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Showing posts from June, 2014

Will The New Caliphate Unite The Middle East Against It?

By Moon Of Alabama

- There is no longer an Jihadist ISIS or ISIL in Syria and Iraq. The people leading that entity declared (pdf) today, at the highly symbolic beginning of Ramadan, themselves to be a new caliphate:
Therefore, the shūrā (consultation) council of the Islamic State studied this matter after the Islamic State – by Allah’s grace – gained the essentials necessary for khilāfah, which the Muslims are sinful for if they do not try to establish. In light of the fact that the Islamic State has no shar’ī(legal) constraint or excuse that can justify delaying or neglecting the establishment of the khilāfah such that it would not be sinful, the Islamic State – represented by ahlul-halli-al-‘aqd (its people of authority), consisting of its senior figures, leaders, and the shūrā council – resolved to announce the establishment of the Islamic khilāfah, the appointment of a khalīfah for the Muslims, and the pledge of allegiance to the shaykh (sheikh), the mujāhid, the scholar who practic…

Syrian ‘Moderates’ Aren’t So Moderate in Iraq

By Robert Fisk

"The Independent" - - Well, God bless Barack Obama – he’s found some “moderate” rebels in Syria. Enough to supply them with weapons and training worth $500m. Congress wants to arm these brave freedom fighters, you see. And Obama, having sent his 300 elite Spartan lads to Iraq to help Nouri al-Maliki fight the rebels there, needs to send help to the rebels in Syria – even though most of them are on the side of the rebels in Iraq whom Obama wants Maliki to defeat.
Confusing? You bet. So first steps first. Who are the “moderate” rebels whom Obama wants to train and arm? He doesn’t name them – and he can’t, because the original “moderates” whom America swore to arm (with the help of the CIA, the Brits, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey) were the so-called “Free Syrian Army”, mostly composed of deserters from Assad’s government forces. But the FSA – briefly beloved of John McCain until he discovered a pro-al-Qa’ida fighter sharing a photo-op with him in northern Syria –…

US Planning To Split Iraq

WASHINGTON: Time magazine has revealed a report of eight pages on plans to divide Iraq into three states, one of them in the north which is Kurdistan, the second for Sunnis along with Syria, and the third for Shi'ites in the south of the country that includes large areas of it.

The magazine added that this new Shi'ite country would be heading south to Kuwait, to deduct vital areas from it and include some parts of the north-east of Saudi Arabia.

The magazine published detailed maps distributing areas among Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds.

Baghdad was considered within the Sunni state, while Kirkuk was - according to the maps published by the magazine - inside the Kurdish state, but on the line of contact with the Sunni state, according to the report.

The report speaks about the annexation of the Kurdish areas in Syria to a Kurdish state in addition to the inclusion of some Sunni areas of Syria's Sunni state.

It is worth mentioning that the magazine is considered close to the US…

Amid Talks, Separatists Still Control Much of Eastern Ukraine

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Although Russian President Vladimir Putin's public support for diplomatic talks in eastern Ukraine and the decision of some separatist leaders to call for a cease-fire may de-escalate the crisis somewhat, a significant reduction in armed separatist activity throughout the contested east is unlikely. Conflicts between Western interests and Russia's goal of creating a neutral, decentralized Ukraine have prolonged negotiations.

Members of the Donetsk People's Republic, the militant-controlled region of Ukraine, participated in informal consultations June 23, signaling an evolution in the ongoing conflict. Previously, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had resisted Russian pressure to negotiate with separatist leaders. Similarly, separatists had opposed the idea of holding direct talks with the government in Kiev. Separatist leaders, pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians, Russia's ambassador to Ukraine, former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and an Organiz…

China's Suspicions of Foreign Organizations Re-Emerge

Members of the environmental group Greenpeace show pictures of polluted rivers in China as part of a protest at a popular shopping area in Beijing. (PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images)


Wide-scale but low-profile examinations of foreign nongovernmental organizations and their connections with domestic academia and social institutions inside China reflect Beijing's growing paranoia. In particular, a recent probe exposed concerns about foreign organizations' influence over local affairs and their ability to attract intellectual communities -- key avenues for influencing public opinion, especially in regard to sensitive subjects such as the environment, human rights and political campaigns.

The rhetoric surrounding liberal reforms has grown in recent years, alongside increasing ideological debates in the public realm. The Communist Party is wary of losing ideological dominance and oversight of politically sensitive domains. The suspicion that Western organizations have a role to p…

U.S.-Cuba Relations Could Advance in Panama

A woman walks under a Cuban flag in Santiago de Cuba.(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)


According to media reports, a high-profile delegation from the United States will attend the inauguration of Panamanian President-elect Juan Carlos Varela on July 1. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, Ambassador to Panama Jonathan Farrar and Massachusetts state Gov. Deval Patrick will attend. Although political delegations to presidential inaugurations are routine, the likely presence of a Cuban delegation at the event provides the opportunity for contact between Cuban and U.S. diplomats. The inclusion of a high-ranking official like Kerry suggests that substantive talks between Cuba and the United States may occur at the event. Such talks would almost certainly discuss the political negotiations with Cuba proposed by U.S. President Barack Obama.

The likelihood of such interaction has increased since the United States ma…

Iraq Update: Clashes Continue Across Sunni Areas

Iraqi troops in Ramadi on June 21.(-/AFP/Getty Images)


The situation in Iraq remains fluid and dynamic, with clashes taking place across the Sunni areas of Iraq. According to unnamed Iraqi defense officials, seven divisions (approximately half of the Iraqi army prior to the fall of Mosul) have crumbled.

With a significant portion of its regular forces defeated and with large numbers of recent volunteers lacking training and experience, the Iraqi army will have to increasingly rely on outside powers, such as Iran and the United States, as well as Shiite militias such as the al-Sadrite movement, for aid. As Stratfor has noted, this dependence, especially on Iranian and Shiite militias, may worsen sectarian tensions and make it increasingly difficult for the central government to court ambivalent Sunni tribes in efforts to turn them against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

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Baghdad remains heavily defended by the Iraqi security forces, but with the Islamic S…

Letter from Ethiopia: Splendid Isolation

The first thing that stood out to me in Addis Ababa was its Christian character: Here, Christianity is not a colonial vestige but an endemic phenomenon. The Ethiopian Kingdom of Axum adopted Monophysite Christianity in the fourth century, long before the conversion of most of Europe. Amid a maelstrom of historical change, the empire, known as Abyssinia, clung to its Orthodox view of Christianity, taking refuge in the mountains and turning away from the sea, its erstwhile source of affluence and influence.

Thinking of these early Christians cut off in these remote mountains, I cannot help but remember the early Portuguese explorers who thought Ethiopia to be the kingdom of the mythical Prester John, who, as legend has it, ruled in splendid isolation, detached from the Muslim coast. The nature of the Christian imagery in Ethiopia is surprising to me. In a nation possessed of deep national pride, most of the portraits of Jesus and the Virgin Mary are fair-skinned, in the style of Greek or…

Moldova Risks Destabilization by Signing EU Agreement

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (R) welcomes Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca on May 15 at the EU headquarters in Brussels.(JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)


Moldova's official adoption of the EU association and free trade agreement on June 27 will be a notable milestone in the country's EU integration efforts, but it will be met with opposition on several fronts. After signing the deal, Moldova is unlikely to experience a Ukraine-type situation in which armed separatists pose a substantial threat to the government or in which Russia moves to annex Moldovan territory. However, several areas could destabilize the tiny but strategic country that is part of the greater competition between Russia and the West.


Several players inside and outside of Moldova -- including Transdniestria, Gagauzia, the opposition Communist Party and Russia -- have opposed Moldova's signing of the EU association and free trade agreement. Below is a breakdown of the risks…

Hungary to Address Foreign-Denominated Loan Repayments

The name and logo of the Hungarian National Bank (Magyar Nemzeti Bank) adorn the main entrance of the bank headquarters in downtown Budapest.(ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images)


Before the end of the year, Budapest will approve new measures to try to help households repay their foreign-denominated loans. In the coming weeks, the debate will revolve around exactly what to do and how to distribute the costs.


The Hungarian government's efforts to relieve households struggling to repay their foreign-denominated loans saw a new chapter June 24, when Economy Minister Mihaly Varga said the government would present a "clear and straightforward solution" before the year ends. This comes after the Hungarian Constitutional Court determined that banks should have offered detailed information about the risk when offering those loans and cannot unilaterally change the terms of the loans.

Before the European crisis, foreign-denominated loans, mostly in Swiss francs but also…

Russia: Intimidating Ukraine, Even Through Diplomacy

A man views what is left of his house in Slovyansk, Ukraine, on June 24.(JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)


Russia's upper house withdrew a key resolution June 25 that authorized the Russian military to intervene in Ukraine. By revoking this decree, Moscow aims to demonstrate its commitment to finding a diplomatic solution to the ongoing crisis. Despite advocating talks between Kiev and the eastern separatists, the Kremlin is focused on protecting its own interests. As long as the Ukrainian government fails to satisfy the Kremlin's main demands, which ultimately boil down to the decentralization and neutralization of Ukraine, Russia will continue supporting the armed separatist movement in eastern Ukraine to apply leverage during its negotiations with Kiev.


Russian President Vladimir Putin asked Russia's Federation Council on June 25 to reverse its March decision authorizing military intervention. At the same time, Putin also announced that while he supports Uk…

The Effects of the Ukraine Crisis Reach the Caucasus

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a news conference in Moscow on May 26.(VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP/Getty Images)


The standoff between Russia and the West over the former Soviet periphery is having ripple effects throughout the region, and the Caucasus is a prime area for potential change. In its efforts to reduce its dependence on Russian energy, Europe is focused on countries in the region, particularly on Azerbaijan. In response, Russia has stepped up its activity in the Caucasus and is particularly focused on Nagorno-Karabakh, a region that Armenia and Azerbaijan dispute. It is not yet clear that a major change is in the making, but Russia's flurry of diplomatic activity regarding the region suggests that anything is possible.


Located between Europe and Asia, the Caucasus region is characterized by a web of complex relationships. First, there is Georgia, which is oriented toward the West and at odds with Russia. The government in Tbilisi aspires to join the Europe…

Libya's New Government Will Face Old Challenges

A man passes parliamentary campaign posters in Tripoli, Libya, on June 22.(MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images)


Libyans will head to the polls June 25 to elect an interim political body to replace the embattled and largely ineffective General National Congress. The new legislature, the House of Representatives, will oversee the stalled constitutional drafting process and eventually hold elections for a permanent national government as defined by the future constitution.

The General National Congress was elected in 2012 in what Western observers deemed a free and fair election with high voter turnout. Subsequent elections have not fared as well; boycotts by ethnic minorities, low turnout and localized violence marred the Feb. 20 constituent assembly polls. The upcoming elections are an attempt to reset the current political impasses in Tripoli, but they also represent one of the few opportunities left for Libya to cobble together a national political order before the country fractures …

In Iraq, Airstrikes May Create New Allies

Free Syrian Army members examine an unexploded bomb that was dropped on Aleppo by a Syrian MiG fighter jet. Syrian aircraft reportedly hit targets in western Iraq on June 24.(ANDREW CAMPBELL/AFP/Getty Images)


Syrian aircraft reportedly carried out airstrikes June 24 against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant targets in the Iraqi town of Qaim, located at the Syrian border in Anbar province. This is not the first time that the Syrian air force has acted against such targets along the border. Recently, these airstrikes have occurred in the militant-controlled areas of western Iraq, though these strikes will not dramatically change the situation on the ground. However, the fact that three bitter adversaries -- the United States, Iran and Syria -- are defending the Iraqi government and responding to the militant threat against it shows that even historical rivals can cooperate, if only temporarily.


Any airstrike in Iraqi territory is noteworthy. The U.S.-led invasion per…

South Africa: Concerns Over Lesotho's Dams and Waterways

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A political crisis in Lesotho has left the parliament paralyzed as the military mobilizes in the capital of Maseru. Although the fallout from a change of government, even a potential coup, would be largely contained in Lesotho itself, South Africa has a vested interest in maintaining stability in the landlocked country. The need to prevent any disruption to South Africa's water supply could prompt President Jacob Zuma to intervene and restore order in Lesotho, as his country did in 1998.

South Africa's main interest is avoiding a security breakdown that would jeopardize its water supplies. Nearly a quarter of the country's naturally available water originates in Lesotho, which receives 60 percent more rain than South Africa. The water is funneled into South Africa through a system of reservoirs, dams and transport tunnels, providing critical supplies for the population as well as the mining industry. Locations that would suffer the most from a decreased wa…

Geopolitical Calendar: Week of June 23, 2014

June 23: Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades will meet to discuss the reunification of Cyprus.
June 23: The EU Foreign Affairs Council will convene in Brussels.
June 24: The EU General Affairs Council will meet in Brussels.
June 24: Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Vienna at the invitation of Austrian President Heinz Fischer.
June 24-25: NATO foreign ministers will gather at NATO headquarters in Brussels for a meeting chaired by NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
June 25: Coreper I will meet in Brussels.
June 25: An Iranian parliamentary delegation composed of lawmakers representing religious minorities will visit Germany to participate in an annual religious conference.
June 25: Justice and home affairs ministers from the United States and European Union will gather in Athens.
June 25-26: The plenary session of the EU Committee of the Regions will take place in Brussels.
June 27: The European Council will meet in Brussel…

In Austria, Russia Hopes to Exploit Europe's Divisions

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a 2007 news conference in Vienna.(ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)


Austria and Russia have a long and deep relationship; history and geography have often aligned their foreign policy interests. Russia does not expect anything specific from Russian President Vladimir Putin's June 24 visit to Austria, but the meeting itself is a way for Moscow to exploit the political divisions in Europe. Although Austria is not a particularly important EU decision-maker, it is a part of the German supply chain with political and economic influence in Central Europe and the Western Balkans. Austria is also interested in remaining a major hub for Russian energy. For its part, Russia wants to benefit from its good relationship with Austria as it makes sure the European Union remains fragmented.


Austria historically has seen Central Europe and the Western Balkans as part of its natural sphere of influence. In broad terms, Austria's interest…

North Korea and Japan's Growing Interest in a Better Relationship

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is surrounded by reporters at his official residence in Tokyo on May 29.(JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)


North Korea is quietly moving toward a temporary political accommodation with Japan that could ease Japanese sanctions and chip away at North Korea's economic isolation. Although the central issue under discussion is the status of nearly 90 Japanese citizens North Korea is thought to have abducted, deeper strategic interests are opening an opportunity for increased bilateral cooperation. A detente would offer North Korea a chance to soften its over-dependence on China, balancing relations with Tokyo against Beijing's disproportionate influence in Pyongyang. Meanwhile, easing tensions with North Korea would help Japan shore up its northern and western flanks so that it can shift the bulk of its security attention to its southern maritime interests.


Japanese and North Korean officials will meet again in the coming days to assess Py…