Iraqi Politicians Plot Raising a Militia to Take Back Mosul

Masked Sunni gunmen chant slogans during a protest against Iraq’s government in Fallujah on January 7 (Reuters).Iraqi leaders driven into exile by ISIL plan to raise a militia to recapture their city and recruit teams of experts in health, education and public services to run it once the extremists are defeated.

Council members for the city of Mosul and the region’s governor say a locally-run force would form part of a United States-led coalition to win back vast areas of Iraq captured in June.

The plan is fraught with obstacles and the leaders, who are living in exile in Iraqi Kurdistan, are already squabbling over details. However, they all agree that a force of local fighters will be crucial to wresting back control of the city and the overall defeat of ISIL.

“It is clear that we, the people and leaders of Mosul, must take a lead role in liberating our city,” says Bashar Mahmoud, an ethnic Kurd who heads the provincial council. “We must have military officers and experts who know and understand our people.”

The formation of such a militia would dovetail with efforts by an international coalition that includes the US, the UAE, the Iraqi government, Iraq’s Kurdish leaders and other Arab countries to defeat ISIL.

The US began airstrikes on ISIL positions in Iraq in August and last week the campaign was extended to bomb militant strongholds in Syria. The US efforts in Syria were aided by its Arab allies.

However, the local leaders say the only way that they will be able to fully rid their country of the group, which has carried out mass executions, beheadings and forced vast numbers to flee their homes, will be through local support.

“The people of Mosul must feel like they are being liberated and governed by people from Mosul,” Mr Mahmoud said.

He and other council members criticised the tactics employed by the Shiite-dominated security forces in the city by Iraq’s former prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki ahead of the ISIL takeover.

Residents of Mosul, especially its majority Sunni Arabs, viewed his military and police as little more than a brutal, sectarian militia, and as a result, many of them did not resist ISIL’s June invasion.

Iraq’s new government under prime minister Haider Al Abadi has promised to address the sectarian policies of Mr Al Maliki, a Shiite who ostracised Sunnis and who many in Iraq blame for the ISIL takeover.

Mr Al Abadi, also a Shiite, has indicated he would support reforming the military to be more representative of the local populations where they serve. That bodes well for Mosul officials and their plans to retake the city.

They envision fielding a force that would consist of local officers and recruits from the tens of thousands of displaced people from Mosul who have taken refuge in Iraq’s Kurdish region.

The officials have also held meetings with Mosul’s displaced teachers, medical professionals and former employees of the electricity and water authorities to form teams that could quickly assume control of the city’s public services after retaking it from ISIL.

“These people are skilled and ready to help us run the area,” said Hashim Brifkany, a Kurdish member of Mosul’s council who is involved in the planning effort.

He said the council intended to discuss presenting the plan to the government in Baghdad during a meeting in the Kurdish city of Dohuk on Sunday.

Yet, there are already deep divisions between the Mosul politicians over their contribution to the coalition effort. The 39-member council has been at odds with Atheel Nujaifi, the governor of Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital. He has been promoting his vision for forming his own local militia to remove ISIL from Mosul in Arab and foreign media.

Members of the council have threatened to exclude Mr Nujaifi from the planning efforts, accusing him of attempting to wrest control of the decision-making process.

“Mr Nujaifi is in this for himself and that he has no following among the people of Mosul,” says Khalaf Al Hadidi, a council member in charge of strategic planning before taking refuge in Kurdistan in June. “He is hurting our efforts.”

Mr Nujaifi, a Sunni, tells The National that he had already started to fund resistance groups operating secretly inside Mosul. Those groups, which he says he provided with cash and small arms, have begun carrying out attacks on ISIL forces.

The council members have been angered by these claims and say they have no knowledge of such resistance efforts.

Mr Hadidi, who also is Sunni, calls Mr Nujaifi’s claims “pure exaggeration”.

There is also a question mark over the loyalties of tribesmen in Iraq’s largely Sunni areas, whom the council members claim have expressed backing for their plan.

Ali Hatem Al Suleiman, who heads Anbar province’s Dulaim tribe and has an office in Erbil, doubted that Iraqi tribesmen would buy into the military plan. He says the key to winning Sunni-tribal support was to first obtain more concessions from Baghdad, including greater provincial control over governance and resources.

“Unless the Sunnis are given their rights, none of these plans will work,” says Mr Al Suleiman, who has close contacts with tribal figures in Mosul.

Kenneth Pollack, an Iraq expert and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, calls the Iraqi tribes’ relations with ISIL “one of the big unknowns” that US intelligence is trying to ascertain in its Iraq plans.

He also doubts efforts by Mosul politicians to field their own fighting force, but says that “if the [Obama] strategy is going to work, those are exactly the kind of people we are going to have to find ways to empower”.

Mr Nujaifi, the governor who was appointed this month as one of Iraq’s three vice presidents, agrees with the latter assessment. But he also expresses optimism for efforts to build a local militia from the new government in Baghdad. He recently visited the capital to discuss the idea with officials, he says.

“You have a situation now where politicians in Baghdad, including Shiite politicians, understand the consequences of the lack of cooperation that affected us during the Maliki years,” he says.

“They understand that this helped empower the extremist Sunnis and empower Daash [ISIL] and that they have to find ways to support the moderates.”

Assyrian International News Agency

UN peacekeepers take over CAR mission

The United Nations has formally taken over a regional African peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic, nine months after sectarian violence erupted which left at least 5,000 people dead and forced tens of thousands of Muslims to flee to neighbouring countries.

As the UN took over on Monday, about 1,800 additional peacekeepers and police joined the African Union’s peacekeeping mission of 6,200 troops already in the country. 

Two-thousand French troops, deployed last December, will work alongside the new UN force.

Human rights groups say that the new force, when combined with the existing African troops, is still only about 65 percent of what was authorised by the UN Security Council in April.

They called for the full deployment of a nearly 12,000-strong force, which diplomats said would not take place until early 2015, the Associated Press news agency reported.

‘Cosmetic change’

“The switch from AU to UN peacekeepers must be more than a cosmetic change: the swapping green berets for blue helmets. Instead it must serve as a fresh start for the peacekeeping operation in CAR,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s campaigns deputy regional director for West and Central Africa.

The peacekeepers face the enormous task of bringing peace to one of the least developed countries on the African continent, with around 4.6 million people. In nearly two decades, 13 peacekeeping missions have been deployed to CAR, but none of them brought lasting stability.

The new reinforcements have come from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Morocco and Bangladesh to join peacekeepers from other countries in Central Africa.

The UN has “worked tirelessly” since the April resolution was passed, said Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, who emphasised that CAR is “an extremely, extremely complicated logistical situation” because it is land-locked with dilapidated roads that date back to independence from France in 1960.

“I think the last thing we have been doing is sitting on our hands, but we’ve been meeting logistical challenges… mobilising troops for a peacekeeping mission takes time,” he said last week.

“We have to go knock on doors for troops, for equipment, helicopters and in the meantime I think we’ve been working very actively in the CAR, both on the political end and, of course, on the humanitarian end.”

Civilians killed at ‘alarming rate’

Mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in March last year, which birthed a counter-offensive by Christian militias. Both sides deliberately targeted each other’s civilian communities.

At least 5,204 people have been killed since the sectarian violence erupted last December, according to a tally compiled by AP. That figure is based on a count of bodies and numbers gathered from survivors, priests, imams and aid workers in more than 50 of the hardest-hit communities.

Civilians are still being killed “at an alarming rate,” said Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch who conducted a field mission this month on the ground.

“There is no time to lose,” he said. “The new UN mission urgently needs to get more troops into eastern and central areas and take bold steps to protect civilians from these brutal attacks.”

Meanwhile, the US announced that it would reopen its embassy in the capital city of Bangui. The US had suspended operations in Central African Republic and urged Americans to leave the country in December 2012 when violence erupted.

Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement on Monday progress had been made at putting the nation on “a path toward peace and stability”.

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

New EU Sanctions Against Russia To Take Effect

European Union officials say new sanctions against Russia for its role in the conflict in Ukraine will go into effect on September 12.

The expanded sanctions will take effect when published in the European Union’s “Official Journal.”

The Russian ruble fell to a new record low of 37.57 to the dollar on the news.

The sanctions include a ban on loans and financing from EU countries to major Russian energy firms such as Rosneft, Transneft, and Gazprom Neft. 

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has called the sanctions an “unfriendly act” and warned Moscow’s retaliation would be “absolutely proportionate.”

The measures were agreed by EU leaders on the sidelines of a NATO summit on September 5 and formally approved in Brussels on September 8.

But publication of the decision was delayed to allow time to assess the implementation of a cease-fire agreement in eastern Ukraine between Kyiv and pro-Russian separatists.

The EU has said the sanctions could be suspended if Moscow honors the conditions of the cease-fire and pulls its troops out of Ukrainian territory.

EU officials in Brussels told RFE/RL that the European Union would continue to monitor the cease-fire and the peace process, and that EU sanctions against Russia could be scaled back if a review at the end of September determines there have been positive steps.

Russia denies accusations by the EU, Kyiv, and NATO that it has sent Russian soldiers and weapons to reinforce separatists who are fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

A top NATO official said in late August that Russia had sent more than 1,000 of its soldiers into Ukrainian territory along with tanks, armored personnel carriers, and Grad missile launchers.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on September 10 that Russia had withdrawn 70 percent of the troops Kyiv claims were sent into eastern Ukraine, giving hope to peace initiatives proposed along with the shaky cease-fire.

But a NATO official said on September 11 that Russia still has at least 1,000 soldiers in eastern Ukraine.

In another potential blow to peace efforts, a separatist leader in Donetsk has told RFE/RL that Poroshenko’s offer of “special status” within Ukraine for the breakaway eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk was insufficient.

Aleksandr Karaman, deputy prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, said on September 9 that the separatist government there has decided that any negotiations with Kyiv must “be based on the principle of the sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic.”

Poland – a transit country for Russian natural gas deliveries to other EU countries — said Russian natural gas deliveries already have dropped by 45 percent since September 8, when Russia’s Foreign Ministry threatened an unspecified “reaction” to more sanctions.

Germany and Slovakia have also reported smaller reductions in gas deliveries from Russia.

Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom denies that it has reduced supplies.

Meanwhile, in Kyiv, the speaker of Ukraine’s parliament announced on September 11 that Poroshenko would submit Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the EU to the legislature on September 16.

Speaker Oleksandr Turchynov said the Verkhovna Rada would vote on ratification of the accord “immediately.”

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, and RFE/RL’s Moldovan service

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Alarmed By Regional Threat, Lebanon’s Christians Take Up Arms

(AP) — Every day around sunset, dozens of residents of this small Lebanese Christian village on the border carry their automatic rifles and deploy on surrounding hills, taking up positions and laying ambushes in case Muslim extremists from neighbouring Syria attack.

“We all know that if they come, they will slit our throats for no reason,” said one villager as he drove through the streets of Qaa, an assault rifle resting next to him.

For months, Lebanese Christians have watched with dread as other Christians flee Islamic extremists in Syria and Iraq, fearing their turn will come next. Fears multiplied after militants from Syria overran a border town last month, clashing with security forces for days and killing and kidnapping Lebanese soldiers and policemen.

Now, for the first time since the Lebanese civil war ended in 1990, Lebanese Christians are rearming and setting up self-defence units to protect themselves, an indication of the growing anxiety over the expanding reach of radical Islamic groups.

Across the Middle East, Christian communities as old as the religion itself feel their very survival is now at stake, threatened by militants of the Islamic State group rampaging across Iraq and Syria.

In Iraq, thousands of Christians have fled their homes after they were made to choose between leaving, converting to Islam or facing death. For the first time in centuries, Iraq’s Ninevah region and the provincial capital of Mosul have been emptied of Christians. After they left, the militants spray-painted their houses with the letter “N” for “Nasrani” — an archaic term used to refer to Christians — marking the homes as Islamic State property.

In Syria, thousands of Christians have been displaced during its three-year conflict. Christian towns and villages have come under attack by jihadists, most recently the historic central town of Mahradeh. Islamic fighters in Syria rampaged through the ancient Christian town of Maaloula near Damascus earlier this year, destroying historic churches and icons. Christians in the militant stronghold of Raqqa were forced to pay an Islamic tax for protection.

Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria are now sheltering in Lebanon, sensing safety in a pluralistic country which has the largest percentage of Christians in the Middle East. Lebanon is also the only Arab country with a Christian head of state.

But the fear has spread to Lebanon as well. This week, after a video was posted online showing a group of boys burning an Islamic State flag in a Christian neighbourhood of Beirut, vandals spray-painted the outer walls of several churches in northern Lebanon with the words: “The Islamic State is coming.”

In Qaa and Ras Baalbek, two Christian villages in the northeast, on the border with Syria, the anxiety is palpable. Many of the thousands of expatriates who used to spend the summer here stayed away this year. Restaurants and the villages’ main squares were deserted on a recent day.

The sale of weapons on the black market has climbed sharply. The arming effort is backed by some leftist and communist Lebanese militias who have long had weapons. The Shiite armed group Hezbollah has also indirectly supported such efforts, seeing the communities as a first line of defence for Shiite towns and villages in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa region.

Sitting in his house few kilometres (miles) away from areas controlled by jihadi fighters in Syria, Suleiman Semaan, a political activist in Ras Baalbek, said the mobilization in the village was purely for self-defence.

He and other residents said they were especially alarmed by an attack last month in which militants from Syria overran the Lebanese border town of Arsal for several days, killing and abducting a number of soldiers and police. The attack was the worst spillover of Syrian violence since the uprising began in March 2011.

“We don’t want to attack anyone and we don’t want anyone to attack us,” Semaan said.

But the rearming of Christians could raise tensions in Lebanon, which is already bitterly split over the Syrian conflict. During Lebanon’s own 15-year civil war, the right-wing Phalange party engaged in heavy fighting on behalf of the country’s once-dominant Christians.

In Syria and Iraq, however, Christians have always been a scattered minority, and rather than mobilize to protect themselves, they enjoyed relative security for decades under the rule of secular dictatorships. Now, as vast swaths of both countries have fallen out of government control, many Christians are looking elsewhere for safety.

In northeastern Syria, small Christian units have been fighting under the umbrella of the People’s Protection Unit, a Kurdish militia. But most Christians in Syria, as well as Iraq, say they simply don’t have the numbers, arms or training to combat the battle-hardened Islamic militants.

The number of Christians in the Middle East has been in decline for decades because of waves of attacks, regional upheaval and sectarian tensions.

Iraq was home to an estimated 1 million Christians before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein. Since then, militants have frequently targeted Christians across the country, bombing their churches and killing clergymen. Under such pressure, many Christians have left, and church officials now put the community at around 450,000.

Many Syrian Christians, who make up about 10 per cent of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million, left for Europe over the past 20 years, with the flight gathering speed since 2011.

Amir, a 41-year-old Christian, came to Lebanon last year from the northeastern Syrian region of Hassakeh, where Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Syriacs and Armenians traditionally lived together in peace. He is now looking for work in Lebanon, staying with his brother in a Christian area north of Beirut, and considering whether to apply for immigration.

“I don’t want to give up on Syria, but I want my children to grow up feeling safe. I want them to grow up in a place where they can proudly make the sign of the cross without fear,” he said, as two of his children played with cousins nearby. He said 25 members of his extended family have left Syria over the past two years.

Umm Milad, a 27-year-old Iraqi housewife, came to Lebanon with her husband and two sons after Islamic State fighters put the “N” sign on their home in Mosul’s Al-Arabi neighbourhood in July. They were given 24 hours to leave.

“We are scared,” she said while waiting to collect aid at a Chaldean church in Beirut. “We don’t want to go back. We want to go anywhere else. Canada or America.”

Many Christian villagers, like the driver in Qaa, only spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety. Others, like Amir and Umm Milad, gave only their first name or nickname for the same reason.

During a visit to Iraq on Aug. 18, Lebanese Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil, a member of the right-wing Christian Free Patriotic Movement, urged Christians not to leave the region. “If Christianity becomes extinct in Iraq it will end in the whole region. Iraq and our region will lose pluralism.”

But for Sahira Hakim, a housewife from Baghdad who is now in Lebanon applying to immigrate to a third country, there is no going back to Iraq, and her native country will never be the same.

“We Christians are like roses. If you remove them from a garden, it will not be beautiful anymore,” she said.

Assyrian International News Agency

Separatists Take Village Near Luhansk

Published 4 September 2014

After a week of intense fighting, Ukraine’s National Guard ceded the village of Novosvitlivka, near Luhansk, to pro-Russian separatist forces. Video shot on Septermber 3 by RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitsky shows remains of Ukrainian armored vehicles scattered around the village and a school destroyed by artillery fire. (RFE/RL’s Moldova Service)

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

NYMEX crude oil prices rebound in Asia as buyers take advantage of dips

Investing.com –

Investing.com – Crude oil prices rebounded in Asia on Wednesday, with supplies dipping sharply overnight.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange Crude Oil traded at $ 93.16 a barrel, up 0.30%, after ending overnight at $ 92.88 a barrel, the lowest settlement price since Jan. 14. Prices posted the largest one-day decline since Nov. 7, 2012.

Brent Oil prices tumbled to $ 100.34 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe, the lowest settlement since May 1, 2013. Brent’s one-day loss was the largest since Jan. 2.

Meanwhile, global supplies are plentiful. Libya’s National Oil Corp. said Monday that its production had climbed to 700,000 barrels a day, up from 150,000 barrels a day in late May.

Libyan oil production remains tenuous as violence in the region continues, and unrest in Iraq, Ukraine and elsewhere could threaten oil output. For now, though, traders are less focused on geopolitics than on supply-and-demand factors.

While the U.S. economy continues to show signs of improvement, the global economy may be battling headwinds, concerns of which that battered crude prices earlier.

China’s official manufacturing index ticked down to 51.1 from 51.7 in July, while the HSBC manufacturing index slowed to 50.2 from 50.3 the previous month.

Both figures missed expectations, which sent prices falling amid concerns that demand in the world’s second-largest consumer of oil and major manufacturing hub may be slipping.

Meanwhile, a stronger U.S. currencythe product of upbeat datapushed prices lower, as a firmer greenback makes crude prices less attractive on dollar-denominated exchanges, especially in the eyes of investors holding other currencies.

The greenback firmed after the Institute for Supply Management reported that its manufacturing purchasing managers’ index jumped to 59.0 in August from 57.1 in July, defying analysts’ calls for the index to tick down to 56.8.

On the index, a reading above 50.0 indicates industry expansion, below indicates contraction.

The new orders component of the index rose to 66.7, an increase of 3.3 points from 63.4 in July.

The employment index grew for the fourteenth consecutive month the report said, registering 58.1, down 0.01 points from 58.2 in July.

Also in the U.S., the Census Bureau reported earlier that U.S. construction spending rose to 1.8% in July from -0.9% in June, whose figure was revised up from -1.8%.

Analysts had expected U.S. construction spending to rise to 1.0% last month.

The numbers fueled market expectations for the Federal Reserve to wind down stimulus programs as early as next month and raise interest rates some time next year, which sent the U.S. dollar gaining.

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Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

Putin: ‘If I Want, I Will Take Kyiv In Two Weeks’

The Italian newspaper “Le Repubblica” printed an article on September 1 that reported Russian President Vladimir Putin told outgoing European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, “If I want, I could take Kyiv in two weeks.”

The Italian newspaper reported Putin made the comment during a phone call with Barroso and Barroso relayed the statement to European leaders at an EU summit in Brussels on August 30.

The report implied Putin’s threat was a response to the possibility the EU might impose further and more severe sanctions on Russia over the Kremlin’s involvement with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The rift events in Ukraine have opened between the EU and Russia continue to grow.

The new EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, has called the situation in Ukraine Europe’s biggest crisis in decades.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced on September 1 the alliance is considering the creation of a “spearhead” force that could be deployed in eastern Europe within 48 hours to counter any possible Russian aggression.

Based on reporting by “The Telegraph,” “Der Speigel,” and “La Repubblica”

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Afghans Laud, Rights Groups Concerned By ‘Take No Prisoners’ Orders

“Take no prisoners.” Those are the strict orders being handed down by a number of powerful army and police chiefs across Afghanistan. 

Afghan security forces have been instructed to kill militants on the battlefield instead of taking them prisoner and transferring them for prosecution. 

Many Afghans, critical of the government’s perceived soft stance against militants, have lauded the move. But the “take no prisoners” orders are worrying human rights groups, who say they could violate international law. 

Aminullah Amarkhail, the security chief of the northern province of Baghlan, describes the judicial process in Afghanistan as “corrupt,” saying militants who have been detained, tried, and imprisoned in Baghlan in the past have been set free under dubious circumstances and many have returned to the battlefield. 

“To ensure insurgents are not freed by [corrupt] judges, I issued an order that any combatant who is fighting in the battlefield against my forces should be killed and sent to hell to get the punishment they deserve,” says Amarkhail, who adds that his order was his “own, personal” decision. 

In an interview with RFE/RL, Amarkhail suggested that his forces were specifically targeting foreign militants, although various news agencies reported him as saying his men were going after all militants.  

General Abdul Raziq, the police chief of Kandahar Province, a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan, is another who has given his forces an order to wipe out militants on the battlefield. 

“I’m thankful for my forces for killing them all and not leaving their fates to the courts which simply demand a bribe [for their release],” says Raziq. “The good news is that they [militants] will all be destroyed. My order to all my soldiers is not to leave any of them alive.”

The men have not revealed the circumstances in which the militants have been killed, and their vaguely worded comments have opened room for interpretation. Are the orders to kill militants during battle or to execute them after they are detained? That difference has a huge bearing on the legality of the actions. 

“When Afghan forces are fighting the Taliban then the militants are military targets and there is no legal issue,” says Patricia Gossman, a senior researcher for Afghanistan at Human Rights Watch (HRW). “It’s once a combatant is no longer a combatant — when he’s taken prisoner or he’s wounded and can no longer fight — then under the International Humanitarian Law it is prohibited to kill a captured prisoner.” 

‘Dangerous’ Statements

Gossman says it would be “very disturbing” if Amarkhail and Raziq have ordered their men to kill captured Taliban fighters instead of taking them prisoner. But she says it is a longstanding issue. 

“We certainly have evidence that these commanders have been engaged in extrajudicial executions, torture, and deaths in custody,” says Gossman. “The real problem is that there haven’t been any prosecutions of any of these people for these kinds of abuses.”

There have been no public comments from the presidential palace on the issue. 

Chris Rogers, a human rights lawyer at the Open Society Foundation who works on conflict-related detentions in Afghanistan, says the statements from Raziq and Amarkhail amount to orders for impunity for those who might commit these kinds of violations. 

“Statements like this are dangerous because if they’re vague it gives an implicit license to commanders and sub-commanders and their personnel in the security forces to engage in actions that would be violations of the laws of war,” he says.

Last month Raziq was summoned to Kabul after making public his “take no prisoner” orders. Afghan media have speculated that he has been forced to resign, a scenario that has led thousands of Afghans to express their support for the police chief. 

The Afghan National Army’s (ANA) official Facebook page, “Supporting the Afghan National Army,” uploaded a picture of Raziq on August 14 with a message saying: “Tensions between General Raziq and the president about the killing of Taliban fighters on the battlefield might result in Raziq’s resignation. Are you ready to support the esteemed General Raziq?”

The post, which has accumulated over 6,000 likes, has attracted hundreds of comments in the past several days, with many in support of the controversial police chief. 

Many Facebook users simply replied with an emphatic “Yes” or “Down with the Taliban.”

On August 16, Mohammad Yusuf Mohammadi posted: “Long live the brave and courageous generals of Afghanistan.” 

Syed Ansari, on August 15, posted: “Destroy them all. [Outgoing President Hamid] Karzai can’t remove you. Don’t ever resign, stand firm like a mountain.”

Another user, Sulaman Akbari, posted: “Anybody who has worked honestly in the government will be killed or sacked. This is a very strange country. We are fed up.”

Some lawmakers have also extended their support. 

“Considering the current situation in Afghanistan, I think that, if we do not treat the terrorists in the same way as they treat our forces, the situation will get even worse,” said Zalmai Mujadidi, an MP from the northern province of Badakhshan, earlier this month. 

‘Enemies Of Our Country’

Naheed Farid, an MP from the western Herat Province, said Kabul should not get involved in the matter. “The police chiefs are present in the district and know that local people are being killed [by the Taliban]. Local commanders are closer to the local people than those in the presidential palace,” she said earlier this month. 

Mir Hashim, an ANA officer stationed in the southeastern province of Paktia, a hotbed of militant activity, says Taliban militants should be killed in battle or executed in case of capture.  

“In every mission, if a Taliban fighter is wounded he receives treatment,” says Hashim. “They’re treated like guests. Those who are detained aren’t punished. They’re held for one year or six months and then released. The government must ensure they’re given the death sentence because they’re the enemies of our country.”

Hashim criticizes Karzai who has controversially freed hundreds of Taliban prisoners from Afghan jails in the past year. Since Parwan Detention Facility, the country’s largest prison, was transferred from U.S. to Afghan control last year he has released hundreds of fighters, including almost 100 the United States had classed as “dangerous.” Karzai had protested that international forces jailed Afghans on dubious grounds, with no proper judicial process. 

The “take no prisoners’ orders have been employed by a growing number of security chiefs as their forces face a sustained, large-scale Taliban offensive. Observers say an unusually high number of insurgents have carried out major attacks in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar and in the eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar, Laghman, and Nuristan in recent months. 

The violence has been unremitting this fighting season. During the fasting month of Ramadan, when violence traditionally recedes, there was actually an escalation of violence. Since then, insurgent groups based in Pakistan’s tribal areas, displaced by Islamabad’s military offensive in the region, have made their way across the porous border into Afghanistan. 

Afghan forces have been largely successful in fending off the attacks, but they have become increasingly stretched and pinned back. The job of containing the Taliban has been made harder by the withdrawal of international combat troops this year. 

“One of the most critical [changes on the battlefield] is the reduced NATO air support and attacks against insurgents,” says Fabrizio Foschini of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a Kabul-based think tank. “This allows a higher degree of freedom for insurgents to gather in big numbers of fighters without fear of being attacked by NATO warplanes. This has created a logistics, transport, and supply burden on the Afghan National Security Forces [ANSF].” 

With additional reporting by RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Appeal for New Zealand to Take Christian Refugees From Syria, Iraq

As the humanitarian crisis worsens in Iraq and Syria, pressure is mounting on the New Zealand government to offer refuge to Christians facing persecution.

Iraqi and Syrian Christians in New Zealand fear for family members trying to flee Islamic State militants, who are killing Christians who refuse to convert to Islam.

From a distance of 16,000 kilometres, Assyrian Christians from Iraq and Syria can only pray as their people suffer at the hands of Islamic State militants.

The Sunni Muslim group has been telling Christians, Yazidi and Shi’ite Muslims to convert to their faith or be killed.

In the latest atrocity, they reportedly massacred 80 men from the local Yazidi religion in northern Iraq and took women and children captive.

Assyrians there say the future for Christians and Christianity in Iraq and Syria is bleak. Now they’re asking New Zealand for help.

“We want from the New Zealand government to accept refugees from Syria and Iraq, especially who have relatives here,” says Assyrian community spokesman Khaled Tomas.

But Prime Minister John Key won’t budge on New Zealand’s annual refugee quota of 750, even though reports in Australia say the Abbott government is considering taking 4000 Syrian and Iraqi Christians.

“I think we took a group of 150 Syrian refugees as part of our UNHCR quota, and we’re always looking to see on a humanitarian basis what we could do,” says Mr Key.

It’s little comfort for Kiwi Assyrians desperately trying to protect their loved ones and one of the oldest Christian communities in the world.

“We had churches in Mosul for 1800 years, and they’re all destroyed,” says Iraqi priest Father Kanon Toma.

Now the terrified Christians and Yazidis are prepared to leave their ancient cultures behind and start again.

The community in New Zealand has only one wish — for them to have a better life.

Assyrian International News Agency

Ebola epidemic to take six months to control

The Ebola epidemic is moving faster than the authorities can handle and could take six months to bring under control, medical charity Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has said.

The warning came a day after the World Health Organization (WHO) said the scale of the epidemic had been vastly underestimated and that “extraordinary measures” were needed to contain the killer disease.

New figures released by the UN health agency showed the death toll from the worst outbreak of Ebola in four decades had climbed to 1,145 in the four afflicted West African countries – Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

“It is deteriorating faster, and moving faster, than we can respond to,” Joanne Liu, the chief of MSF, told reporters in Geneva on Friday. She added that it could take six months to get the upper hand.

“It is like wartime,” she said a day after returning from the region. “I don’t think we should focus on numbers. To really get a reality check, we’re not talking in terms of weeks, but months to control the epidemic.”

It is like wartime. To really get a reality check, we’re not talking in terms of weeks, but months to control the epidemic.

Joanne Liu, Medicins Sans Frontieres

Elhadj As Sy, the new head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, painted a similarly bleak picture, speaking of a “fear factor” in affected countries that was hampering medical assistance.

Also recently returned from the region, As Sy said he agreed with MSF’s’ six-month timeline for bringing the outbreak under control.

The WHO said on Thursday it was coordinating “a massive scaling up of the international response” to the epidemic.

“Staff at the outbreak sites see evidence that the numbers of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak,” it said.

There were signs too that affected countries were stepping up their efforts to contain the virus.

Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Koroma announced plans on Friday for the construction of several more Ebola treatment centres, while urging the international community to “act quickly” in the fight against Ebola.

The four new centres would be built by the Red Cross and MSF, he said.

Experimental drugs

The epidemic erupted in the forested zone straddling the borders of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia earlier this year, and later spread to Nigeria.

Liu said while Guinea was the initial epicentre of the disease, the pace there has slowed, with fears now focused on the other countries.

“If we don’t stabilise Liberia, we’ll never stabilise the region,” she said.

No cure or vaccine is currently available for Ebola, with the WHO authorising the use of largely untested treatments in efforts to combat the disease.

Hard-hit nations are awaiting consignments of up to 1,000 doses of the barely tested drug ZMapp from the United States, which has raised hopes of saving hundreds.

Canada says between 800 and 1,000 doses of a vaccine called VSV-EBOV, which has shown promise in animal research but never been tested on humans, would also be distributed through the WHO.

But MSF’s Liu warned against focusing on drugs.

“In the short term, they’re not going to help that much, because we don’t have many drugs available. We need to a get a reality check on how this could impact the curve of the epidemic,” she said.

Sierra Leone’s chief medical officer Brima Kargbo this week spoke of the risks facing health workers fighting the epidemic, which has killed 32 nurses since May as well as an eminent doctor.

“We still have to break the chain of transmission to separate the infected from the uninfected,” Kargbo said.

Economic toll 

The Ebola epidimic threatens to jeopardise the fragile economies of the affected West African nations.

In Nigeria, in particular, a more serious outbreak could severely disrupt its oil and gas industry if international companies are forced to evacuate staff and shut operations, rating agency Moody’s has warned.

Across the region, draconian travel restrictions have been imposed and a number of airlines have cancelled flights in and out of West Africa.

Guinea, where at least 380 people have died, became the latest country to declare a health emergency, ordering strict controls at border points and a ban on moving bodies from one town to another.

As countries around the world stepped up measures to contain the disease, the International Olympics Committee said athletes from Ebola-hit countries had been barred from competing in pool events and combat sports at the Youth Olympics opening in China on Saturday.

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Sevastopol’s Olympic-Sized Take On Ukraine: Bikers, Ballet, And Swastikas

What’s a biker show without interpretive dance? 

In what can perhaps be seen as a darker continuation of the generally well-reviewed Sochi Olympic opening ceremony in February, Russia’s most famed biker gang provided its own take on the conflict in Ukraine.

The show, broadcast live on August 9 from annexed Crimea in front of an estimated 100,000 people and on Russian state TV, used a choreographed mix of nationalist rock, pyrotechnics, Nazi and Illuminati imagery, and interpretive dance to portray Ukraine as a state overrun by fascists. 

The Sevastopol show begins with children playing merrily on a playground until they flee under the sounds of sirens and the flashing of red lights. 

Enter Aleksandr Zaldostanov, the nationalist leader of Russia’s “Night Wolves” biker gang and a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who gives his interpretation of the fall of the Soviet Union.

“Enemies who hated us, killed the Soviet state, and took away its territory and its army,” he says before repeating — in an attempt at poetic cadence — the official Russian version of the current Ukraine conflict. 

“And now, the healing has begun. It is coming from Russian Sevastopol. We are celebrating our sacred victory at a time when fascism, like putrid, poisonous dough, has overfilled its Kyiv trough and begun to spread across Ukraine. Its tanks are now flattening Kramatorsk, its Grad missiles are destroying Luhansk, its APCs are pouring fire on Slovyansk, its helicopters are attacking the suburbs of Donetsk. The new battle against fascism is inevitable. Stalin’s 11th strike is inevitable.” (This is an apparent reference to 10 Soviet military victories in 1944.)

Darkness falls and the sound of U.S. President Barack Obama’s voice echoes over the crowd: “I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story.”

His voice is cut off, and then, over the next 25 minutes, this happens:

Under the towering figure of a symbol taken from the U.S. dollar bill that is commonly used by conspiracy theorists and with the voice of a Hitler speech ringing in the background, dancers in black rise from a white sheet and form a Swastika.

The men in black — representative, apparently, of pro-Ukraine activists — cause a map of Ukraine to bleed in the east and then set riot police on fire. 

Moving fingers in the hands above appear to represent the strings being pulled by Western and American “puppeteers.”

The “story” then moves to the war in the east between Kyiv and pro-Russian separatists. 

Tanks flying both the Ukrainian flag and the banner of the Ukrainian ultranationalist group Right Sector roll onto the stage to ominous music and the echo of bullets. Armed with blow torches, they appear to burn the surrounding stage indiscriminately. (Although the Right Sector’s leader earned less than 1 percent of the vote in Ukraine’s May presidential election, the group remains a favorite boogeyman of Moscow.) 

But then the Ukrainians are set alight — repelled by forces gloriously carrying the flag of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.

Although Crimea was annexed in March before fighting broke out in the east, the Night Wolves’ version of a historical reenactment closes with Russia “reclaiming” the Ukrainian peninsula.

As men dressed as Russian sailors bang on drums, a band repeats its main refrain: “The city’s come back — Sevastopol will remain Russian.”

Here’s a video of the full performance:

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

A military solution in Iraq will take a long time

BAGHDAD   -The U.S. President Barack Obama said on Saturday that a military solution in Iraq will take a long time and will not be in a few weeks.

He said in a press conference today that the formation of a comprehensive Iraqi government will contribute to solutions to expel the IS, and that what we have seen in the past few months from factors of weakness in the government, we must form an awakening to make the Iraqis think about how they gather the country together, and with this we hope that the situation will change and that we help and make a difference, I do not think we will solve the problem within weeks, because it takes time.

Obama said: “The Iraq’s Sunni minority and the Sunni majority in Syria felt dissatisfaction with their governments and this has become a fertile land for terrorists, as the Iraqi government acted and failed that make the Sunni a part of the government and began to imprison their leaders, so there was not coherent in this regard.

He explained: “We have to make sure that the Sunni population reject such incursions and they will take part in the national government and get supplies, and we have to restore confidence to the government and the military to keep a safe place for them to work hard.

He said that a lot of Sunni states in the region had had suspicions against the government, it is hoped to change their policies after the formation of the new government, and organize with us to fight against the ISIS.

He pointed out that Baghdad had rejected American forces in Iraq, and we respected the decision, being a sovereign state .

LINK

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Syrian Forces and Hizbullah Take Back Key Areas in Aleppo From Islamists

NICOSIA — The regime of President Bashar Assad has achieved significant gains in the fight for Syria’s largest city.

The Syrian Army has captured a key section of the rebel-held area of Aleppo. On July 5, the Army, backed by Hizbullah and the regime-aligned National Defense Forces, took control of Sheik Najar, part of the Army’s mission to encircle the city.

“Clashes took place after midnight between the Nusra Front for the Defense of the Levant, backed by many Islamic battalions, against regime forces supported by Hizbullah and NDF around the Air Force intelligence building in the Zahraa neighborhood during regime bombardment of the area,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Aug. 3.

Opposition sources said the estimated 3,500 rebels in Aleppo were exhausting their supply of ammunition as the army sought to block the flow of fighters and weapons. They said the army was being aided by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which was capturing rebel-held villages in the Aleppo province.

The rebels have sought to stop the army and Hizbullah through tunnel attacks. On July 29, at least 13 Syrian soldiers were killed when two tunnels filled with explosives were detonated, one of them under a police station.

But the sources acknowledged that the loss of Sheik Najar marked a major rebel loss. They said Najar housed a huge industrial zone, which included military production, that the regime of President Bashar Assad sought to preserve.

The Syrian Air Force has played a major role in the advance through Aleppo. The sources cited daily attacks by so-called barrel bombs, dropped by helicopters.

“Helicopters dropped barrel bombs on the Bani Zaid and Bab Al Hadid neighborhoods, which wounded many civilians,” Syrian Observatory said.

“Helicopters also dropped explosive barrels on Heidra and Sheik Kheder, which resulted in casualties.”

The rebels have reported fresh efforts to unite their forces. On Aug. 3, 18 rebel factions said they formed the Syrian Revolutionary Council.

“This was in response to the call by Syrian religious leaders for the unity of armed opposition factions inside Syria,” Syrian Observatory said.

Assyrian International News Agency

UN Warns of ‘Tragedy’ As Militants Take Over Iraq Towns

(BBC) — The UN has warned that up to 200,000 people have been forced to flee their homes after militants took over more towns in northern Iraq.

Islamic State (formerly known as Isis) militants are reported to have taken over the town of Sinjar near Syria.

It follows the IS takeover of the town of Zumar and two nearby oilfields from Kurdish Peshmerga forces on Saturday.

IS seized large parts northern Iraq from government control in a major offensive in June.

The UN special envoy to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said that a “humanitarian tragedy is unfolding in Sinjar”.

“The United Nations has grave concerns for the physical safety of these civilians” he said.

“The humanitarian situation of these civilians is reported as dire, and they are in urgent need of basic items including food, water and medicine” he added.

The UN said many of those who fled are in exposed areas in mountains near the town.

Many of those in Sinjar are believed to have fled from earlier IS advances in northern Iraq.

The town is home to a large community of Kurdish Yazidis, whom IS consider heretical.

Two Yazidi shrines have reportedly been destroyed in the town.

Peshmerga retreat Kurdish military forces, known as the Peshmerga, were also forced to retreat from the nearby town of Zumar on Saturday after a militant offensive.

Kurdish forces had held the town since the Iraqi army retreated from the are in June.

Eyewitnesses said militants also seized control of two small oilfields near Zumar.

IS already controls several other oil installations in northern Iraq, which are believed to fund its activities.

Iraqi state television reported that the militants also took control of Mosul Dam on Sunday after the withdrawal of Kurdish forces.

The dam is the largest in Iraq and provides much of Mosul’s electricity.

Further south, clashes between the Iraqi army and sunni militants continued near the town of Jufr al-Sakhar, military officials said.

The Iraqi army said it conducted several airstrikes on militants in the centre of the town, which lies about 60 km south-west of Baghdad.

The town was captured by the militants last week.

The fighting this summer has been one of the worst crises to hit Iraq since the withdrawal of US forces in 2011.

Assyrian International News Agency

ISIS Beats Back Kurds to Take Mosul Dam and Three Towns

“Islamic State” fighters have seized Iraq’s biggest dam, an oilfield and three more towns. ISIS also scored its first major defeat of Kurdish forces since sweeping through northern Iraq in June.

The capture of the Mosul Dam could give the group a base from which to attack major cities and aid its bid to topple Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government. ISIS’s capture of the northern town of Sinjar has already forced up to 200,000 people to flee, the United Nations announced on Sunday.

“A humanitarian tragedy is unfolding in Sinjar,” UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov said Sunday after ISIS, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, captured the town near the Syrian border, which had served as a refuge for thousands of families displaced from elsewhere in previous fighting.

After beating militia fighters (pictured) to take territories in what had until recently been a stronghold for the transnational Kurdish minority, fighters hoisted the ISIS flag. The group has declared a caliphate in an area on the Iraq-Syria border and taken aim at the region’s various sects, including the dwindling Christian population in areas such as Mosul.

‘Hundreds fled’

In the town of Sinjar, witnesses told news agencies that residents had fled after Kurdish fighters put up little resistance against ISIS. On its Twitter site, ISIS posted a picture of one of its masked fighters holding up a pistol and sitting at the desk of the city’s mayor. In a statement on its website, ISIS reported that its fighters had killed scores of Kurdish militiamen.

“Hundreds fled leaving vehicles and a huge number of weapons and munitions, and the brothers control many areas,” ISIS reported. “The fighters arrived in the border triangle between Iraq, Syria and Turkey,” the group claimed.

After soldiers fled ISIS’s offensive on Mosul and Tikrit in June, abandoning arsenals the group took over, militias became a critical line of defense. However, Sunday’s battles have called into question the reliance on militias, increasing pressure on Iraq’s leaders to form a power-sharing government uniting political, ethnic and religious factions against ISIS.

In July, the Kurdish political bloc ended participation in Iraq’s national government in protest over Prime Minister’s Maliki’s accusation that the ethnic group had allowed “terrorists” to stay in Arbil, the capital of the minority’s semiautonomous region.

So far, ISIS has stalled in its drive to reach Baghdad, halting just before the town of Samarra, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of the capital. ISIS has, however, proved successful at consolidating its gains, capturing strategic towns near oil fields, as well as border crossings with Syria so that it can move easily back and forth and transport supplies.

The battles in Iraq have led international airlines, including Germany’s Lufthansa, to reroute flights away from the country.

Assyrian International News Agency

Iraq Forms Brigades of Sunnis, Kurds in Bid to Take Back Mosul

Women Should Not Laugh in Public, Turkish Deputy PM Says

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.comPosted 2014-07-29 10:22 GMT

Women shouldhas formed units ud in public, Dkey city from Islamic State of Iraq and Levant.

Officials said the government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has app eled the formation of units meant described his ideal of the chastiers to recapture Mosul.

They said the units consisted of d honor.

“Chastity is seveh province, most of which has be It is an ornament for both wome have formed several brige chasteness. Man will have it, too.SIL,” Nineveh Gov. Athil Al Najafi said.

In a statement on Julove his children. [T the brigadill know what is haram and not haram. She will not laugh in public. She will not be inviting in ities were trying to l protect her chasteness,” Arinc said, adding that people had abandoned their values today.

People neid.

On June 10, ISIL captured Mosul, the second largest city in the country, without a figal grounds.

“Where are ourlitary base with thoublush, lower their heads and turn their eyes away when we look at their fac Iraq Army has sought to roll baty?” he said.

He said some TV series geared toward young people had because teenagers to grow up only as “sex addicts,” ac Sunni stronghold. Officials alsement of youths with publications on TV, the web, newspapers, or in educational places, especially in universities.

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Assyrian International News Agency

Interview: Expert Says Yukos Ruling Could Take Years To Enforce

In what has been the largest such ruling of its kind, an international arbitration court in The Hague has ruled against Russia and awarded former majority shareholders of the Yukos oil company $ 50 billion for Moscow’s seizure and sale of the corporation’s assets. But Loukas Mistelis, the director of the School of International Arbitration at Queen Mary University of London, told RFE/RL’s Glenn Kates that it could be more than a decade before investors recover these assets. 

RFE/RL: Moscow has said it will contest today’s ruling in Dutch courts. What are its options? 

Loukas Mistelis: There’s no appeal mechanism. What there is is a challenge of the award. And the challenge of the award will be an annulment process by national courts that can only be done on procedural grounds.

So [the award could be annulled in that national jurisdiction] if a national court were to find that the tribunal had manifestly exceeded its powers, or there was a significant procedural irregularity or a violation of due process, or the tribunal [was found to be in a country that] shouldn’t have had jurisdiction.

So they’re entirely procedural grounds.  It’s not an appeal. An appeal process would effectively modify the decision. The challenge process is that of a process of extinguishing the award, but rarely successful.  (Editor’s note: After the ruling Moscow claimed that the Dutch court does not have jurisdiction because Russia has signed but not ratified the European Union’s Energy Charter, under which the decision was made.)

RFE/RL: If the award is upheld and Russia does refuse to pay, what are the likely consequences and how can Yukos investors be expected to recover the award?

Mistelis: What can happen is of course there are different things of different consequences. The refusal of the Russian Federation to pay would have an [impact] on their credit rating. 

The Yukos investors will try to enforce wherever they can enforce. There is a precedent with a case called Franz Sedelmayer versus the Russian Federation. It took him about 10 to 15 years to try to enforce against Russian assets. And he obtained court decisions in Germany and in Sweden, effectively ordering the execution of the award. 

RFE/RL: Will other countries work to seize Russian assets? 

x

Professor Loukas Mistelis

Mistelis: In the European Union there is precedent…where the national courts of these countries will be prepared to enforce against commercial assets of the Russian Federation. So the question will be: What is a commercial asset? So, I’m not sure whether Aeroflot is a state-run company, but it’s certainly a commercial company so one could technically enforce against Aeroflot. (Editors’ note: Aeroflot is 51 percent owned by the Russian state.) 

A fleet in the country — could enforce against a commercial merchant fleet. They could enforce against other property — for example, a language school which is owned by the Russian Federation. For assets that will qualify as commercial property, most European jurisdictions will be prepared to enforce. 

RFE/RL: How long would you expect this process to continue?

Mistelis: I think it’s going to be a long process. It’s going to be quite a long process. The Franz Sedelmayer award took nearly 10 years to enforce so I will not be surprised if the Yukos shareholders will need to dedicate 10 or 12 years to recover a substantial part of the award but maybe not the whole award.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

ISIS Take Over Syria Base, Behead Soldiers

The conflict between Israel and Palestine has distracted the world from another conflict in the same region: ISIS’s takeover of Syria and Iraq. Fighting continues in war-torn Syria, as it has for the last three years, and the Islamist group ISIS has gained some ground in the last couple of days.

Their latest victory happened on Friday, according to BBC News, when ISIS troops attacked the Syrian base outside the city of Raqqa. Manned by Division 17 of the Syrian Army, the base was attacked at night, when ISIS troops began besieging the base. The base houses a large arsenal of weapons and munitions.

Although the government of Bashar al-Assad has not confirmed the base’s capitulation, BBC News reports that it is organizing a counterattack. Since the fighting begun three years ago, 170,000 people have died, the British news agency reports.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that monitors violence in the Syrian conflict, reports that several soldiers and a colonel were executed after ISIS took over the base; many were beheaded, according to the New York Times.

The newspaper also adds there have been conflicting accounts of what transpired: some accounts claim ISIS took over the whole base, while others say they only have parts of the base under their control.

An ISIS fighter explained the situation at the base to the Times.

“I could see only bodies; there were, like, 70 scattered everywhere,” he said, asking to remain anonymous as he is not allowed to speak with the press. “Now our brothers with their trucks will bury them in a mass grave.”

He added that 13 ISIS fighters died and the remaining Syrian troops fled to nearby villages.

Agence France-Presse corroborates the executions, reporting that around 85 Syrian troops were killed in the attack and an estimated 50 soldiers were “summarily executed.”

“Some of the executed troops were beheaded, and their bodies and severed heads put on display in Raqa city,” the head of the Observartory, Rami Abdel Rahman, told the AFP.

To further instill fear among the populace and the greater world, Islamist began posting photos of the heads on social media, particularly Twitter, according to Al-Arabiya. One of the men posing with the heads has been identified as Mohamed Elomar, an Australian citizen who went to Syria with his friend Khaled Sharrouf, who uses the moniker Abu Zarqawi Australi. Sharrouf posted the images online, reports Al-Arabiya.

Assyrian International News Agency

ISIS Take Over Syrian Army Base, Behead Soldiers

DAMASCUS (AFP) — Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria fighters have seized a Syrian army base in the northern province of Raqa, killing scores of troops and beheading some of them, an activist group said Saturday.

The takeover of Division 17 base came as the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said Friday that ISIS fighters accused of atrocities would be added to a list of war crimes indictees.

In a two-day assault on the base in Raqa province, an ISIS bastion, the jihadists killed at least 85 soldiers, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

More than 50 troops were summarily executed, 19 others were killed in a double suicide bombing and at least 16 more died in the assault launched early Thursday.

Hundreds of troops “withdrew on Friday to safe places — either to nearby villages whose residents oppose ISIS or to nearby Brigade 93 — but the fate of some 200 remains unknown,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

“Some of the executed troops were beheaded, and their bodies and severed heads put on display in Raqa city,” an ISIS stronghold, he told AFP.

Video shot by jihadists and distributed on YouTube showed ISIS fighters apparently inside Division 17 living quarters burning a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The jihadists also distributed photographs via Twitter of bodies of decapitated soldiers strewn on the pavements and strung onto railings of Raqa city.

Abdel Rahman said the public display was “a message to the people of Raqa, to tell them it is strong, that it isn’t going anywhere, and to terrify” any opponents.

Also in northern Syria, 30 troops and pro-regime paramilitary were killed in an overnight ambush in Aleppo province, the Observatory said.

ISIS, which first emerged in Syria’s war in spring 2013, has since imposed its near-total control in Raqa province and Deir Al-Zor on the Iraq border.

In June, the jihadist group proclaimed an Islamic “caliphate” straddling Syria and Iraq.

Despite opposition by poorly-armed rebels fighting both the army and ISIS, the jihadists have made advances in several areas of Syria, whose three-year war has killed more than 170,000 people.

“There is a clear shift in the ISIS strategy. It has moved from consolidating its total control in areas under its grip. It is now spreading,” said Abdel Rahman.

“For ISIS, fighting the regime is not about bringing down Assad. It is about expanding its control,” he said.

ISIS was emboldened by its June offensive in Iraq when large swathes of the north and west fell out of Iraqi government control.

Syrian rebels say ISIS transported a large amount of heavy weapons captured from fleeing Iraqi troops into Syria.

On Friday, Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro, who heads the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said ISIS “are good candidates for the list” of possible war crime indictees.

“I can assure you that we are collecting information on perpetrators from all sides,” he told reporters in New York.

The Observatory also reported that six children and three women were among 15 civilians killed Friday in rebel mortar fire on army-held areas of Aleppo city.

Regime air strikes, meanwhile, killed seven civilians, including three children, in opposition-held areas of Aleppo.

Once Syria’s commercial capital, the northern metropolis has been divided into regime and rebel-held areas since July 2012.

Also in Aleppo province, a child was killed when a regime helicopter was shot down over the army-controlled Palestinian refugee camp of Nairab, the Observatory said.

Assyrian International News Agency

Crude dips as investors take profits from geopolitical rally

Investing.com –

Investing.com – Crude futures slid on Friday after investors locked in gains from concerns geopolitical tensions in Ukraine and in Israel will disrupt supplies and sold the commodity for profits.

In the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate crude oil for delivery in August traded down 0.06% at $ 103.13 a barrel during U.S. trading. New York-traded oil futures hit a session low of $ 102.59 a barrel and a high of $ 103.94 a barrel.

The August contract settled up 1.97% at $ 103.19 a barrel on Thursday.

Nymex oil futures were likely to find support at $ 99.01 a barrel, Tuesday’s low, and resistance at $ 103.90 a barrel, Thursday’s high.

Oil prices shot up on news that a Malaysian Airlines plane was shot down over Ukraine, with the U.S. blaming pro-Russian separatist for the act.

Elsewhere, Israel launched a ground offensive in Gaza to quell rocket attacks.

“Following ten days of Hamas attacks by land, air and sea, and after repeated rejections of offers to deescalate the situation, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has initiated a ground operation within the Gaza Strip,” the IDF said on its website.

Fears of Russian and Mideast supply disruptions sent oil posting strong gains until profit taking sent the commodity back into negative territory on Friday.

Disappointing U.S. sentiment data softened oil prices as well.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary consumer sentiment index fell to a four-month low of 81.3 in July from 82.5 in June, confounding expectations for rise to 83.0.

Elsewhere, on the ICE Futures Exchange in London, Brent oil futures for September delivery were down 0.47% and trading at US$ 107.38 a barrel, while the spread between the Brent and U.S. crude contracts stood at US$ 4.25 a barrel.

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Crude shoots up as U.S. stockpiles take a dive

Investing.com –

Investing.com – Crude futures shot up on Wednesday after data revealed U.S. inventories took a nosedive last week, while upbeat Chinese growth figures also bolstered the commodity.

In the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate crude oil for delivery in August traded up 1.32% at $ 101.28 a barrel during U.S. trading. New York-traded oil futures hit a session low of $ 99.95 a barrel and a high of $ 101.39 a barrel.

The August contract settled down 0.94% at $ 99.96 a barrel on Tuesday.

Nymex oil futures were likely to find support at $ 99.01 a barrel, Tuesday’s low, and resistance at $ 104.20 a barrel, the high from July 8.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said in its weekly report that U.S. crude oil inventories declined by 7.5 million barrels in the week ended July 11, far surpassing expectations for a decline of 2.1 million barrels.

Total U.S. crude oil inventories stood at 375.0 million barrels as of last week.

The report also showed that total motor gasoline inventories increased by 0.2 million barrels, below forecasts for a gain of 0.6 million barrels, while distillate stockpiles rose by 2.5 million barrels, above expectations for an increase of 1.7 million barrels.

Upbeat growth data in China, the world’s second-largest consumer of crude, also boosted the commodity.

Official data released earlier showed that China’s economy expanded at an annual rate of 7.5% in the second quarter, above expectations for growth of 7.4%.

A separate report showed that industrial production in China rose by an annualized rate of 9.2% in June, compared to expectations for a 9% increase, after an 8.8% gain in the previous month.

Elsewhere, on the ICE Futures Exchange in London, Brent oil futures for September delivery were up 0.27% and trading at US$ 107.18 a barrel, while the spread between the Brent and U.S. crude contracts stood at US$ 5.90 a barrel.

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Crude shoots up as U.S. stockpiles take a dive

Investing.com –

Investing.com – Crude futures shot up on Wednesday after data revealed U.S. inventories took a nosedive last week, while upbeat Chinese growth figures also bolstered the commodity.

In the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate crude oil for delivery in August traded up 1.32% at $ 101.28 a barrel during U.S. trading. New York-traded oil futures hit a session low of $ 99.95 a barrel and a high of $ 101.39 a barrel.

The August contract settled down 0.94% at $ 99.96 a barrel on Tuesday.

Nymex oil futures were likely to find support at $ 99.01 a barrel, Tuesday’s low, and resistance at $ 104.20 a barrel, the high from July 8.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said in its weekly report that U.S. crude oil inventories declined by 7.5 million barrels in the week ended July 11, far surpassing expectations for a decline of 2.1 million barrels.

Total U.S. crude oil inventories stood at 375.0 million barrels as of last week.

The report also showed that total motor gasoline inventories increased by 0.2 million barrels, below forecasts for a gain of 0.6 million barrels, while distillate stockpiles rose by 2.5 million barrels, above expectations for an increase of 1.7 million barrels.

Upbeat growth data in China, the world’s second-largest consumer of crude, also boosted the commodity.

Official data released earlier showed that China’s economy expanded at an annual rate of 7.5% in the second quarter, above expectations for growth of 7.4%.

A separate report showed that industrial production in China rose by an annualized rate of 9.2% in June, compared to expectations for a 9% increase, after an 8.8% gain in the previous month.

Elsewhere, on the ICE Futures Exchange in London, Brent oil futures for September delivery were up 0.27% and trading at US$ 107.18 a barrel, while the spread between the Brent and U.S. crude contracts stood at US$ 5.90 a barrel.

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Maliki: We will not allow Nujaifi to take any position in the three presidencies

Shafaq News / State of Law coalition led by outgoing Prime Minister ,Nuri al-Maliki confirmed on Thursday, “absolute” rejection for the former parliament speaker, Osama al-Nujaifi to take any of the positions of the three presidencies.

“Whether the presidency of the parliament or the presidency would be to the Sunni Arabs, we in the State of law coalition will not allow and will not accept Osama al-Nujaifi to assume any of the positions for our belief that Nujaifi has failed in the political process in Iraq through delaying the previous Parliament ,”The leader of the coalition, Mohammed al-Sayhood told “Shafaq News”.

He added that “if Nujaifi assumed the presidency of the Republic or the presidency of the parliament , he will end what has remained, we believe that they are maneuvering the candidate names for office to submit Nujaifi as a candidate finally.”

Motahedoun coalition led by Nujaifi has refused to nominate Maliki as prime minister and called the National Alliance to provide candidates for the position with the exception of al-Maliki.

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British ISIS Jihadis Pledge to Take War to Jordan and Lebanon

A recently released video from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) shows five of the group’s Mujahideen, from Australia and the United Kingdom, pledging to take their holy war to Jordan and Lebanon if ordered by their chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The 13-minute video, entitled “There is No Life Without Jihad”, shows Abu Muthanna al-Yemeni (Britain), Abu Bara al-Hindi (Britain), Abu Yahya ash Shami (Australia), Abu Nour al-Iraqi (Australia) and Abu Dujana al-Hindi (Britain) take it in turns to promote the cause of their ideology.

“We are a state who is implementing the Sharia in both Iraq and the Sham. And look at the soldiers, we understand no borders,” says British militant al Yemeni in the video.

“We have participated in battles in Sham and we will go to Iraq in a few days and we will fight there. We will even go to Lebanon and Jordan with no problems, wherever our Sheikh (Baghdadi) wants to send us.”

Al-Yemeni speaks of the mixture of foreign fighters — from as far as Cambodia to the United Kingdom — that have abandoned their lives at home to fight for Allah in pursuit of an Islamic caliphate across the Iraqi-Syrian border.

“We have brothers from Bangladesh, from Iraq, from Cambodia, Australia, UK. Nothing has gathered us except to make Allah the highest. That’s all we’ve came for,” he continued.

“I do not know anybody else who has as many mujahedeen as we do. We have people from all over the world willing to help.”

While the other militants speak of their allegiance to Allah and promote the cause Jihad, al-Yemeni sends a striking message of devotion and commitment to Isis mastermind Baghdadi.

“Don’t fear the blame of the blamers and be firm and don’t change at all. We are with you. Send us. We are your sharp arrows. Throw us at your enemies wherever they may be.”

After al-Yemeni, another British foot-soldier, al-Hindi, issues an impassioned recruitment message to those at home in Britain.

“Are you willing to sacrifice the fat job you’ve got? The big car you’ve got? The family you have? Are you willing to sacrifice this for the sake of Allah? Definitely, if you sacrifice something for Allah, Allah will give you 700 times more than this.”

“Come to Jihad and feel the honour that we are feeling. Feel the happiness that we are feeling.”

The video is notable for its high quality in comparison to past video messages broadcast by the group and the militants’ willingness to reveal their faces and display their noms de guerre.

David Cameron this week stated that the unrest caused by the group across the Middle East will see Britain become a terror target with approximately 400 British nationals currently fighting in Syria, many who have taken up arms for Isis.

“I disagree with those people who think this is nothing to do with us and if they want to have some sort of extreme Islamist regime in the middle of Iraq that won’t affect us — it will,” Cameron said.

Assyrian International News Agency

Kerry: Obama will take quick decisions on Iraq

United States finds itself forced to intervene again in Iraq after two and a half year on its military withdrawal from it, as it faces accusations that the lack of a strategy adopted in neighboring Syria, contributed to the escalation of force “jihadists” who are on the outskirts of Baghdad.

The Americans quickly surprised by the intensity and progress fighters “of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” (Daash) is no longer in front of them no other option but to strengthen their support for the Iraqi army, which faces setbacks, which gave him 25 billion dollars in aid over ten years.

He said U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, on Friday, he is expected to take President Barack Obama’s “quick decisions” on Iraq because of the gravity of the situation.

He said Kerry told reporters during a joint press conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague “in light of the gravity of the situation … I expect quick decisions from the President in relation to this challenge.”
He said Kerry “Prime Minister Maliki and all the Iraqi leaders need to do more to remove sectarian differences aside.”

It was announced by U.S. President Barack Obama is very reluctant to intervene militarily in wars abroad, that it was considering “all options” in Iraq, a very generalized formula used several times to refer to Syria or Iran. She explained that the government quickly send troops to the ground and it bounces after the departure of the last U.S. troops from Iraq in December 31 (December 2011) at the conclusion of the military intervention behind the major casualties over eight years.

Obama said last Thursday that his team is considering “all options” in regard to the escalation of violence in Iraq and the progress of the detonator armed Islamic extremists in the direction of the capital, Baghdad.

Obama said that “America is ready to intervene militarily in Iraq if they threaten our security,” and explained that “Iraq needs additional assistance” from the United States to repel the rebels, he said, adding: “I do not exclude anything.”

Obama did not specify the type of assistance that it intends to provide to Iraq, but expressed diligent follow-up of the security situation taking place, and the will to prevent the rebels from the control of its parts.

He added that “our national security team is considering all options and we are working tirelessly to find out how we can provide the most effective help, do not rule out anything.” He said that Obama “bet here is to ensure that Islamists do not settle permanently in Iraq or in Syria as well.”

Some lawmakers and urges Americans Obama to allow air strikes in support of the Iraqi army against Islamist fighters extremists.

Obama said on the other hand, he told “directly” Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, his concern about the lack of political cooperation within the country, and said “honestly in the past years we have not seen real trust and cooperation evolve between moderate leaders of the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq within.” Abizaid “This partly explains the weakness of the state and the impact on military capability” of Iraq, saying that “violence in recent days should be a wake-up call for the Iraqi government.

But there are other possibilities in front of Washington also confirms analysts such as air strikes or the potential to accelerate delivery of weapons and intensify the training of the Iraqi armed forces.

He says retired Gen. Paul Eaton told “AFP”: Best Western armies are doing is training other armies to fight.
This adds adviser at the National Security Network in Washington that “the least problematic option for the U.S. president is sending military advisers are helping the Iraqi army to provide better performance with its possibilities.”

He expected his colleague Faisal Itani of the Atlantic Council Foundation (Atlantic Counsel) also “limited response from the United States, such as the Iraqi government to grant some of the demands of military assistance,” and merely the State Department promised to provide “additional military aid.”

It has already been sold and Washington equipment of the Iraqi army worth 14 billion dollars, and in January (January) The United States sold 24 Apache helicopter, as well as hundreds of anti-tank missiles of the type (Hellfire) is scheduled to deliver the first fighter out of 36 F-16s purchased by Iraq in the fall .

On 13 May, the Pentagon told Congress a draft mechanism for the sale of 200 Humvees equipped with machine guns to meet with 101 million dollars and 24 attack aircraft of the type “AT -6 Texan 2″ to meet the 790 million dollars. And before Congress has until Friday to submit objections and will be only the conclusion of the contract.
He said Eaton, who served in Iraq with the start of the invasion in 2003, said, “The other option would be to provide air support strikes through unmanned aircraft or aircraft, but there is the cost of the policy implications of an image that America bombed the Arabs.”

The U.S. administration has refused to comment on the information that Baghdad gave the green light to Washington to carry out air strikes against the jihadists of the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant”, which appeared in Syria in 2003.

In the face of these rapid developments in Iraq, were evacuated U.S. companies working for the Iraqi government in the field of defense, its staff Americans, numbering in the hundreds, from the base of an Iraqi air, about 80 km north of Baghdad into the Iraqi capital because of the attack by gunmen “jihadists” in the region.

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Iraq Jihadists Storm University, Take Dozens of Students Hostage

Iraq Jihadists Storm University, Take Dozens of Students Hostage

Posted 2014-06-07 14:20 GMT

Jihadists took staff and students hostage on Saturday at a university campus in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, where security forces have battled anti-government fighters for months, police said, AFP reported.

The attack is the third major operation by militants in three days, following heavy fighting and suicide bombings in northern Iraq on Friday and a major assault on the city of Samarra on Thursday.

The militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group infiltrated the university from the nearby Al-Tasha area, killed its guards, and blew up the bridge leading to its main gate, police said.

An AFP journalist said that security forces have cordoned off the campus.

The attack came a day after violence, including heavy fighting between militants and security forces and twin suicide bombings targeting a minority group, killed at least 36 people in the northern province of Nineveh.

Assyrian International News Agency

Militants Take Staff, Students Hostage At Ramadi University Campus

Iraqi security forces have been battling militants in Ramadi and other parts of Anbar province for months. (file photo)

Jihadists have taken staff and students hostage at a university campus in the Iraqi city of Ramadi.
 
Police say that, in the attack on the campus on June 7, militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an Al-Qaida splinter group, infiltrated the university from the nearby Al-Tasha area, killed its guards, and blew up a bridge leading to the main gate.
 
Security forces have cordoned off the campus.
 
ISIL and other Sunni-led militants have controlled parts of Anbar province, including the city of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi, since late December.
 
The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, says the number of people driven from their homes by months of fighting in Iraq’s Anbar province is now close to 480,000.
 

Based on reporting by AP and AFP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Commentary: Russia, Take Your Terrorists Back Home

Contrary to expectation, the Kremlin has not recognized the result of presidential elections in Ukraine. As of today, no greeting and no official bilateral meeting has been planned for Normandy on June 6. Once again, Russian President Vladimir Putin is out of tune with world leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama, who have not only acknowledged Ukraine’s new president-elect but have also met him face-to-face this week.
 
So far, Moscow has merely “respected” the elections’ result — just as it did after fabricated referendums in Ukraine’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk on May 11. In doing so, the Kremlin has demonstrated the same reaction to two events that are absolutely different in terms of their legitimacy and magnitude.
 
Russian leaders have made clear that the antiterrorist operation in Ukraine’s east is the stumbling block to recognition of the elections by the Kremlin, in fact delivering an ultimatum to Ukraine. Obviously, Russia’s boycott has no effect on electoral legitimacy or world recognition. But it does affect prospects for a diplomatic, negotiated settlement of the crisis between the two states.
 
Sadly, there is another side-effect of the Kremlin’s diplomatic and information war against Ukraine’s attempts to restore order and law in the east of the country. By demonizing Ukrainian law enforcement, the Kremlin made some foreign observers forget who is playing what role in this story. The world is simply tired of this avalanche of bad news about Ukraine and Russia, and it wants a happy end to this drama sooner rather than later. No doubt, we in Ukraine want it even more; but let’s not be misled by the Kremlin’s calls to stop the operation against terrorists. Rhetoric against violence is always successful, unless it comes from the aggressor who is himself nurturing the violence.
 
It is Kyiv which is calling for an end to the aggression because Russian and Russian-backed militants are terrorizing and killing Ukrainians in Ukraine. If Russia wants to end the violence, it is welcome to do so –by taking its terrorists back home and not sending any new ones. But it is blatantly hypocritical of Russia to encourage and foster terror on the ground and at the same time blame Ukraine for it.
 
The Ukrainian state is dragged into two wars at the same time — we have to defend civilians in the east, as well as tirelessly prove the legitimacy of these defense operations, thus repelling Russia’s attacks on both the military and information front lines. While Chechen gunmen are giving interviews to CNN in Donetsk, Ukrainian border guards are heavily attacked daily from Russia’s territory, tons of ammunition and weapons are crossing over the border from Russia, and Kyiv is being asked again and again to provide evidence of a “Russian hand” in Ukraine.
 
Every day, the Ukrainian government keeps explaining that calling Russian militants in Ukraine “separatists” is illogical because separatists are people who fight for their own country, in their own country. The militants are not rebels or insurgents either, because you don’t bring arms to a foreign state to rebel. If you do, you are a terrorist or a foreign soldier.
 
Terrorists in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) claim to have publicly executed two police chiefs in the town of Horlivka after they refused to swear an oath to the terrorists. Militants use civilians as human shields and harass them if they suspect them of pro-Ukrainian sentiments. The same people deprived many Ukrainians of their right to vote in the May 25 election by blocking polling places, and they at one point seized Donetsk’s international airport.
 
At the same time, the Ukrainian government keeps hearing calls to “be nice” to the militants and to talk to them. Who would negotiate on their behalf? Igor Girkin, also known as Strelkov, an officer in Russia’s foreign intelligence agency who gave orders to kill Ukrainians and is now calling for Russia to invade Ukraine? Or other similar Russia-backed terrorist leaders?
 
The Ukrainian government is the party most interested in putting an end to the violence in eastern Ukraine. Sadly, the Russian government is the only party that can do so without the use of force.
 

Andrii Deshchytsia is the acting minister for foreign affairs of Ukraine. The views are the author’s own and do not represent those of RFE/RL. If you would like to respond to this commentary, leave a comment below or contact webteam@rferl.org

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Afghan Candidates Take The Gloves Off

Campaigning for the first round of Afghanistan’s presidential election was generally amicable, with contestants steering clear of personal attacks. But the two remaining candidates and their supporters have taken off the gloves ahead of the final showdown on June 14.

Followers of Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani — the last two candidates standing — have resorted to mudslinging on the social-networking sites Facebook and Twitter. And the candidates’ campaign teams, meanwhile, have traded insults and threats on an almost daily basis.

In the latest episode, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, Ghani’s first vice-presidential running mate, engaged in some saber-rattling during a rally in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif on June 3. “We will accept death but not defeat,” he said. Juma Khan Hamdard, the governor of Paktia Province who was standing alongside Dostum, added that “if voters make a mistake, the country will face war.”

The tough talk came after Abdullah’s second vice-presidential running mate, Mohammad Mohaqeq, insulted Ghani during a televised campaign rally on May 31, calling him a “ruda qaq.” In Dari, the word is slang for a person who is underweight. It literally means dried-up intestine or gut, and means that the object of the insult is weak and sick. Mohaqeq could have been referring to Ghani’s reported health problems.

The attack has attracted a strong backlash on social media.

Some Twitter users have uploaded photos of themselves holding messages to Mohaqeq.

One of them reads, “I’m also skinny, but at least I have a clear conscience.” That’s a reference to Mohaqeq’s checkered past. A powerful Hazara former warlord, Mohaqeq has been accused of human rights abuses carried out during the country’s brutal civil war.

The Independent Election Commission, in a statement on June 1, urged the two teams to steer clear of “discriminatory issues, defamation, and irreverence” that have been “stirred up in rallies, press conferences, and on TV and radio advertisement.” 

And President Hamid Karzai jumped into the fray on June 3 when he assembled officials from state and private media to stress the importance of maintaining a “friendly atmosphere in the electoral atmosphere.” As for the two candidates and their supporters, he advised that they “avoid all such words or actions that cause unpleasant electoral circumstances.”

The Afghan media have echoed those sentiments. An editorial in the independent “Hast-e Sobh” newspaper on June 4 said rival campaign teams were “making remarks that have created concerns for people” and urged them to make “responsible” remarks and take “constructive stances.”

Meanwhile, the private “Mandegar Daily” wrote the same day that the rival campaigns were “beating the war drum” by intensifying their attacks against one another.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Kurds will take real guarantees to implement their demands

BAGHDAD  -The MP, of the Kurdistan Alliance, Mohsen al-Sadoun said “All the demands of the Kurds, to be raised in the negotiate with the political blocs, are constitutional and legal , and everybody knows that, which are the same that have not been implemented over the past four years.” pointing out that ” we are going to take real guarantees for implementing these demands and the Kurds’ rights, from whom will form the next government , for its approval , so as not to repeat the past mistakes . ”

He told the National Iraqi News Agency / NINA / “The Kurdish parties formed a joint committee to negotiate with other political blocs winning in the election, and this committee will have unified message , which contains the rights and demands of the Kurdish people.” pointing out ” when the National Alliance names its candidate , the Kurdish parties will take final position towards him. ”

Sadoun said the Kurds do not the National Alliance’s candidate for prime minister, because the names mentioned in the media for this position is informal, therefore, the Kurds are waiting for the National Alliance to present its candidate officially to begin dialogues with him. “

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Iraq could Take Lead in FDI

Growth in foreign direct investment (FDI) to Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan should overtake the “expansion of flows” to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) by 2019, according to a new report from London’s Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) and the ICAEW.

The report focuses on the GCC member countries (United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait), plus Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon (abbreviated to GCC+5).

It emphasised that Iraq, Iran and Egypt, despite being among the most volatile economies in the region, are attractive due to the sheer number of potential consumers they represent.

For the vast majority of countries in the Middle East, commodities make up more than half of their total goods exports by value, say the authors. The sum is as high as 99.2% in Iraq, where many other export industries have been disrupted by conflict and ongoing violence.

In Iraq, economic growth is forecast to accelerate to 6.5 per cent this year, moving up to 8.6 per cent by 2016, despite increasing violence. Since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003, western and Asian oil majors have vied for a slice of lucrative energy contracts.

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Russia Says Ukraine Border Withdrawal Will Take Weeks

Russian military officials now say their promised withdrawal of 40,000 troops from Ukraine’s borders will not be completed until weeks after Ukraine’s May 25 presidential election.

They say the withdrawal is likely to be completed around the time that a second round vote would take place if no single candidate wins an outright majority in the May 25 vote.

The acknowledgment came two days before the scheduled first round of voting in Ukraine.

U.S. and European officials have expressed concerns that the Russian troop presence on the border is destabilizing the election by emboldening pro-Russian separatists who are battling against government forces after seizing government buildings in several towns and cities in eastern Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed on three separate occasions that he ordered a complete withdrawal of Russian forces away from border regions where they were deployed when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region earlier this year.

The Pentagon on May 23 confirmed small scale movements of Russian troops away from the border, but said it is too early to say whether a full scale withdrawal is underway.

Speaking at an international business forum in St. Petersburg on May 23, Putin said Russia also wants “some calming of the situation, and we will respect the choice of Ukrainian people.”

But Putin stopped short of declaring the May 25 election legitimate.

U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf on May 23 called on Russia to use its influence with separatists and urge them “to cease their violent activities and lay down their arms” ahead of the May 25 vote.

In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement that a successful presidential election in Ukraine will be a major step toward reducing tensions and restoring political stability there.

Ashton said: “Election authorities must be allowed to conduct elections without hindrance throughout the country and domestic and international observers must be allowed to fully fulfill their function.”

Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said in an official video statement on May 23 that Ukraine’s “enemies have done everything they could to destabilize the situation and disrupt the elections” during the last three months.

“But,” Turchynov said, “Ukrainians are stronger and wiser.”

It was at a security conference in Moscow on May 23 that General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of Russia’s general staff, announced that it will take 20 days for Russian troops in regions bordering Ukraine to return to their permanent bases.

Earlier on May 23, Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonovay had said that all forces would leave the border regions “within days.”

Candidates vying to become Ukraine’s next president held their final campaign rallies on May 23, one day after the Ukrainian Army suffered heavy losses to pro-Russian separatists in the east.

The election pits front-runner Petro Poroshenko, a 48-year-old confectionary magnate, against nearly 20 other challengers — including former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Political analysts are predicting a second round vote between Poroshenko and Tymoshenko on June 15.
 

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and ITAR-TASS

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Russian Media Take To Twitter To #SaveOurGuys

Russia is taking the West’s criticism of press restrictions — and using new media to throw it right back.

After Ukraine detained two news correspondents working for the pro-Kremlin news outlet LifeNews on May 18, a new hashtag emerged on Twitter with the aim of securing their safe release.

#SaveOurGuys is on the trend, quickly garnering thousands of tweets and enticing members of the Twitterati to post images putting their support on full display.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has jumped on the digital bandwagon…

…as have fellow Russian media organizations such as RT.

If the approach has a familiar feel to it, there is a reason.
It was only last month that thousands of celebrities, correspondents, and a concerned mother in the White House joined the #BringBackOurGirls campaign to free Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamic extremists.

And long before that, a still-ongoing campaign calling for three Al-Jazeera correspondents detained in Egypt to be released went viral via the #FreeAJStaff hashtag and Facebook campaign.

There is no diminishing the seriousness of any journalist being detained, and the case of LifeNews correspondents Oleg Sidyakin and Marat Saichenko has prompted furious reactions from the Russian authorities, who often come under criticism for their treatment of the media.

Lawmakers from the ruling United Russia party urged the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to “raise its voice in defense of the freedom of speech in Ukraine.”

Senior lawmaker Aleksei Mitrofanov has told the Russian news agency ITAR-Tass that “journalists are entitled to work in any conditions and they are protected by laws.”

And Western journalists who themselves have experienced what it is like to have been detained while covering the Ukraine crisis have weighed in.

Ukrainian officials have alleged that the LifeNews journalists were doing more than reporting on the unrest in eastern Ukraine, where they were detained — saying they were caught carrying manned portable antiaircraft weapons.

The U.S. State Department condemned “the unlawful detention of journalists in any capacity” but said the weapons claim “raised some questions about these individuals and whether they were actually journalists.”

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Prisoners take scores hostage in Brazil

Inmates have taken 122 hostages in a prison in Brazil’s northeastern state of Sergipe, AFP news agency reports quoting a prison spokeswoman.

Sandra Melo, said on Sunday that negotiations had started for the release of the hostages, who were mainly visitors to the Advogado Jacinto Filho prison, near Aracaju city.

The hostages were taken during a riot on Saturday that had calmed, Melo added.

“The riot is only in one wing of the prison,” Melo said, adding that mostly visiting relatives of the inmates were among the hostages.

“We don’t believe that the inmates will hurt their own relatives,” Mauricio Iunes, the head of military police in the state of Sergipe, told the G1 news website.

Four prison guards were also held captive. “They are being threatened inside there,” said Iunes.

Brazil’s prison population is 548,000, but the country has space for only 340,000, according to Conectas, an NGO specialising in inmate rights.

152

AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Thai rival protests take hold in Bangkok

Supporters of Yingluck Shinawatra have begun streaming into western Bangkok for a protest against her removal as Thailand’s prime minister and attempts by opponents to sweep the remnants of her government from power.

The gathering of the pro-government supporters on Saturday came a day after anti-government protesters began laying siege to television stations and state offices to press authorities to install a non-elected prime minister by Monday.

Jatuporn Prompan, who heads the pro-government Red Shirts staging the rally, said on Saturday that “as long as the country’s democracy is not safe, we will be here”.

Jatuporn warned that his side would “escalate our fight immediately” if the anti-government protesters’ demands were met. He said, however, that the Red Shirts did not “wish to see people killed or hurt along the way”.

The competing rallies were being held several dozen kilometres apart, but still raised concerns about violence. Jatuporn said “each side should take care of their own supporters” and avoid confrontation. 

The constitutional court this week forced Yingluck from government for abuse of power for transferring a senior civil servant in 2011 to another position.

Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, the deputy prime minister, was named soon after as her replacement.

Yingluck dissolved the government in December after an election that was boycotted by the main opposition party, the Democrats.

A new election had been planned, but no date had been agreed with the country’s electoral commission.

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Ahrar bloc confirms its readiness and desire to take over as prime minister

The MP, of the Ahrar bloc, of the Sadr movement, Amir al-Kanani confirmed Ahrar bloc’s desire to take over prime minister post after the next parliamentary elections . ”

He told the National Iraqi News Agency / NINA / “The Ahrar bloc did not put any name of its candidate for the next prime minister , but the bloc announced its desire to the post of prime minister, because there was an obstacle to this position during the past period , which was the American occupation , and after the occupation left there is no any obstacle stands to the prime minister post. ”

He explained that “the submission of candidates for the prime minister’s post officially will be after the elections to see the number of parliamentary seats and how to deal with partners.”

He pointed out that “the position of the Ahrar bloc is firm to change in the next phase , with the peaceful transfer of power , because we see that two terms for any prime minister is sufficient , so we adopt the project of limit the mandates of the three presidencies.” / end

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Syrian Jihadis ‘Take Aim’ At Christian Toddler

According to Sham Times and other Arabic websites, jihadi social media networks posted the above picture of a child sitting on the ground while surrounded by armed men pointing their rifles at him. The caption appearing with the picture, purportedly posted by a supporter of the Free Syrian Army, is “Our youngest hostage from among the hostile sects of Kessab.”

Kessab is a predominantly Christian Armenian village in Syria near the Turkish border. Earlier it was invaded by jihadis, who terrorized, pillaged churches, and prompted some 2000 residents to flee. Initial reports had stated that about a dozen families remained as hostages.

Since the picture appeared on Arabic social media, many have expressed shock and outrage, condemning the Syrian “rebels,” while others cast doubt on the authenticity of the picture.

Of course, those wondering what the jihadis have to gain from taking such a picture and making it public would do well to remember that these are the same “rebels” who decapitate people and wave their severed and bloodied heads in front of cameras while smiling; these are the same “freedom fighters” who literally eat their victims on camera.

Surely “teasing” an infidel toddler — a subhuman — with their rifles and sharing it with their sadistic comrades via the Internet for a “laugh” should not be too surprising?

At any rate, the fact remains: the “Free Syrian Army,” along with other “rebel” groups operating in Syria, are guilty of countless barbaric crimes against humanity — including against women and children.

UPDATE: Commenter LeviDocker at PJ Tatler posts a very apt excerpt from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s classic work, The Brothers Karamazov, which follows:

These Turks took a pleasure in torturing children, too; cutting the unborn child from the mother’s womb, and tossing babies up in the air and catching them on the points of their bayonets before their mothers’ eyes. Doing it before the mothers’ eyes was what gave zest to the amusement. Here is another scene that I thought very interesting. Imagine a trembling mother with her baby in her arms, a circle of invading Turks around her. They’ve planned a diversion: they pet the baby, laugh to make it laugh. They succeed, the baby laughs. At that moment a Turk points a pistol four inches from the baby’s face. The baby laughs with glee, holds out its little hands to the pistol, and he pulls the trigger in the baby’s face and blows out its brains. Artistic, wasn’t it? By the way, Turks are particularly fond of sweet things, they say.

Assyrian International News Agency

Bayati: National Alliance authorizes Maliki to take the appropriate actions to re-flow water to the central and southern governorates

BAGHDAD / NINA / A member of the parliamentary Commission on Security and Defense, MP of state of law coalition, Abbas al-Bayati declared that “All the leaders of the Iraqi National Alliance have authorized Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to take what he sees fit to make Euphrates River re- flow to central and southern governorates.”

Bayati told the National Iraqi News Agency / NINA / ” cutting the Euphrates River to the central and southern governorates by the terrorists of ISIS is silent killing, so deterrent military measures should be taken in order to re-flow the water in the Euphrates River,” pointing out that ” cannot be hesitated in this regard, because it is related to the stability of the country and it is intended to tear the country and national unity.

He stressed the need not to allow ISIS and al-Qaeda to carry out such act, calling the government “To use all the available means of pressure and power, in order to prevent these terrorists from moving to implement their bloody and coward plans.”

Bayati concluded, “During their meeting held yesterday, the attitude of all the leaders of the National Alliance was united and authorized Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to take what he sees fit to a re- flow of the Euphrates River to central and southern governorates and prevent and al-Qaeda to stay in their places and kill and expel them.”

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Syrian Economy May Take 30 Years to Recover: UN Study

GENEVA — Businesses across Syria have been devastated by the destruction inflicted by the traumatic three-year civil war, and the economy could take 30 years to recover to its pre-conflict level , a United Nations survey published Wednesday warns.

The fighting “saw the economy lose a total of $ 84.4 billion over the first two years of the conflict. . . . Even if the conflict ceased now and GDP (gross domestic product) grew at an average rate of 5 percent each year, it is estimated that it would take the Syrian economy 30 years to return to the economic level of 2010,” it said.

During the war, Syria has experienced “massive de-industrialization, dilapidation and degradation,” the study said. Businesses have closed or gone bankrupt, and those that haven’t have been looted or destroyed by war, the study said. Capital flight _ people getting their money out of the country _ has been massive.

“This is the first study of its kind and provides hard statistical evidence of the tragic and widespread impact the conflict is having on lives and livelihoods across Syria,” said Chris Gunness, spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which undertook the survey as part of its responsibilities for assisting Palestinian refugees.

The survey polled clients of the agency’s micro-finance loan program in Syria and found that nearly three-quarters had been displaced from their homes. In the Yarmouk district of Damascus, a heavily Palestinian area that once held 160,000 residents, 89 percent of residents had fled, the survey found.

Nearly 56 percent of those surveyed said their homes had been damaged and 14 percent said their homes had been destroyed.

The report based its survey on a random sample taken from among 8,000 business people, both Palestinians and Syrians, participated in the micro-finance program. Of those, 840 were selected to take part in the current survey; 541 fully completed the poll.

“Almost half of all enterprises (44.2 percent) had been closed by the owners and another two-fifths (39.9 percent) had been robbed or looted,” the survey found. In the Damascus suburb of Douma, which is currently controlled by rebels, 72 percent of those surveyed reported their business had been looted and nearly two-thirds had been damaged.

U.N. economists estimated that since the outbreak of violence more than three years ago, 2.3 million jobs had been lost, “with the welfare of almost 10 million dependents jeopardized.”

Assyrian International News Agency

Newcomer Set To Take Slovak Presidency

A political newcomer is headed for victory in the presidential runoff in the Central European state of Slovakia.

Results from the vote on March 29 put the former businessman Andrej Kiska far in front of Prime Minister Robert Fico, who has already conceded defeat.

Results from 72 percent of voting stations showed Kiska leading by 59.2 to 40.8 percent.

The 51-year-old Kiska has been riding the wave of anti-Fico sentiment among rightwing voters as well as distrust in mainstream political parties because of corruption scandals and high unemployment.

The 49-year-old Fico heads Slovakia’s dominant leftist SMER-Social Democracy party, which he led to a landslide victory in 2012 that allowed the party to govern alone in Slovakia. 
 

Based on Reuters and AP reporting

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Dictator’s Handbook: Six Regrettable Lessons To Take Away From Crimea Crisis

The speed and ease with which Russia reclaimed its hold on the Crimean Peninsula have left much of the world reeling. But the factors that went into it were years in the making. Here are six life lessons for acquisitive future dictators and countries trying to break free of them. 

1. Don’t Give Up Your Nukes

Twenty years ago, Ukraine was the third-largest nuclear power in the world, with 1,900 long-range and 2,400 short-range strategic warheads that had once been part of the U.S.S.R.’s Cold War arsenal. But Kyiv voluntarily handed them back to Russia in 1994, when it signed the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurance, trading in its nuclear weapons in exchange for sovereignty and the promise that Russia would “refrain from the threat or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine.”

It seemed like a good deal at the time. But many Ukrainian lawmakers are now lamenting the decision, admitting something that Pakistan and India have known for decades — that missiles beat memoranda when it comes to keeping interlopers off your land. Or, as Verkhovna Rada lawmaker Pavlo Ryzanenko told “USA Today,” “If you have nuclear weapons, people don’t invade you.” Fellow Budapest signatories Belarus and Kazakhstan may suddenly be ruing the day they gave up their nukes. Iran and North Korea, meanwhile, are less likely than ever to respond to global pressure to give up theirs.

2. Deals Are Meaningless

See above. The Budapest Memorandum, despite being approved by all five permanent members of the UN Security Council, has in no way restrained Vladimir Putin from taking over Crimea. The Russian president has argued that the memorandum no longer holds weight because the current Kyiv government arrived via “coup” and is not legitimate in Moscow’s eyes.

Nor has the Budapest deal prompted the Western co-signatories — the United States and the United Kingdom — to step in militarily against Moscow. The agreement, as its title suggests, provides assurances but stops short of actual security guarantees, which neither Washington nor London was prepared to offer in 1994 (or now).

In its annexation of Crimea, in fact, Moscow has violated a number of agreements, including the UN Charter, the Charter of the Council for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the 1975 Helsinki Accords, the 1997 bilateral Ukraine-Russia treaty, and its recently renewed lease agreement on the Black Sea Fleet, which provides for Russia’s Crimean bases but not the influx of thousands of additional troops. (It did not violate the CFE Treaty on conventional armed forces in Europe, but only because it withdrew from the agreement in 2007, a year before its war in Georgia.)

3. Ethnic Cleansing Works

Possession, as they say, is nine-tenths of the law. And if you really want to put your claim on a territory, the best way to do it is by removing the locals and establishing yourself as the new majority. The tactic was successfully used against Native Americans in the United States, against Muslims and Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and against millions of non-Slavic minorities living in Stalin’s Soviet Union.

More than 200,000 Tatars were forcibly expelled from Crimea in 1944 on the false pretext of Nazi collaboration. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Russians were sent to take their place, cementing Moscow’s influence and strengthening the peninsula’s loyalty to the imperial center. By the 1980s, when Tatars began to return to Crimea in what was then the Ukrainian SSR, they were the interlopers and the minority. Now, with a 97 percent referendum return, Russia can argue it has “democratic” data to back its takeover bid. After all, numbers don’t lie.

4. It’s Not Lying If They Believe It

Both Adolf Hitler and his propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels were avid proponents of the “Big Lie,” a falsehood so flagrant, and so consequential, that people choose to accept it rather than believe its teller capable of such underhandedness. Putin, whose KGB training and rumored plastic surgery have rendered his expression all but unreadable, has employed several Big Lies — and innumerable little ones — in his Crimea campaign:

1) Russians are having their rights violated;
2) He is upset by the idea of Russians having their rights violated;
3) Power in Kyiv has been seized by fascists;
4) The situation is so dire Ukrainians themselves are fleeing to Russia;
5) No Russian troops entered Ukraine;
6) “We are not considering [annexing Crimea].”

Even in instances where such claims were demonstrably false — as in Crimea, where Russian soldiers willingly identified themselves to journalists — there has been no tangible downside to the lie. Cracking down on the few remaining free news outlets in Russia has only made it easier to sell this alternate narrative at home.

5. The Market Has No Morals

The Sochi Olympics provided an early reminder of this, when sponsors like McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Procter & Gamble refused to pressure Russia on its antigay laws out of fear of hurting their profits. With the Ukraine crisis, global governance appears equally hapless. Until the EU and U.S. sanctions on March 17, there were no bodies or governments willing to penalize Russia’s actions in Crimea with more than words. Some $ 63 billion left Russia in 2013 alone, destined for Swiss banks, Caribbean offshore accounts, and luxury real-estate markets in London, Manhattan, and southern France.

Economic struggles have compromised the ability of Western countries to act as moral standard-bearers — they are not only dependent on Russian investment, they are potentially tied to the mafia networks that lie behind it. (Russia’s Central Bank has estimated that two-thirds of the country’s capital outflow are proceeds from crime, bribes, and tax fraud.) Although the Ukrainian crisis has strained Russia’s $ 2 trillion economy — the direct cost of annexing Crimea is estimated to be at least $ 3 billion — it’s not clear that sanctions will avoid a ripple effect on the EU and U.S. economies.

6. Patriotism Is Good — Except When It’s Terribly, Terribly Bad

Putin has spent most of his years in power dedicated to restoring the Russian national identity — dusting off Stalin, resurrecting the Orthodox Church, bemoaning the collapse of the Soviet Union, exercising world-stage diplomacy, and replacing Soviet cosmopolitanism with increasingly nativist tendencies. This Great Nation-building project made it easy for the Kremlin leader to argue that the Crimean takeover was not only natural, but necessary. Leaving Crimea and its people in trouble, Putin said, “would have been nothing short of betrayal.”

But having invoked patriotic sentiment at home, Putin then distorted it in Ukraine, seizing on the country’s massive Euromaidan protests as an opportunity for scaremongering. The Russian president has alternately described the forces behind the Ukrainian “coup” that replaced President Viktor Yanukovych with a pro-Western interim government as nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes, and anti-Semites. (Ukraine has accused Russia of staging deliberate provocations to advance this train of thought.) This double-edged sword — which works to Russia’s advantage regardless — may be wielded again as Moscow considers the fate of Russian “patriots” in eastern Ukraine, northern Kazakhstan, and elsewhere.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

U.S. Military Vessel To Take Part In More Black Sea Drills

The commander of a U.S. military vessel says it will carry out more exercises with NATO allied ships in the Black Sea.

The “U.S.S. Truxtun” took part in drills with Romanian and Bulgarian ships in the Black Sea last week a few hundreds kilometers from Crimea where Russia has deployed troops after protests toppled Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president.

The United States said the exercises were routine and had been planned long before the crisis erupted.

But they coincided with air drills carried out by U.S. and Polish fighter jets in Poland and NATO reconnaissance flights over Eastern Europe.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

U.S. Military Vessel To Take Part In More Black Sea Drills

The commander of a U.S. military vessel says it will carry out more exercises with NATO allied ships in the Black Sea.

The “U.S.S. Truxtun” took part in drills with Romanian and Bulgarian ships in the Black Sea last week a few hundreds kilometers from Crimea where Russia has deployed troops after protests toppled Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president.

The United States said the exercises were routine and had been planned long before the crisis erupted.

But they coincided with air drills carried out by U.S. and Polish fighter jets in Poland and NATO reconnaissance flights over Eastern Europe.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

900,000 Syrians Take Refuge in Turkey: UNICEF

The estimated number of Syrian refugees that have taken shelter in Turkey is nearly 900,000, 700,000 of whom are living outside of camps, a U.N. official has said, while noting that the exile has especially affected children.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), working together with the Prime Ministry’s Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD), is trying to provide education to Syrian children in Turkey.

“The most challenging part so far is how to reach Syrians living out of camps,” UNICEF Representative for Turkey Dr. Ayman A. Abulaban told the Hürriyet Daily News in a recent interview.

In three years of conflict in Syria, 6 million Syrian children, both inside and outside of Syria, have been affected, Abulaban said, noting that more than 10,000 out of 100,000 Syrians killed in the country were children.

UNICEF is seeking to raise awareness on the problems of children who have suffered over the course of the three-year-old civil war.

Syrian children must remain at the top of the agenda of all those who are doing political work at the moment, Abulaban said.

“Children should not be a victim or a failure of politics, or a failure of the international world to find a solution,” he said.

The U.N. official stressed that the rights of children in Syria were being violated and that they were even being deliberately killed in some cases. “Sometimes children are killed because they are children. There are reports that children are killed under torture, by all parties, but mainly the regime,” he said. Children are being taken to the prisons for any reason, regardless of whether they have been involved in clashes, he said.

Abulaban also noted some reports that fighting groups had recruited children. “The official stance of the [opposition] coalition is that they are against this. The same stance comes from the government. But we know that this is not always been respected on both sides,” Abulaban said.

“Their rights are being exploited physically and sexually. There have been cases of rape,” Abulaban said.

“Because of this war, children have become too old, too soon. When they lose their father, children step up to take care of the family. They are leaving their schools; they are getting into labor at an early age and getting married earlier. They are losing their childhood and getting old sooner.”

Abulaban pointed at two areas in which children suffer in Syria: the health system, which he said had collapsed in most areas and led to diseases, such as polio, as well as the education system.

Almost 3.5 million people have fled Syria, with nearly 1 million in Turkey, he said, praising Ankara for its “excellent response.”

In collaboration with the Turkish government, UNICEF is building schools and providing training for Syrian teachers both in the camps and outside.

In Turkey, the majority of teachers are volunteers who used to be teachers in Syria, he said.

Assyrian International News Agency

Syrian forces take strategic town from rebels

Syrian forces have captured a strategic rebel-held town in the province of Homs, after a month of intense fighting, state media and the army have said.

The military reported taking “full control of the town of Zara and its surroundings” in the western Homs countryside on Saturday.

Without al-Hosn and Zara, it will be the end of the revolution to the west of Homs

Samy al-Homsi, Activist

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the capture, saying Zara, near the Krak des Chevaliers castle, fell a day after it was hit by air strikes.

Activist Samy al-Homsi told the Associated Press news agency, “the town was one of two last strongholds for rebels along the Lebanese border leading to the city of Homs, the other being the nearby village of al-Hosn”.

“Without al-Hosn and Zara, it will be the end of the revolution to the west of Homs… It’s the only two areas left to the rebels there.”

The Observatory said the town, which is mostly inhabited by the minority Sunni Turkmen, was taken after “fierce fighting between loyalist troops and fighters from Jund al-Sham and other rebel groups.”

The military emphasised the importance of the town due to its location linking central Syria to the Mediterranean coast and its role as a “key passageway for groups coming from Lebanon”.

The capture of Zara comes as the army battles rebels further south around Yabroud, an opposition stronghold in the Qalamoun mountains close to the Lebanese border.

The fighting is part of an offensive launched late last year to secure the Damascus-Homs highway and to severe a key rebel supply route to the town of Arsal in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. 

Homs ceasefire: A turning point?

Fractured opposition

Meanwhile, Syria’s main opposition coalition confirmed in a statement on Saturday that it had chosen a new army chief following the refusal of General Salim Idriss to step down.

The statement insisted that despite some confusion, Brigadier General Abdel Ilah al-Bashir would assume leadership of the coalition’s military council.

The body originally issued the announcement appointing al-Bashir on February 17. But two days later, Idriss rejected his dismissal. Then Idriss, along with more than a dozen senior opposition fighters, severed ties with the political opposition-in-exile, further fragmenting the notoriously divided rebel movement.

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Finance Committee recommends that central government banks take over sale of hard currency

Recommended by the parliamentary Finance Committee, according to the proposals handed over to the management of the Iraqi Central Bank to take over the government banks the task of selling hard currency rather than private banks. said committee member secretary Hadi’s (IMN) “The Finance Committee considers it necessary to take over the government banks to buy hard currency from the bank Central and distributed to customers of merchants, according to the bond Import official. ” added Hadi that the “file management sale of hard currency from government banks better than to take over the private banks that task,” adding that “the measures the Iraqi Central Bank ended the process of manipulating the documents to import goods from by traders. ” According to an earlier report of the Finance Committee representative, the private banks had accounted for 80% of central bank sales of foreign currency while you get government banks at the lowest rate which is 20%. sells Bank of Iraq, which is subject to the control of the House of Representatives, foreign currency on a daily basis to banks and businessmen referees to him, but in the last year put controls “strict” to curb the smuggling of currency.

LINK

Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

Finance Committee recommends that central government banks take over sale of hard currency

Recommended by the parliamentary Finance Committee, according to the proposals handed over to the management of the Iraqi Central Bank to take over the government banks the task of selling hard currency rather than private banks. said committee member secretary Hadi’s (IMN) “The Finance Committee considers it necessary to take over the government banks to buy hard currency from the bank Central and distributed to customers of merchants, according to the bond Import official. ” added Hadi that the “file management sale of hard currency from government banks better than to take over the private banks that task,” adding that “the measures the Iraqi Central Bank ended the process of manipulating the documents to import goods from by traders. ” According to an earlier report of the Finance Committee representative, the private banks had accounted for 80% of central bank sales of foreign currency while you get government banks at the lowest rate which is 20%. sells Bank of Iraq, which is subject to the control of the House of Representatives, foreign currency on a daily basis to banks and businessmen referees to him, but in the last year put controls “strict” to curb the smuggling of currency.

LINK

Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

Pussy Rioters Urge Americans To Take Hard Look At Russia

Two touring members of the Russian punk protests collective Pussy Riot have urged Americans attending the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, Russia, to take a hard look at that country beyond the new sports facilities.

Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova made their first public appearance in the United States at a press conference in New York on February 4.

They are scheduled to take part in Amnesty International’s “Bringing Human Rights Home” concert in Brooklyn the following day.

The two called on Russia to repeal laws restricting homosexual activity, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and other human rights activities.

They have been critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin and political conditions in their homeland. The opening ceremonies for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi are scheduled for February 7.

The women were released in December after nearly two years in prison following a conviction for hooliganism when they staged an anti-Putin protest in a Moscow cathedral, wearing balaclavas and screaming lyrics.

“Due to what we saw in prison and due to all the things we’ve just mentioned, we’ve decided to start a human rights organization which will be called Rights Zone, to change all the things we believe have unjustly happened,” Alyokhina said.

The two have vowed to work for inmates’ rights.

Tolokonnikova spelled out their aims.

“Our goal is to bring more transparency to the Russian political system and to the Russian penitentiary system,” Tolokonnikova said. “And this is part of everything we are doing right now.”

When asked if they feared being thrown back in prison, Alyokhina said they were not scared.

“If a person goes to prison for his criticism of the political leadership of the government of his country, this simply demonstrates the political situation in the country,” Alyokhina said.

Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina will be introduced at the Amnesty International concert by pop star Madonna and will speak but are not expected to perform at the event.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Ukrainian Defense Ministry Calls On President To Take ‘Urgent’ Steps

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry has called on President Viktor Yanukovych to take steps to ease the crisis gripping the country.

According to the Defense Ministry’s press service, Ukrainian military and Defense Ministry officials met and called on Yanukovych, as commander in chief, “to take urgent measures to stabilize the situation in the country and achieve accord in society within the current legislation.”

The ministry also said the seizure of state buildings by antigovernment protesters is unacceptable.

The statement said any further escalation of the conflict poses a threat to Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

The ministry’s assertion comes after Yanukovych said on January 30 that authorities had fulfilled all their obligations to resolve the crisis, accusing the opposition of continuing to increase tensions.

He admitted that authorities had made mistakes, however, and promised to show “more understanding” for people’s needs and aspirations.

He also announced that he was going on sick leave without saying exactly when he would return. 

UN Rights Office Calls For Torture Probe

In related news, the UN’s human rights office is calling on Ukraine to launch an independent probe of deaths, kidnappings, and torture amid the country’s political unrest.

In a statement, Rupert Coville, the spokesman for the UN’s high commissioner for human rights, said his office is “appalled” by the recent deaths of at least four antigovernment protesters.

He said those deaths should be “promptly, thoroughly, and independently investigated.”

Colville also urged President Viktor Yanukovych to sign a new law that overturns antiprotest legislation approved earlier this month.

His comments came as a missing Ukrainian opposition activist was found badly beaten overnight.

Dmytro Bulatov turned up in a village near Kyiv more than a week after he was reported missing.

Another abducted activist, Yuriy Verbytsky, was found dead on January 22 in a forest near Kyiv  with broken ribs and traces of duct tape on his hands and clothes.

Verbytskyy had gone missing on January 21 together with his friend Ihor Lutsenko, an opposition journalist and a key figure in the two-month-old Euromaidan protests.

Lutsenko later resurfaced with a black eye and a knocked-out front tooth, claiming he had been beaten and left to die in the countryside.

Based on reporting by ITAR-TASS, Interfax, and AFP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty