/Syrian desert without a clear vision of the endgame could result in something far worse.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

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Nuclear Deal with Iran Likely to Enhance U.S. Regional Leveragehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/nuclear-deal-with-iran-likely-to-enhance-u-s-regional-leverage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-deal-with-iran-likely-to-enhance-u-s-regional-leverage http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/nuclear-deal-with-iran-likely-to-enhance-u-s-regional-leverage/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 00:05:48 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136706 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

A successful agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme could significantly enhance U.S. leverage and influence throughout the Greater Middle East, according to a new report signed by 31 former senior U.S. foreign-policy officials and regional experts and released here Wednesday.

The 115-page report, “Iran and Its Neighbors: Regional Implications for U.S. Policy of a Nuclear Agreement,” argues that a nuclear accord would open the way towards co-operation between the two countries on key areas of mutual concern, including stabilising both Iraq and Afghanistan and even facilitating a political settlement to the bloody civil war in Syria.The study comes amidst what its authors called a “tectonic shift” in the Middle East triggered in major part by the military successes of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL).

“A comprehensive nuclear agreement would enable the United States to perceive [regional] priorities without every lens being colored by that single issue,” according to the report, the latest in a series published the last several years by the New York-based Iran Project, which has sponsored high-level informal exchanges with Iran since it was founded in 2002.

“If the leaders of the United States and Iran are prepared to take on their domestic political opponents’ opposition to the agreement now taking shape, then their governments can turn to the broader agenda of regional issues,” concluded the report, whose signatories included former U.S. National Security Advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, as well as more than a dozen former top-ranking diplomats,

Conversely, failure to reach an accord between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany) could result in “Iran’s eventual acquisition of a nuclear weapons, a greatly reduced chance of defeating major threats elsewhere in the region, and even war,” the study warned.

The report comes as negotiations over a comprehensive nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 are set to formally resume in New York Thursday, as diplomats from around the world gather for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, which will be addressed by both Presidents Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani, among other world leaders, next week.

The parties have set a Nov. 24 deadline, exactly one year after they signed a Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) in Geneva that eased some economic sanctions against Tehran in exchange for its freezing or rolling back key elements of its nuclear programme.

While the two sides have reportedly agreed in principle on a number of important issues, there remain large gaps between them, particularly with respect to proposed limits on the size of Iran’s uranium-enrichment programme and their duration.

The study also comes amidst what its authors called a “tectonic shift” in the Middle East triggered in major part by the military successes of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL), a development that has been greeted by virtually all of the region’s regimes, as well as the U.S. — which is trying to patch together an international coalition against the Sunni extremist group — as a major threat.

“The rise of ISIS has reinforced Iran’s role in support of the government in Iraq and raises the possibility of U.S.-Iran cooperation in stabilizing Iraq even before a nuclear agreement is signed,” according to the report which nonetheless stressed that any agreement should impose “severe restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities… [to reduce] the risks that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons.”

Still, the thrust of the report, which includes individual essays by recognised experts on Iran’s relations with seven of its neighbours, focuses on how Washington’s interests in the region could be enhanced by “parallel and even joint U.S. and Iran actions” after an agreement is reached.

Such co-operation would most probably begin in dealing with ISIL in Iraq whose government is supported by both Washington and Tehran.

Indeed, as noted by Paul Pillar, a former top CIA Middle East analyst, both countries have recently taken a number of parallel steps in Iraq, notably by encouraging the removal of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and by taking separate military actions – U.S. airstrikes and Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) advisers — to help break ISIL’s months-long siege of the town of Amerli.

“There’s ample potential here for more communication on a source of very high concern to both of us,” Pillar said at the report’s release at the Wilson Center here. “[The Iranians] see the sources of instability in Iraq; they see it is not in their interest to have unending instability [there].”

A second area of mutual interest is Afghanistan, from which U.S. and NATO troops are steadily withdrawing amidst growing concerns about the ability of government’s security forces to hold the Taliban at bay.

While it is no secret that the U.S. and Iran worked closely together in forging the government and constitution that were adopted after coalition forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001, noted Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert who after the 9/11 attacks served in senior positions at the State Department and later the U.N., “what’s not as well known is that the IRGC worked closely on the ground with the CIA and U.S. Special Forces” during that campaign.

With political tensions over recent election results between the two main presidential candidates and their supporters on the rise, according to Rubin, some co-operation between Iran and the U.S. is likely to be “very important” to ensure political stability.

“A nuclear agreement would open the way for a diplomatic and political process that would make it possible to retain some of the important gains we have made in Afghanistan over the past 13 years,” he said.

As for Syria, Iran, as one of President Bashar Al-Assad’s two main foreign backers, must be included in any efforts to achieve a political settlement, according to the report. Until now, it has been invited to participate only as an observer, largely due to U.S. and Saudi opposition.

“The Iranians are not wedded to …the continuation of the Baathist regime,” said Frank Wisner, who served as ambassador to Egypt and India, among other senior posts in his career. In talks with Iranian officials he said he had been struck by “the degree to which they feel themselves over-stretched,” particularly now that they are more involved in Iraq.

The report anticipates considerable resistance by key U.S. regional allies to any rapprochement with Iran that could follow a nuclear agreement, particularly from Israel, which has been outspoken in its opposition to any accord that would permit Iran to continue enriching uranium.

“It goes without saying that this is of primordial importance to Israel,” noted Thomas Pickering, who has co-chaired the Iran Project and served as U.S. ambassador to Israel and the U.N., among other top diplomatic posts.

Washington must make it clear to Israel and its supporters here that an agreement “would certainly improve prospects for tranquillity in the region” and that it would be a “serious mistake” for Israel to attack Iran, as it has threatened to do, while an agreement is in force, he said.

Washington must also take great pains to reassure Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-led Gulf states that a nuclear agreement will not come at their expense, according to the report.

“Such reassurance might require a period of increased U.S. military support and a defined U.S. presence (such as the maintenance of bases in the smaller Gulf States and of military and intelligence cooperation with the GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council) states),” the report said.

“Riyadh would be willing to explore a reduction of tensions with Tehran if the Saudis were more confident of their American ally,” the report said.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Launches Ambitious Humanitarian Plan for Gazahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/un-launches-ambitious-humanitarian-plan-for-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-launches-ambitious-humanitarian-plan-for-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/un-launches-ambitious-humanitarian-plan-for-gaza/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 16:07:45 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136688 Palestinian families take shelter at an UNRWA school in Gaza City, after evacuating their homes in the northern Gaza Strip, July 2014. UNRWA has now launched a humanitarian reconstruction programme. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

Palestinian families take shelter at an UNRWA school in Gaza City, after evacuating their homes in the northern Gaza Strip, July 2014. UNRWA has now launched a humanitarian reconstruction programme. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees has launched an ambitious recovery plan for Gaza following the 50-day devastating war between Hamas and Israel which has left the coastal territory decimated.

However, the successful implementation of this plan requires enormous international funding as well as a long-term ceasefire to enable the lifting of the joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the territory.

“We are working on a 24-month plan aimed at 70 percent of Gaza’s population who are refugees but this will only be possible if the blockade is lifted and construction materials and other goods are allowed into Gaza,” Chris Gunness, spokesman for the UN Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA), told IPS.

“Taxpayers are being asked once again to fund the reconstruction of Gaza and at this point there are no security guarantees, so a permanent ceasefire is essential if we are not to return to the repetitive cycle of destruction and then reconstruction,” Gunness said.“If Gaza is to recover and Gazans are to have any hope for the future, it is vital that the international community intervenes to help those Gazan civilians who have and continue to pay the highest price” – Chris Gunness, UNRWA spokesman

The attack on Gaza, euphemistically code-named “Operation Protective Edge” by the Israelis, now stands as the most severe military campaign against Gaza since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967.

“The devastation caused this time is unprecedented in recent memory. Parts of Gaza resemble an earthquake zone with 29 km of damaged infrastructure,” said Gunness.

Following the ceasefire, the Palestinian death toll stood at 2,130 and more than 11,000 injured.

Over 18,000 housing units were destroyed, four hospitals and five clinics were closed due to severe damage, while 17 of Gaza’s 32 hospitals and 45 of 97 its primary health clinics were substantially damaged. Reconstruction is estimated to cost over 7 billion dollars.

According to UNRWA, 22 schools were completely destroyed and 118 damaged during Israeli bombardments, while many higher education facilities were damaged.

Some 110,000 displaced Gazans remain in UN emergency shelters or with host families, according to UNRWA.

The reconstruction of shelters alone will cost over 380 million dollars, 270 million of which relates to Palestinian refugees.

According to the Palestinian Federation of Industries, 419 businesses and workshops were damaged, with 129 completely destroyed.

“We have a two-year plan in place which addresses the spectrum of Palestinian needs. Currently we have 300 engineers on the ground in Gaza assessing reconstruction needs,” Gunness told IPS.

Palestinian boy inspecting the remains of a house which was destroyed during an air strike in Central Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, July 2014. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

Palestinian boy inspecting the remains of a house which was destroyed during an air strike in Central Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, July 2014. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

UNRWA’s strategic approach has been divided into the relief period, the early recovery period and the recovery period of up to four months following the cessation of hostilities.

“The relief period, which will continue for the next four months, involves urgent humanitarian intervention including providing shelter, food and medical needs for displaced Gazans,” said the UNTWA spokesman.

“The early recovery period will continue for the next year and will address the critical needs of the population such as repairing damage to environmental infrastructure, restoring UNRWA facilities and supplementary assistance for livelihood provisioning.

“The recovery period will last for two years and will focus on the impact of the conflict through a sustainable livelihoods programme promoting self-sufficiency and completing the transition of UNRWA emergency and extended-stay shelters back to intended use and full operational capacity.”

One thrust of UNRWA’s programme will focus on protection, gender and disability. The increased numbers of female-headed households and households with disabled men is having an impact on unemployment patterns.

“Women are the primary caregivers and are closely linked to homes and the psychological trauma being exhibited by children. Furthermore, there have already been signs of increased gender-based violence,” explained Gunness.

“We want to focus on raising awareness of domestic violence, how to deal with violence in the home and building healthy and equal relationships through our gender empowerment programme.”

The UN agency will also address food distribution by providing minimum caloric requirements through basic food commodities, including bread, corned beef or tuna, dairy products and fresh vegetables. Non-food items provided include hygiene kits and water tanks for 42,000 families.

Emergency repairs to shelters are also being undertaken with 70 percent more homes destroyed or damaged than during the 2008-2009 hostilities. Emergency cash assistance for refugee families to meet a range of basic needs is also being distributed.

“Due to the enormous damage done to hospitals and health facilities, UNRWA has so far established 22 health points to provide basic health services to the sick and wounded, and health teams have been deployed to monitor key health issues,” noted Gunness.

The psychological impact of the war is another area that concerns UNRWA.  “There isn’t a person in Gaza who hasn’t been affected by the war. In consultation with UNRWA’s Community Health Programme, we have hired additional counsellors and youth coordinators who will provide a range of services to groups and individuals.”

“If Gaza is to recover and Gazans are to have any hope for the future,” said Gunness, “it is vital that the international community intervenes to help those Gazan civilians who have and continue to pay the highest price.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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U.S. Ground Troops Possible in Anti-ISIS Battlehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-ground-troops-possible-in-anti-isis-battle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-ground-troops-possible-in-anti-isis-battle http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-ground-troops-possible-in-anti-isis-battle/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 12:28:21 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136671 General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Credit: DoD/public domain

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Credit: DoD/public domain

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

U.S. combat troops may be deployed against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) if the strategy announced by President Barack Obama last week fails to make substantial progress against the radical Sunni group, Washington’s top military officer warned here Tuesday.

The statement by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, delivered during testimony before a key Congressional committee, suggested for the first time that the administration may substantially broaden military operations in Iraq beyond air strikes and advising Iraqi and Kurdish forces far from the front lines.As long as Saudi Arabia and Iran do not make common cause, any coalition to combat Islamist fanatics will be half-hearted at best and unrooted in the region at worst." -- Amb. Chas Freeman (ret.)

“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific targets, I will recommend that to the president,” Dempsey told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“At this point, his [Obama’s] stated policy is we will not have U.S. ground forces in direct combat,” he said. “But he has told me as well to come back to him on a case-by-case basis.”

Dempsey’s remarks, which came as Congress appeared poised to approve a pending 500-million-dollar request to train and equip Syrian rebels committed to fighting ISIS, as well as the government of President Bashar al-Assad, appeared certain to fuel doubts about Obama’s plans, particularly given his promise last week that U.S. forces “will not have a combat mission.”

“We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq,” he declared in last week’s nationally televised speech in which he also pledged to build an international coalition, including NATO and key regional and Sunni-led Arab states, to fight ISIS forces in both Iraq and Syria.

While Secretary of State John Kerry has since gathered public endorsements for the administration’s strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, notably at a meeting of Arab states in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, last week and from a larger group of nations in Paris Sunday, scepticism over the strength and effectiveness of such a coalition appears to have deepened.

Although Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and France appear committed to provide some air support to anti-ISIS operations, several key allies, including Britain, have remained non-committal about their willingness to help with military operations.

Turkey, whose army is the largest and most potent in the region and whose porous borders with ISIS-controlled regions in eastern Syria have been fully exploited by the group, has been particularly disappointing to officials here.

Despite repeated appeals, for example, Ankara has reportedly refused to permit U.S. military aircraft to use its strategically located Incirlik air base for carrying out anything but humanitarian missions in or over Iraq, insisting that any direct involvement in the campaign against ISIS would jeopardise the lives of dozens of Turkish diplomats seized by the group at Ankara’s consulate in Aleppo earlier this year.

Critics of Washington’s strategy are also concerned that Kerry may have reduced the chances for co-operation with another potentially key anti-ISIS ally – Iran – which he explicitly excluded from participation in any international coalition due to its support for Assad and its alleged status as a “state sponsor of terror”.

While Kerry Monday said Washington remained open to “communicating” with Tehran — which, along among the regional powers, has provided arms and advisers to both Kurdish and Iraqi forces — about its efforts against ISIS, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who earlier this month reportedly authorised limited co-operation over ISIS, ridiculed the notion, insisting that it was Iran who had rebuffed Washington.

But Kerry’s exclusion of Iran from the anti-ISIS coalition, according to experts here, was motivated primarily by threats by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to drop out if Tehran were included – a reflection not only of the ongoing Sunni-Shi’a conflict in the region, especially in the Syrian civil war, but also of the difficulty Washington faces in persuading governments with widely differing interests to unite behind a common cause.

“Leaving Iran out of the collective effort to contain and eventually destroy ISIS, especially after what happened in Amerli [a town whose siege by ISIS was eventually broken by a combination of U.S. airpower and Iranian-backed militias and Iraqi troops], defies logic and sanity and cannot be explained away by anyone in Iran,” noted Farideh Farhi, an Iran specialist at the University of Hawaii.

“It suggests to many [in Iran] that the fear of legitimising Iran’s role in regional security continues to be a driving force in U.S. foreign policy,” she told IPS in an email exchange.

Indeed, the success of Obama’s strategy may well depend less on U.S. military power than on his ability to reconcile and reassure key regional actors, including Iran.

“To have any hope of success, America’s do-it-yourself approach needs to be replaced with an effort to facilitate co-operation between the region’s great Muslim powers,” according to Amb. Chas Freeman (ret.), who served as Washington’s chief envoy to Riyadh during the first Gulf War.

“… As long as Saudi Arabia and Iran do not make common cause, any coalition to combat Islamist fanatics will be half-hearted at best and unrooted in the region at worst,” he told IPS.

Despite these difficult diplomatic challenges faced by Obama, most of the scepticism here revolves around his military strategy, particularly its reliance on air power and the absence of effective ground forces that can take and hold territory, especially in predominantly Sunni areas of both western and north-central Iraq and eastern Syria.

While U.S. officials believe that Kurdish peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army – with Iranian-backed Shi’a militias – can, with U.S. and allied air support, roll back most of ISIS’s more-recent gains in Iraq, it will take far more time to wrest control of areas, including cities like Fallujah and Ramadi, which the group has effectively governed for months.

Obama announced last week that he was sending nearly 500 more military personnel to Iraq, bringing the total U.S. presence there to around 1,600 troops, most of whom are to serve as trainers and advisers both for the peshmerga and the Iraqi army.

According to Dempsey, however, these troops have not yet been authorised to accompany local forces into combat or even to act as spotters for U.S. aircraft.

As for Syria, Washington plans to train and equip some 5,000 members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a fractious coalition of “moderate” fighters who have been increasingly squeezed and marginalised by both pro-government forces and ISIS and who have often allied themselves with other Islamist groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate.

It will take at least eight months, however, before that force can take the field, according to Dempsey and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel. Even then, they said, such a force will be unable “to turn the tide” of battle. Dempsey’s said he hoped that Sunni-led Arab countries would provide special operations forces to support the FSA, although none has yet indicated a willingness to do so.

Hawks, such as Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have argued that these plans are insufficient to destroy ISIS in either country.

Some neo-conservative defence analysts, such as Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations and Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, have called for as many as 25,000 U.S. ground troops, including thousands of Special Forces units to work with “moderate” Sunni forces, to be deployed to both countries in order to prevail. They have also warned against any co-operation with either Iran or Assad in the fight against ISIS.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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FILM: From Hamas Royalty to Israel’s Spyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/film-from-hamas-royalty-to-israels-spy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=film-from-hamas-royalty-to-israels-spy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/film-from-hamas-royalty-to-israels-spy/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 14:31:36 +0000 Mitchell Plitnick http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136630 In the past few years, Mosab has become something of a minor celebrity on right-wing and fundamentalist Christian talk shows. His message varies, but his target is often Islam in general.

In the past few years, Mosab has become something of a minor celebrity on right-wing and fundamentalist Christian talk shows. His message varies, but his target is often Islam in general.

By Mitchell Plitnick
WASHINGTON, Sep 15 2014 (IPS)

The son of one of the founders of the biggest Palestinian militant group decides to work with Israel. He spends a decade working undercover with the Israeli security service, the Shin Bet, thwarting dozens of Palestinian attacks and contributing significantly to the arrest or elimination of dozens of leading Palestinian militants.

This sounds like the makings of a Hollywood big budget spy thriller. In fact, it is the plot of a documentary, “The Green Prince,” based on the autobiography of Mosab Hassan Yousef."As long as Hamas is digging tunnels and promoting extremism, I don’t see how anyone can co-exist with this type of danger.” -- Mosab Hassan Yousef

Yousef and his handler in the Shin Bet, Gonen Ben Yitzhak, narrate the film, which somewhat frenetically throws together surveillance footage and live interviews. Although the film tries to focus on the growing bond between Ben Yitzhak, “The Handler”, and Yousef, “The Asset,” there is an underlying tension in the film that is only partially due to the sense of overwhelming danger that Yousef faced on a daily basis.

The most obvious question that is raised by the film is “how does the son of Hassan Yousef, who helped found Hamas and is one of its most prominent leaders to this day, become a spy for Israel?”

The film itself offers only a very succinct answer to this question. As a youth, Mosab was arrested by Israel and was tortured in his interrogation, which was also when he was identified as a potential mole.

He was then sent to prison, where he witnessed far worse torture by Hamas activists, including murder, against fellow Palestinians they suspected might be Israeli agents. This, he said, convinced him to take up the Shin Bet’s offer to work for them.

Indeed, it seems that Mosab’s disillusionment with the Palestinian leadership runs much deeper than just antipathy toward Hamas. In the film, Hamas is the focus, but in the wake of Israel’s recent devastation of the Gaza Strip, the absence of the difficulties of occupation in the film is even more keenly felt. Yet Mosab very much holds to the Israeli view of recent events.

“Palestinians can continue to export their internal problems and blame Israel, but at the end of the day, they have bigger problems than occupation,” he told IPS. “There is corruption, greed, and mismanagement; those are actual enemies of Palestinian people.

“If they can come to a higher conscience where they can see violence is not the way, but negotiations and co-existence is the higher path to achieve their freedom, then the international community will trust them and build bridges. But as long as Hamas is digging tunnels and promoting extremism, I don’t see how anyone can co-exist with this type of danger.”

In fact, in the past few years, Mosab has become something of a minor celebrity on right-wing and fundamentalist Christian talk shows. His message varies, but his target is often Islam in general.

In 2010, on the Canadian news show, Power and Politics, Mosab told a shocked host that “The problem is much bigger than Hamas, the problem is in the God of Islam…he is a god of torture, he is the deceit god, this is what he talks (sic) about himself.”

More recently, on Sep. 6, in the aftermath of the massive destruction by Israel in Gaza, Mosab told Fox News that “I recommend that we stop saying ISIS, this is the Islamic State, this is the Islamic dream, and this is the manifestation of the Qur’anic verses on the ground.”

This echoes the views he has espoused several times as a guest on the far-right wing Sean Hannity show.

When talking with Pat Robertson on his Christian Broadcasting Network in 2010, which caters to the most extreme of Christians in the United States, Mosab continually spoke of his love of Jesus and how Jesus was the only true path to peace.

This would displease many Jews who have come to adore him, not only for his story but for stances like the one the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported him telling an orthodox Jewish crowd in 2011.

“There is no room for another state in that small country [of Israel],” he said. “The Jewish nation has the historic right to that land [in] the West Bank…The Israeli historic right to this land is obvious and clear to any person who can read.”

All of this raises some real questions about Mosab’s motivations, and indeed how sincere the story we saw in the film was. “The Green Prince shows a man who made a difficult choice but believed he was doing it to save lives. The film does note that Mosab converted to Christianity, but gives no hint of his deep antipathy toward Islam.

What we do see in the film, quite clearly, is the growing bond between Mosab and his Shin Bet handler, Gonen Ben-Yitzhak.

Ben-Yitzhak, now a lawyer in Israel after losing his job with the Shin Bet, echoes Yousef’s view that the Palestinians are to blame for the perpetuation of the conflict, although Ben-Yitzhak has a somewhat less idealized view of Israel.

“Look, I’m not pleased with all Israeli policies,” Ben-Yitzhak told IPS. “But now, Palestinians need to find a way to develop. But for many years, they are stuck with bombing and terrorism and violence. Many (people around the world) criticize Israel, but can you compare occupation to blowing up people on a bus? What is the comparison, what are the values that make him blow himself up?

“I’m sure he doesn’t share any values with you… My grandparents, although they suffered and left family in Europe, took responsibility to build a new future, rather than wait for an outside power, a miracle to change their lives. The biggest problem the Palestinians have is that they don’t take responsibility for their own lives, waiting [instead] for the outside world to do something.”

Clearly, Mosab and Gonen built a strong and devoted bond. They both believe that their friendship can be a model for co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians.

“I don’t see a big difference between Israelis and Palestinians,” Gonen told IPS. “When I worked with Shin Bet, I was working with people. I didn’t see a Palestinian as anything but a human being. If we all look at each other as human beings, not as Israelis, Palestinians, occupier and occupied, we can solve these problems.” Mosab put forth a similar sentiment.

Yet it seems that this coming together only happened because Mosab fully came over to the Israeli worldview, and a somewhat extreme one at that. This accounts for some of the discomfort in the film, where one has the feeling that there is a lot that is being omitted. Mosab’s and Gonen’s relationship seems more like a blueprint for surrender than for co-existence.

Editing by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at plitnickm@gmail.com

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U.S. Bypasses Security Council on Impending Invasion of Syriahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-bypasses-security-council-on-impending-invasion-of-syria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-bypasses-security-council-on-impending-invasion-of-syria http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-bypasses-security-council-on-impending-invasion-of-syria/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 19:37:43 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136608 The U.N. Security Council discusses the situation in Syria on June 26, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

The U.N. Security Council discusses the situation in Syria on June 26, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 12 2014 (IPS)

The U.N. Security Council (UNSC), the only international body empowered to declare war and peace, continues to remain a silent witness to the widespread devastation and killings worldwide, including in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Ukraine.

A sharply divided UNSC has watched the slaughter of Palestinians by Israel, the genocide and war crimes in Syria, the Russian military intervention in Ukraine, the U.S. military attacks inside Iraq and now a virtual invasion of Syria – if U.S. President Barack Obama goes ahead with his threat to launch air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)."As an instrument for preventing or restraining war, the United Nations has devolved into a plaintive institution, with its Security Council dominated by superpowers." -- Norman Solomon

The United States has refused to go before the UNSC for authorisation and legitimacy – even if it means suffering a veto by Russia or China or both.

Still, ironically, Obama is scheduled to preside over a UNSC meeting when he is in New York in late September since the United States holds the presidency under geographical rotation among the 15 members in the Council.

A head of state or a head of government chairing a meeting of the Security Council is a rare event, not a norm.

But it does happen when a UNSC member presides over the Council in the month of September during the opening of a new General Assembly session, with over 150 world leaders in tow.

In his address to the nation early this week, Obama said, “I will chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to further mobilise the international community around this effort” (“to degrade and destroy ISIS”, the rebel Islamic militant group inside Iraq and Syria).

Still, the proposed strike inside Syria is not part of the Council’s agenda – and certainly not under the U.S. presidency.

Obama also said intelligence agencies have not detected any specific ISIS plots against the United States.

ISIS is still a regional threat that could ultimately reach out to the United States, he said, justifying the impending attacks.

Norman Solomon, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org, told IPS, “As an instrument for preventing or restraining war, the United Nations has devolved into a plaintive institution, with its Security Council dominated by superpowers — most of all by the United States in tandem with its permanent-member allies.”

He said it used to be that U.S. presidents at least went through the motions of seeking Security Council approval for going to war, but this is scarcely the case anymore.

“When it lacks the capacity to get what it wants by way of a non-vetoed Security Council resolution for its war aims, the U.S. government simply proceeds as though the United Nations has no significant existence,” said Solomon, author of ‘War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.’

Internationally, he said, this is the case because there are no geopolitical leverage points or institutional U.N. frameworks sufficient to require the United States to actually take the Security Council seriously as anything much more than a platform for pontification.

A Russian official was quoted as saying the Obama administration would need to get a UNSC resolution before it launches air attacks inside Syria — which, of course, the Russians did not do either before they intervened in Ukraine.

Perhaps all this points only in one direction: the UNSC has time and again proved its unworthiness – and remains ineffective and politically impotent having outlived its usefulness, particularly in crisis situations.

Humanitarian aid? Yes. Collective international action? No.

The veto-wielding permanent members of the UNSC – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – are obviously not interested in fairness, justice or political integrity but only interested in protecting their own national interests.

In an editorial Friday, the New York Times struck a cautious note when it said there will be no turning back once air strikes enter Syrian territory, unleashing events that simply cannot be foreseen.

“Surely, that’s a lesson America has learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco where he serves as coordinator of the programme in Middle Eastern Studies, told IPS, “Regardless of whether it is justified or not, air strikes by the United States or other foreign powers in Iraq and Syria are clearly acts of war requiring U.N. authorisation.”

If the threat from ISIS and the limited nature of the military response is what President Obama says it is, then the United States should have little trouble in receiving support from the Security Council, said Zunes, who has written extensively on the politics of the Security Council and serves as a senior policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies.

“The refusal to come to the United Nations, then, serves as yet another example of the contempt Washington apparently has for the world body,” he said.

Peter Yeo, executive director of Better World Campaign, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) dedicated to strengthening U.S.-U.N. relations, has called on the U.S. Congress to engage the United Nations in addressing the critical challenges in the Middle East, including Syria and Iraq.

“Let Congress know the U.S. cannot go it alone in confronting this challenge, and that we should continue to utilise resources like the U.N. Security Council and the U.N.’s humanitarian response agencies to combat ongoing and future threats,” he said.

More than ever, the U.S. needs the U.N. as a strategic partner to help facilitate the complex security and humanitarian response needs in the region, he said in a statement released Thursday.

Solomon told IPS that the domestic politics of the U.S. have been sculpted in recent decades to relegate the U.N. to the role of afterthought or oratorical amphitheatre unless it can be coupled to the U.S. war train of the historic moment.

“Deformed as it is as a representation of only the governments of some sectors of global power, the Security Council still has some potential for valid exercise of discourse – even diplomacy – if not legitimate decision-making per se.”

But the Security Council ultimately represents the skewed agendas of its permanent members, and those agendas only include peace to the extent that permanent members are actually interested in peace and such interest, at best intermittent, depends on undependable willingness to look beyond narrow nationalistic and corporate interests, Solomon added.

“Of course, the U.S. government has continued to engage in acts of war in several countries on an ongoing basis for more than a dozen years.”

The military strikes now being planned by the White House will add Syria to the list of countries attacked by a Washington-based government that speaks loudly about international law at the same time that it violates international law at will, he argued.

The U.S. government will decide whether to seek any authorisation or resolution from the U.N. Security Council primarily on the basis of gauging likely benefits of rhetorical grandstanding, Solomon predicted.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Bishop Appeals to U.N. to Rescue Minorities in Northwestern Iraqhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-bishop-appeals-to-u-n-to-rescue-minorities-in-northwestern-iraq/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-bishop-appeals-to-u-n-to-rescue-minorities-in-northwestern-iraq http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-bishop-appeals-to-u-n-to-rescue-minorities-in-northwestern-iraq/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 15:07:03 +0000 Bishop Bawai Soro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136599 Iraqi Christians attend an Easter mass at Chaldean Catholic church in Amman Apr. 24, 2011. Thousands of Iraqi Christians fled to neighbouring Jordan following a spate of bombings that targeted churches in Iraqi cities in the past few years. Credit: http://catholicdefender2000.blogspot.com/

Iraqi Christians attend an Easter mass at Chaldean Catholic church in Amman Apr. 24, 2011. Thousands of Iraqi Christians fled to neighbouring Jordan following a spate of bombings that targeted churches in Iraqi cities in the past few years. Credit: http://catholicdefender2000.blogspot.com/

By Bishop Bawai Soro
SAN DIEGO, Sep 12 2014 (IPS)

For decades, the minority Christian population of Iraq has been suffering hardships. But in the summer months of 2014 – and since the beginning of the military campaign by ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, also known as ISIL or Islamic State) – the situation has gone from bad to intolerably worse.

The Chaldean Catholic Church is one of the Eastern Catholic Churches, which is an autonomous, self-governing church in full communion with the Pope (Bishop of Rome) and the wider Roman Catholic Church.What is needed is not short-term panacea or lip-service or promises but long-term institutional solutions overseen by the United Nations and aimed at protecting the human right to life of the minority Chaldea and Assyrian Christians, and their Yazidi neighbours.

Chaldean Christians number over half a million people who are ethnic Assyrians and indigenous to predominantly northwestern Iraq and parts of northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and northwestern Iran.

The core villages of the Chaldean people, located in the Nineveh plain in northwestern Iraq, were attacked and decimated by ISIS in a matter of days, leaving the fleeing Christian inhabitants not only homeless but also internally displaced refugees (IDRs) in their own ancient land.

After having their lives threatened and facing the stark choice of either converting to the warped and extremist interpretation of Islam proselytised by ISIS, paying a heavy tax, or dying in large numbers (many by beheading), tens of thousands of men, women, children, the elderly and infirm fled.

And many of them fled on foot in the searing heat with little or no food, water or shelter – into Iraqi Kurdistan, mostly to Erbil and Duhok, seeking safety, security and asylum.

It is incumbent on all democratic peoples to aid the scattered Chaldean people who find themselves in such a desperate, stark life or death situation. Some are encouraging the displaced to return to their villages, and indeed they are always free to do so.

However, we must understand that people have chosen to leave their beloved homeland to reach safety and protect their families, even at the cost of their dignity.

Upon their return, the displaced would more often than not find their homes damaged, looted or destroyed by ISIS and their local allies.

The million-dollar question therefore is: What kind of future awaits the minority Chaldean and Assyrian Christian population of Iraq?

The people fleeing and begging for international asylum have spoken for themselves. It is now up to those in the democratic West led by the United States and Europe, together with the United Nations, to respond to this acute humanitarian crisis and crimes against humanity.

They need swift justice and human generosity.

What is needed is not short-term panacea or lip-service or promises but long-term institutional solutions overseen by the United Nations and aimed at protecting the human right to life of the minority Chaldea and Assyrian Christians, and their Yazidi neighbours.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s White House address to the nation on Wednesday night was very encouraging, to say the least.

As President Obama stated, the launching of “a steady, relentless effort” to root out the extremists from ISIS “wherever they exist” shall create the necessary security environment to bring about peace and stability.

It will undoubtedly create conducive conditions for the return of displaced minority Chaldean and Assyrian Christians and the Yazidi to their homes in Nineveh province they have inhabited for over two thousand years.

The future of a united Iraq depends on maintaining peace, stability and economic prosperity for all the peoples inhabiting this ancient land.

Ensuring that the spirit of tolerance and cohabitation deepens and thrives is part and parcel of any such long-term structural solution.

It is imperative that policymakers in Washington, DC, New York and at the United Nations and in western European capitals take this long-term vision on board and act accordingly with adequate resources made available.

It is then, and only then, that the plight of the minority Chaldean and Assyrian Christians and other minorities can be addressed in a truly meaningful fashion in a future peaceful, multi-religious, multi-ethnic and economically prosperous Iraq.

Failure to do so will only see a recurrence of the tragic events unfolding in Iraq and Syria, further compounding the destitution, misery and desperation of millions of human beings caught up in the mayhem being unleashed by armed terrorists.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service. 

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Obama’s Anti-ISIS Strategy Met with Scepticismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obamas-anti-isis-strategy-met-with-scepticism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obamas-anti-isis-strategy-met-with-scepticism http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obamas-anti-isis-strategy-met-with-scepticism/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 00:14:35 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136594 President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House, Sept. 10, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House, Sept. 10, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 12 2014 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama’s new strategy to “degrade, and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is being met with widespread scepticism among both hawks and doves, as well as regional specialists.

While Congress is expected to acquiesce, if not formally authorise, the plans he outlined in his nationally televised prime-time speech Wednesday night, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have not been shy about expressing reservations.“The proverbial 64,000-dollar question is whether the seemingly mediocre Abadi government can peel enough of [the Sunni Arab tribes and veteran Awakening cadres] away from active and passive support for ISIS or from the sidelines.” -- Wayne White

“While the president presented a compelling case for action, many questions remain about the way in which [he] intends to act,” said Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

Indeed, while he adopted a determined and confident tone that won plaudits even from Republicans like Boehner, it is no secret here that Obama, who has made Washington’s extraction from Middle East wars a legacy issue for his presidency, has consistently resisted pressure to escalate U.S. military involvement in the region.

Speaking on the eve of the 13th anniversary of al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, Obama announced that he will increase U.S. support for Iraq’s army and the Kurdish Peshmerga with more training, intelligence, and equipment and will dispatch 475 U.S. military personnel to join the 1,000-plus who have deployed there since ISIS swept across much of the northern and central part of Iraq in June.

At the same time, he pledged that the campaign “will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.”

In addition, he said the U.S. will carry out airstrikes against ISIS targets “wherever they exist,” not only in Iraq, but, most significantly, in Syria, as well.

Washington, he said, is also assembling “a broad coalition of partners”, including NATO, and, more importantly, the Sunni-led Gulf states, Jordan, and Lebanon whose governments pledged support for the anti-ISIS campaign and the new government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, during a meeting Thursday with Secretary of State John Kerry in Jiddah.

And Obama asked Congress to swiftly approve a pending request for 500 million dollars to train and equip anti-government and anti-ISIS Syrian rebels.

Saudi Arabia, a major backer of various factions in the three-year insurgency against President Bashar Al-Assad, has agreed to host training camps for these “moderate” rebels, according to administration officials.

This “comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy” – which he compared to Washington’s long-standing operations in Yemen and Somalia — will “take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL (Islamic State of Syria and the Levant),” Obama said, using the administration’s preferred acronym.

While the plan gained guarded approval from most lawmakers – who, facing mid-term elections in November, are particularly sensitive to a sudden hawkish shift in public opinion – many said it raised as many questions as it answered, including whether Obama has the legal authority to order strikes against ISIS, especially in Syria, without getting explicit Congressional authorisation.

At the same time, hawks questioned whether the strategy – notably Obama’s pledge not to introduce combat troops – was sufficient to achieve its goals.

“Obama’s ‘strategy’ has no chance of success,” wrote Frederick and Kimberly Kagan of the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Institute for the Study of War, respectively, on the Weekly Standard’s website.

The two Kagans, who helped devise the Bush administration’s “Surge” to curb Iraq’s Sunni-Shi’a conflict in 2007, argued that a counter-terrorism (CT) strategy would not work against a full-fledged insurgency, which they said ISIS has become. “It’s awfully hard to develop a sound strategy when you start by misdiagnosing the problem so profoundly,” they wrote. Frederick Kagan has argued that 10-15,000 U.S. troops are necessary for Iraq alone.

Others disagreed. “Getting more U.S. troops on the ground is precisely what … [ISIS chief Abu Bakr] Al-Baghdadi wants,” Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (ret.), former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, told IPS. “A target-rich environment is what they want, and in their area.

“If the Iraqis and others are not up to defeating [ISIS] forces, then U.S. and allied airpower, some advice on the ground, and intelligence assistance should be sufficient to do so. …[ISIS] is not 10 feet tall, not even four – despite all the media hype to the contrary,” he said.

In Iraq, defeating ISIS will depend largely on whether Abadi follows through on his pledge to share power with Sunni Arabs and fully integrate them into a new security structure, according to regional experts.

“One hundred years of war …has demonstrated that air power can only succeed if a robust ground force is ready to take advantage of air strikes to physically take and occupy territory,” according to Wayne White, a former top State Department Middle East intelligence officer now with the Middle East Institute (MEI).

“The president is not ignorant of this dictum: hence, his part in ousting the loathsome [former Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki and the need for a credibly inclusive new government in Baghdad that can revive the Iraqi Army,” he wrote in an email exchange.

“…The proverbial 64,000-dollar question is whether the seemingly mediocre Abadi government can peel enough of [the Sunni Arab tribes and veteran Awakening cadres] away from active and passive support for ISIS or from the sidelines,” White added. “Only a sizeable Sunni Arab force from within could make considerable headway along with airstrikes in unhinging ISIS from key holdings like cities and large towns.”

Even if the strategy in Iraq succeeds, however, attacking ISIS in Syria will be far more difficult, in major part because Western-backed rebel factions are “much weaker than two years ago,” according to former acting CIA chief Michael Morrell whose assessment echoed that of most regional experts, some of whom, such as former the former U.S. Amb. to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, have argued for working with Assad as the lesser evil – a step that the administration appears so far to reject.

“The speech left major questions about Syria unanswered,” said Paul Pillar, a former top CIA Middle East analyst. “If ISIS is to be set back, who fills that vacuum? If it is the Assad regime, how does that square with the continued U.S. opposition to that regime? If it is supposed to be someone else, how does that square with the persistent lack of unity, strength, and credibility of the so-called moderate opposition?”

Along with Wilkerson, regional experts worried that Obama’s strategy is susceptible to “mission creep”.

“If the air strikes do not ‘defeat’ ISIS, what policy will the president pursue considering that he ruled out putting boots on the ground?” asked Emile Nakhleh, a former director of the CIA’s political Islam strategic analysis programme.

He also questioned the commitment of the Sunni Arab states that signed on to the strategy in Jiddah “considering that domestic radical Islamists are already posing a serious challenge to such countries as Saudi Arabia and Jordan.”

Thomas Lippman, a Gulf specialist at MEI, agreed that the coalition that Obama was putting together could prove problematic, noting that its members “…are united about what they DON’T want — namely more ISIS — but are not united about what they DO want. And many of them are suspicious about some of the others,” he said in an email exchange.

He noted that Turkey, with the most potent military force in the region and whose Incirlik air base has been used in the past for U.S. operations over Iraq, had participated in the Jiddah meeting Thursday but failed to sign the summit statement.

Like Wilkerson, Nakhleh also suggested that Obama’s hand been forced as a result of the “media frenzy about the hyped-up ISIS threat” which some commentators have blamed on the sensational coverage of the recent beheadings by ISIS of two U.S. journalists and overheated rhetoric by some of Obama’s top officials, including Kerry and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel.

A poll conducted last week by ABC News and the Washington Post found 71 percent support for air strikes against “Sunni insurgents in Iraq” – up from 54 percent in mid-August and 45 percent in mid-June as ISIS swept across Iraq.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Mideast Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone Remains in Limbohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mideast-nuclear-weapons-free-zone-remains-in-limbo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mideast-nuclear-weapons-free-zone-remains-in-limbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mideast-nuclear-weapons-free-zone-remains-in-limbo/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 06:08:42 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136575 A proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the strife-torn Middle East remains in limbo. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

A proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the strife-torn Middle East remains in limbo. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 11 2014 (IPS)

After four long years of protracted negotiations, a proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the strife-torn Middle East remains in limbo – and perhaps virtually dead.

But United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a relentless advocate of nuclear disarmament, is determined to resurrect the proposal.

“I remain fully committed to convening a conference on the establishment of a Middle East zone, free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction,” he said in his annual report to the upcoming 69th session of the General Assembly, which is scheduled to open Sep. 16.

Ban said such a zone is of “utmost importance” for the integrity of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT).

"Western governments which helped Israel to go nuclear compound the problem, participating in this conspiracy of silence by never mentioning Israel's nuclear weapons.” -- Bob Rigg, former chair of the New Zealand National Consultative Committee on Disarmament
“Nuclear weapons-free zones contribute greatly to strengthening nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regimes, and to enhancing regional and international security,” he noted.

The existing nuclear weapons-free zones include Central Asia, Africa, Mongolia, Southeast Asia, South Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, Antarctica and Outer Space – all governed by international treaties.

Still, the widespread political crises in the Middle East – destabilising Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Palestine – may threaten to further undermine the longstanding proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the militarily-troubled region.

The proposal, which was mandated by the 2010 NPT Review Conference may not take off – if at all – before the 2015 Review Conference scheduled for early next year.

If it does not, it could jeopardize the review conference itself, according to anti-nuclear activists.

Finland, which has taken an active role in trying to host the conference, has been stymied by implicit opposition to the conference by the United States, which has expressed fears the entire focus of the meeting may shift towards the de-nuclearisation of one of its strongest Middle East allies: Israel.

Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Jerusalem-based Palestine-Israel Journal, told IPS while it would appear that the recent Gaza-Israel war might have created additional problems for the convening of the conference, it actually opens new opportunities for progress.

Egypt played a key role as the host and major facilitator of the negotiations to arrive at a cease-fire, and Cairo remains the hub for the follow-up negotiations for dealing with the issues not dealt with in the initial cease-fire agreement, he said.

In the course of the current tragic round of mutual violence, he pointed out, there was a perception that a common strategic interest has evolved between Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and the Palestinian Authority led by President Abbas, against Hamas, which spills over to the threat from the Islamic fundamentalist forces that are active in Iraq and Syria.

“This unofficial alliance creates possibilities for the development of new regional security understandings,” Schenker added.

Such a development would require initiatives beyond a cease-fire, and the resumption of serious negotiations to resolve the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he added.

Bob Rigg, a former chair of the New Zealand National Consultative Committee on Disarmament, told IPS there have already been many attempts at a conference on the weapons-free zone.

“All have come to nothing, principally because a regional nuclear weapons-free zone would pre-suppose the destruction, under international control, of Israel’s nuclear arsenal.”

The acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability was a key priority of Ben Gurion, Israel’s first leader, and has continued to be at the heart of its security policies ever since, said Rigg, an anti-nuclear activist and a former senior editor at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

He said while the government of Israel continues to be unwilling, in any context, to formally admit to the possession of nuclear weapons, there is no basis for any meaningful discussion of the issue, even if a conference actually takes place.

“Western governments which helped Israel to go nuclear compound the problem, participating in this conspiracy of silence by never mentioning Israel’s nuclear weapons.”

For example, he said, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was once ferociously attacked by U.S. politicians and the media for saying that Israel had nuclear weapons.

Alice Slater, New York Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation who also serves on the coordinating committee of Abolition 2000, told IPS that U.N. chief Ban quite correctly raised a serious warning last week about the future viability of the NPT in the absence of any commitment to make good on a pledge to hold a conference to address the formation of a Middle East Zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

The NPT took effect in 1970 providing that each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control, she pointed out.

All but three nations in the world signed the treaty, including the five nuclear weapons states (UK, Russia, the United States, France, China).

Only India, Pakistan, and Israel refused to join the treaty and went on to acquire nuclear arsenals.

North Korea, taking advantage of the treaty’s unholy bargain for an inalienable right to so-called peaceful nuclear power, acquired the civilian technology that enabled it to produce a bomb, and then walked out of the treaty, said Slater.

The NPT was set to expire in 25 years unless the parties subsequently agreed to its renewal.

Schenker told IPS that without active American involvement, the conference will not be convened.

Whatever the outcome of the mid-term elections in November, President Barack Obama will then have two more years to establish his presidential legacy, to justify his Nobel Peace Prize and to advance the vision he declared in his 2009 Prague speech of “a world without nuclear weapons”.

He said the U.N. secretary-general issued a timely warning that a failure to convene the Mideast weapons-free-zone conference before the 2015 NPT review conference “may frustrate the ability of states to conduct a successful review of the operation of the (NPT) treaty and could undermine the treaty process and related non-proliferation and disarmament objectives.”

He said one of the primary tools that could be used to advance this process is the Arab Peace Initiative (API), launched at the Arab League Summit Conference in Beirut in 2002, which has been reaffirmed many times since.

The API offers Israel recognition and normal relations with the entire Arab world, dependent upon the end of the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, alongside the State of Israel.

He said the API could also be a basis for establishing a new regional regime of peace and security.

The convening of the international conference mandated by the 2010 NPT Review Conference, if approached with diplomatic wisdom on all sides, could become one of the components of progress towards this new regional regime of peace and security, he noted.

The new strategic “alliance” in the region could be used as a basis for the convening of the conference, said Schenker.

A successful outcome of the negotiations over the Iranian nuclear programme could be another constructive building block towards the convening of the conference.

Slater told IPS the prospects for any success at this upcoming 2015 NPT Review, are very dim indeed and it is unclear what will happen to the badly tattered and oft-dishonored treaty.

“It is difficult to calculate whether the recent catastrophic events in Gaza and Israel will affect any change in Israel’s unwillingness to participate in the promised Middle East conference.”

All the more reason to support the efforts of the promising new initiative to negotiate a legal ban on nuclear weapons, just as the world has banned chemical and biological weapons, she declared.

(END)

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Hamas Rocket Launches Don’t Explain Israel’s Gaza Destructionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/hamas-rocket-launches-dont-explain-israels-gaza-destruction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hamas-rocket-launches-dont-explain-israels-gaza-destruction http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/hamas-rocket-launches-dont-explain-israels-gaza-destruction/#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2014 18:24:22 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136560 Palestinians collect their belongings from under the rubble of a residential tower, which witnesses said was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on Aug. 24. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

Palestinians collect their belongings from under the rubble of a residential tower, which witnesses said was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on Aug. 24. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Sep 9 2014 (IPS)

Israel and its supporters abroad have parried accusations of indiscriminate destruction and mass killing of civilians in Gaza by arguing that they were consequences of strikes aimed at protecting Israeli civilians from rockets that were being launched from very near civilian structures.

That defence has already found its way into domestic U.S. politics. A possible contender for the Democratic nomination for president, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, defended her vote for more military aid for Israel during the Israeli assault on Gaza by citing the rocket launch defence.The IDF obviously did not have actual intelligence on each of those homes that had been reduced to rubble. The massive designation of houses as “hideouts” indicates the Israelis believed Palestinian fighters were hiding in some of them.

“[W]hen Hamas puts its rocket launchers next to hospitals, next to schools, they’re using their civilian population to protect their military assets,” said Warren. “And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself.”

But although some Hamas rockets were launched near homes or other civilian structures, military developments on both sides have rendered that defence of Israeli attacks on civilian targets invalid.

The rocket launchers for Hamas’s homemade Qassam missiles consist of simple tripods that can be removed in seconds, and the extensive Hamas tunnel network has given it underground launching sites as well as storage facilities for its larger, longer-range Grad and M-75 missiles.

On the other side, the Israeli Air Force possesses air-to-ground missiles that are so accurate that they can destroy a very small target without any damage to civilian structure even if it is very close.

A video released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in a report on Hamas’s “illegal use of civilian infrastructure” last month shows an attack – obviously by an Israeli drone — on an underground rocket launcher only a few metres away from a mosque causing no damage whatever to the mosque.

These technological changes take away any justification for flattening civilian buildings even if a rocket launch site is nearby. In fact, however, the evidence now available indicates that Hamas launch sites are not that close to hospitals, schools and mosques.

The IDF sought in mid-July to use the rocket launcher defence to explain the damage to Al Wafa Rehabilitation and Geriatic Hospital in eastern Gaza City from 15 rockets, which forced the staff to evacuate its patients. An IDF spokesman said the military had “no choice” because rockets had been launched from very near the hospital.

Clearly revealing that the rocket launch justification for the attack was a ruse, however, the spokesman revealed to Allison Degler of Mondoweiss that the alleged launch site was 100 metres from the hospital. That would have been far more space than was needed to strike the launch site without any damage to the hospital whatever.

A report released by the IDF Aug. 19 included an aerial view of Al Wafa Hospital with two alleged rocket launching sites marked at locations that appeared to be much farther from the hospital than the 100 metres claimed by the IDF spokesman.

The IDF nevertheless went so far as to declare on Jul. 21, “Hamas fires rockets from Wafa hospital in the Gaza neighborhood of Shujaiya.”

When the IDF destroyed Al Wafa hospital completely by airstrikes on Jul. 23, it abandoned the pretense that the reason was a Hamas rocket launch site. Instead it released a video purporting to show firing at IDF troops from the hospital.

It turned out, however, the video clips of the firing been shot during “Operation Cast Lead” in 2009, not in 2014.

The IDF has continued to suggest that its destruction of public civilian facilities was forced on it by rocket launches from within those facilities. At the end of the “Operation Protective Edge” the IDF spokesman’s office claimed that 597 rockets had been launched from civilian facilities, of which 160 were allegedly fired from schools, 50 from hospitals, and 160 from mosques.

But those figures were by produced only by pretending that launching sites some distance from the facilities in question were on the premises of the facilities.

An IDF “declassified report” released Aug. 19, aimed at showing that civilian facilities were serving as military infrastructure for Hamas, includes no evidence of any rocket launches on the grounds of any civilian facility.

A very blurry 20-second video appears to show a rocket launch from what is identified as “Abu Nur” school. But it, too, is deceptive. A black streak rises from the area of the school for a little more than a second of the video, but for the entire length of the video two voices declare repeatedly that they saw three rockets launched “from within the school”.

Careful viewing of the footage reveals, however, that the apparent launch comes from outside the wall of the three-story school building rather than from within it.

In three other cases of alleged rocket launches from schools, the IDF provides no visual evidence – only large red dots drawn on an aerial view of the schools.

During the “Operation Protective Edge”, the IDF openly targeted mosques, claiming they are military targets, demolishing 73 mosques and partially destroying 205 more.

The Aug. 19 IDF report refers to a “rocket cache and gathering point for militants hidden in a mosque” in Nuseirat. But despite frequent repetitions of the notion that Hamas routinely stores rockets in mosques, the IDF has not produced photographic evidence of rocket storage in a single mosque.

Nor has the IDF made public any video evidence of secondary explosions from the destruction of mosques. In a tacit admission that such evidence is lacking, the report instead cites an instance of a “concealed entrance” to a Hamas tunnel located between a mosque and a school.

The most extensive destruction of civilian structures in “Operation Protective Edge” was the complete leveling of large parts of entire neighbourhoods in the Shujaiya district of Gaza City on Jul. 19. After the United Nations published a map showing the complete destruction of those areas of Shujaiya, the IDF published its own map on Aug. 4 aimed at justifying the destruction.

The map shows that the IDF can’t claim the proximity of Hamas rocket launching sites as the justification for the leveling of many residential blocks in Shujaiya. The Israeli military had identified every home in the devastated neighbourhoods on its map as a “hideout” for Hamas or Islamic Jihad fighters.

The IDF obviously did not have actual intelligence on each of those homes that had been reduced to rubble. The massive designation of houses as “hideouts” indicates the Israelis believed Palestinian fighters were hiding in some of them.

Although the red dots on the IDF map identifying rocket launch sites are too big to estimate accurately the distance between them and the closest houses, only a few such dots appear to be as close as one city block to a house in one of the areas of massive destruction. And all but a few of the homes destroyed are much farther than a block from the alleged launching sites.

An account of the Shujaiya destruction by journalist Mark Perry based on a Jul. 21 U.S. Defence Department report recalls that the IDF fired 7,000 artillery shells at residential areas in the district the night of Jul. 19, including 4,500 shells in the space of just seven hours.

Such massive and indiscriminate destruction of civilian structures is strictly prohibited by the international laws of war. Israeli officials have frequently said the purpose of IDF military operations in both Lebanon and Gaza was to “deter” their adversaries in the future by imposing heavy costs on the civilian population.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. He can be contacted at porter.gareth50@gmail.com

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: From Schools to Shelters in Iraqhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-from-schools-to-shelters-in-iraq/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-from-schools-to-shelters-in-iraq http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-from-schools-to-shelters-in-iraq/#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2014 17:59:24 +0000 Fred Abrahams http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136558 The U.S. can help the Yazidis and their Kurdish hosts by increasing financial support for desperately needed shelters and schools. Credit: Fred Abrahams / Human Rights Watch

The U.S. can help the Yazidis and their Kurdish hosts by increasing financial support for desperately needed shelters and schools. Credit: Fred Abrahams / Human Rights Watch

By Fred Abrahams
ERBIL, Sep 9 2014 (IPS)

Using schools for shelter was a natural. When the Islamic State drove waves of people from the Sinjar area of Iraq in early August, most of them members of the Yazidi minority group, they fled first to the mountains and then to the relative safety of Iraqi Kurdistan. They camped out in whatever unoccupied structures they could find.

Now more than 600 schools are filled with desperate families struggling to come to terms with the trauma of the mass killings, abductions, and sexual violence by the Islamic State that decimated their communities. They sleep in classrooms, hallways, and the courtyards of facilities intended for children’s education.The governor of Duhok, Farhad Atrushi, said 130,000 people were living in Duhok schools. “If I didn’t open the doors, they would be on roads and in open areas,” he said.

The impact is double-edged. With no prospect for them to return home soon, these people need better shelter and care for the long term, including education for the tens of thousands of children among them. Yet the children of accommodating host communities also need access to their schools.

The school year under the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) is due to start on Sep. 10. But hundreds of schools will not be able to open that day.

According to the KRG Education Ministry, 653 schools in the Dohuk governorate, which has borne the brunt of the crisis, are being used to shelter displaced Yazidis and others, with schools playing a similar role in the cities of Sulaimaniya and Erbil. Across Iraq, around 2,000 schools are being used to shelter the displaced, the United Nations says.

The northwestern Duhok governorate, with its 1.3 million residents, has absorbed 520,000 displaced people, according to the U.N. That’s in addition to 220,000 refugees from the conflict in neighboring Syria already in KRG areas. Around the country, 1.8 million people are internally displaced.

The governor of Duhok, Farhad Atrushi, said 130,000 people were living in Duhok schools. “If I didn’t open the doors, they would be on roads and in open areas,” he said.

The immediate answer to the crisis gripping Duhok schools is to build camps, and that is happening. But it will take months before the 14 planned camps in KRG areas are up and running, and they will only serve half of the displaced. More funds are urgently needed to expedite and expand the work.

The United States and other countries can help the Yazidis and other Iraqis by increasing their financial support for desperately needed humanitarian aid.

Compounding the problem is an ongoing budget dispute between the KRG and Iraq’s central government, which has blocked central government funding for displaced people in the Kurdish region and kept teachers there from getting regularly paid for months. Children should not be held hostage to the political crisis gripping Iraq.

The dispute includes differences in curriculum between the Iraqi central government and the Kurdish-run region. To promote education and reduce tension, the Baghdad authorities and the KRG should rapidly find ways to deliver textbooks and administer exams.

The logistical and political hurdles are daunting. But the children here, both residents and the displaced, need all the help they can get to turn the shelters back to schools.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service. This article originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

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NATO Poised to Escalate Tensions over Ukrainehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/nato-poised-to-escalate-tensions-over-ukraine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nato-poised-to-escalate-tensions-over-ukraine http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/nato-poised-to-escalate-tensions-over-ukraine/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 22:26:26 +0000 John Feffer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136547 Ukraine, US, NATO and Partnership for Peace member nations kick off Exercise Rapid Trident 2011. Credit: DVIDSHUB/cc by 2.0

Ukraine, US, NATO and Partnership for Peace member nations kick off Exercise Rapid Trident 2011. Credit: DVIDSHUB/cc by 2.0

By John Feffer
WASHINGTON, Sep 8 2014 (IPS)

The NATO summit that took place at the end of last week in Wales was supposed to celebrate the end of a long, draining war in Afghanistan. But with the presidential election still up in the air in Kabul, NATO couldn’t enjoy its “mission accomplished” moment.

Instead, the assembled ministers took steps to accelerate two new conflicts, one on its borders and the other in the distant Middle East."It seemed to me that the Summit offered an alternative vision of a period of intense geopolitical and arms rivalry that could soon prove as dangerous as the one that occupied our attention during the Cold War.” -- Ian Davis

NATO members have certainly not welcomed either the growing confrontation with Russia over Ukraine or with ISIS over the future of Iraq and Syria. But these developments have nevertheless provided the transatlantic alliance with greater purpose and cohesion than it has experienced in years.

The war in Afghanistan, after all, was not just costly in terms of money spent, lives lost, and objectives unmet. It also opened up various rifts in the alliance over strategy and resources.

Meanwhile, with European military spending on a downward trajectory over the last couple years, the vast majority of NATO members are not meeting their obligation of spending two percent of GDP on defence.

But the potential of the Ukraine conflict in particular to spill over into NATO territory has pumped new fire into the 65-year-old alliance’s veins.

In Wales, NATO agreed to a rapid reaction force – essentially a redesign of part of the already existing NATO Response Force — that would keep several thousand troops on standby to deploy in an emergency.

Designed to respond within 48 hours to a threat to the Baltic members, the force can be deployed anywhere in the world. The UK has already committed to providing a substantial contingent for this force.

NATO also upgraded Georgia to an “enhanced-opportunities partner,” which will involve the creation of a NATO training centre in the Caucasus country.

Despite these moves, NATO showed a measure of caution in not pushing too aggressively against Russia.

Although the Ukrainian government has also asked to join NATO, that option is currently not on the table. The alliance also decided not to send arms to the government in Kiev, though individual members can opt to do so.

Despite Ukraine’s announcement that several countries have decided to send lethal assistance, four of those countries, including the United States, immediately issued denials.

NATO didn’t agree to Poland’s request for a permanent force of 10,000 NATO troops stationed on its territory. Nor did it accede to a proposal from the Baltic nations to reorient missile defense against Russia.

“The NATO leaders clearly struggled over how strongly to push back against Russia,” observes Ian Davis, director of NATO Watch in the United Kingdom.

“While some no doubt argued against an overreaction that would risk military confrontation, it is clear that deterrence against Moscow is once again NATO’s top priority (despite the U.S. push for a coalition to combat ISIS). And the proposed limited buildup of forces along the latest East-West divide will take the ‘border’ hundreds of miles closer to Moscow than it was in the Cold War era.”

Joseph Gerson, who works with the American Friends Service Committee, agrees. “With the multiple military exercises across Eastern Europe and the Baltics, increased deployments in the region, and further military cooperation with Georgia and likely Ukraine, the United States has used the Ukraine crisis to more deeply integrate Eastern Europe into the U.S./NATO sphere.”

Gerson adds, “Also note Sweden and Finland are now to be NATO ‘host’ nations, though formally not yet full NATO members. The United States and NATO have been doing a host of military exercises in Sweden for some years, and there’s an electronic communications/intelligence base in Sweden’s north.”

The other major issue on NATO’s plate in Wales was addressing the challenge of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The United States used the summit to pull together a “core coalition” of nine countries to coordinate a military response.

The strategy will be more of what the United States has already pursued, namely air strikes and support for forces already on the ground such as the Kurdish peshmerga and the Western-allied Syrian rebels.

The Barack Obama administration clearly stated that it would not send U.S. combat troops into the conflict.

Meanwhile, given Russia’s support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria and its opposition to radical Islam, the fight against ISIS offers the possibility of cooperation between Moscow and NATO.

But even with a fragile ceasefire in place between the Ukrainian government and the pro-Russian separatists, ties remain frayed between NATO and Russia. Most NATO members maintain sanctions against Russia, and the European Union is pushing through a new round to target additional Russian firms and officials.

Ian Davis is pessimistic on the prospects of exiting the spiral of conflict. “The decisions taken at the Summit raise the prospect of continual and possibly escalating NATO-European-Russian tensions,” he concluded.

“At some point, a ‘grand compromise’ between the United States, Europeans, and Russia will be required in which U.S., EU, and Ukrainian ‘vital’ interests and those of Moscow are eventually redefined and reconciled.

“But it seemed to me that the Summit offered an alternative vision of a period of intense geopolitical and arms rivalry that could soon prove as dangerous as the one that occupied our attention during the Cold War.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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War Over but Not Gaza’s Housing Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/war-over-but-not-gazas-housing-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-over-but-not-gazas-housing-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/war-over-but-not-gazas-housing-crisis/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 08:12:19 +0000 Khaled Alashqar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136527 Members of Abu Sheira's family in front of the tent they set up in the grounds of Al-Shifa hospital, Gaza. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Members of Abu Sheira's family in front of the tent they set up in the grounds of Al-Shifa hospital, Gaza. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By Khaled Alashqar
GAZA CITY, Sep 8 2014 (IPS)

“When the [Israeli] shelling started, I gathered up my family and headed for what I though was a safe place, like a school, but then that became overcrowded and lacked sanitation, so we ended up in the grounds of the hospital.”

Islam Abu Sheira from Beit Hanoun, a city on the north-eastern edge of the Gaza Strip, was speaking to IPS in front of what has been his family’s makeshift ‘home’ at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City for the last two months. His eyes misted over as he recalled his devastated home and his efforts to find a safe refuge for his family."I found no other safe place to shelter in but Al-Shifa Hospital. Together with our seven children we fled into the hospital grounds and slept our first night under trees to escape the Israeli missiles that were destroying whole areas, killing entire families" – Islam Abu Sheira, a refugee from Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip

In his forties, Islam described his family’s ordeal after Israeli shelling left them homeless and they first sought refuge in a school run by UNRWA, the U.N. relief and development agency for Palestinian refugees, and were then forced by overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions to move out and seek shelter elsewhere.

“I found no other safe place to shelter in but Al-Shifa Hospital. Together with our seven children we fled into the hospital grounds and slept our first night under trees to escape the Israeli missiles that were destroying whole areas, killing entire families, ” said Islam,  adding that “during the war, the only thing we were looking for was a place that could protect us from the shelling.”

Like the majority of Palestinian families whose homes were destroyed, they have lost their belongings and, for the time being, their chances of living a life of dignity. Most families in the Gaza Strip were forced to leave their homes so quickly that they had no time to take anything with them.

“We simply have no livelihood and my children sleep every night on the ground without even a blanket to cover them,” lamented Islam. “We have been living a primitive life since we fled our home without even taking the clothes we need.”

As the numbers of people escaping the shelling mounted, so did the difficulty of sheltering them. Schools did their best, but there were insufficient basic necessities and medical supplies, and they were housing four or five persons, if not more, in each classroom.

Palestinian families whose homes were destroyed by Israeli shelling of Gaza sheltering in a UNRWA school. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Palestinian families whose homes were destroyed by Israeli shelling of Gaza sheltering in a UNRWA school. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Jamila Saad, a housewife who is taking care of her 12-member family and also fled to one of the UNRWA schools, told IPS: “The school was receiving more and more refugees, and we and the other refugee families were sharing one toilet. We need a better life for our children and we hope that our home will soon be rebuilt so that we can begin a new life there in our new home.”

The complex and harsh conditions that the Palestinian refugees are suffering in schools and other shelter centres has pushed most international organisations to provide the refugees with as much aid as possible, but this is far from finding a final solution for the refugees’ suffering.

The conditions of the thousands of refugees who have lost their homes has placed the new Palestinian government before an enormous challenge and a huge responsibility to provide these refugee families with care and a secure environment, as well take on the responsibility of implementing the reconstruction programmes financially aided by the European Union and donor states in accordance with ceasefire agreement brokered in Cairo between Israel and Hamas, especially in terms of the reconstruction of Gaza.

Mufid al-Hasayna, Minister of Public Works and Housing in the new Palestinian unity government, told IPS that “the amount of destruction of houses and economic facilities is massive, and the population of Gaza is living under hard conditions, so we are working hard to improve the living conditions of people. We are working on programmes to start reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and rebuild destroyed houses and

Al-Hasayna believes that the blurred vision Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have of their future after 50 days of war and their constant fear of being retargeted by the Israeli occupation forces have only added to a worsening of their situation.

Amjad Shawa, Director of the Palestinian NGO Network, told IPS: “The harsh circumstances that the Gaza Strip underwent over the 50 days of the Israeli occupation’s war reduced the population’s access to water and food and threatened people’s security, while the bombing of residential high ‘towers’ housing dozens of families has left serious impacts on civilians.

According to Shawa, the housing situation is now all the more dramatic because, even before Israel’s ‘Operation Protective Edge’, the Gaza Strip was already suffering from the deficit of 70,000 housing units that had been destroyed in the 2009 and 2012 wars.

“Following the two wars, scheduled housing projects to rebuild the infrastructure were not implemented, and the deficit of housing units has reached a state that has put the population in a situation of real disaster,” Shawa told IPS.

He called on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to form an independent body of Palestinian civil society organisations to create a plan for reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.

According to a report prepared by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), in June 2014 the Gaza Strip was home to an estimated population of 1.76 million living in a coastal area that extends along the Mediterranean Sea and covers approximately 365 square kilometres with a maximum width of 12 kilometres.

The PCBS believes that Gaza Strip’s narrow surface area and high population has contributed to some extent to the distribution of people in large blocks and increased its population density, turning the Strip into one the most densely populated areas in the world.

Population density in the Gaza Strip has reached 2,744 per square kilometre, and experts say this means that food, health and education should be the top priorities for the future development agenda of decision-makers.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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