Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion2015-05-24T07:12:40Z Juan Cole <![CDATA[US Kneejerk support for Israeli Nukes Torpedoes UN Disarmament Talks]]> 2015-05-24T07:12:40Z 2015-05-24T07:12:40Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

After four weeks of negotiations, a revised UN treaty on nuclear disarmament has been torpedoed by the United States, leaving the issue of global disarmament dead in the water for the next five years. Non-nuclear states are furious at Washington and also fearful that in the absence of an agreement, nuclear proliferation will now march on. Moreover, they are upset at the slow pace of reduction of numbers of nuclear weapons by nuclear-armed states such as the US and Russia.

The US vetoed the document because it contained a clause requiring Israel to meet with Arab neighbors and to participate in talks leading to the making of the Middle East a nuclear free zone. Israel is the only country in the Middle East with a substantial nuclear arsenal, which it hides in plain sight by refusing to talk about it. UN-mandated negotiations with Egypt and other Arab states could have forced Israel to admit its nuclear stockpile and begin reducing it.

The US tried to make it look like the revised treaty’s demise was Egypt’s fault, since that country had put in the clause concerning Israeli nukes.
But it is perfectly understandable that Egypt wants a nuclear arms-free zone in the Middle East.

In running interference for Israel’s estimated 400 warheads, the US has made the world a more dangerous place. It has sacrificed a general revision of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty for the sake of protecting Tel Aviv’s nukes– which are themselves driving the Middle East arms race.

Egypt warned that the Arab world would take strong stances as a result of the US veto. There are rumors that Saudi Arabia is threatened by Israeli and Iranian nuclear programs and may go for broke to try to acquire at least a breakout capacity, itself.

Guess which country has requested further meetings at the UN in hopes of reviving the revised NPT? Iran.


Related video:

Wochit News: “US Rejects Nuclear Disarmament Document Over Israel Concerns”

contributors <![CDATA[Iraq Can’t Get Ramadi back without an Inclusive Policy toward Sunnis]]> 2015-05-24T06:25:32Z 2015-05-24T06:25:32Z By David Alpher | (The Conversation) –

Last Friday, the city of Ramadi – provincial capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province, and symbolic seat of its Sunni population – fell to an ISIS assault.

The loss is devastating, and not only because of the city’s size or symbolic value, or because it’s another reminder that ISIS is on the march. The loss is devastating because between Ramadi and Baghdad there is only one major city, Fallujah, which has long since fallen to ISIS and has always been known as a radical hotbed.

Beyond that is the capital itself. On the Baghdad side of the provincial frontier, Iranian-backed, Shiite militias are poised to move across the line to retake Anbar.

Hard choices about halting ISIS now and building a secure, inclusive Iraq confront both the Iraqi government and the US and its allies in the region.

The experience of working in Anbar

My work for an international nonprofit organization first brought me to Anbar in the summer of 2007, not long after the American-led coalition had written the province off as “lost to the insurgency.” The push to retake it by combining the efforts of US forces and tribal militias (the “Sunni Awakening Movement” or Sahwa) had begun earlier that year, and by the summer had gained traction.

From that summer through the spring of 2008, I led a locally hired staff in efforts to reduce the involvement of youth in the insurgency in the area of a city called Hit, a few miles west into Anbar from Ramadi; in 2010, I returned to Anbar with a different organization, this time to Ramadi itself, as head of a project integrating internally displaced people who had fled to the Ramadi district from elsewhere in Iraq. My leadership role required understanding the politics and society of the area well enough to effect change without also creating unintended consequences.

My observations here are based in large part on my own knowledge of the region.

How ISIS found a beachhead in Anbar province

ISIS’ successes in Anbar province do not come out of nowhere; they come from long history of negative interactions between the Sunni and Shia of Iraq and from American and Iranian interventions.

ISIS’ beachhead within Sunni-dominated Anbar – that segment of the population that either didn’t resist the extremist group or that actively facilitated its advance – has its foundations in the way the US pursued the war in Iraq from the 2003 invasion onward. The US strategy prioritized short-term stability over long-term inclusive governance, and ignored the Shiite-dominated government’s pursuit of that stability through the exclusion and repression of the Sunni minority. That was followed by the sense of betrayal among Anbar’s tribal militias and the Sahwa fighters, who had fought alongside US troops to retake Anbar from the insurgency in 2007 and 2008.

Those fighters were subjected to greater-than-average exclusion by the government in Baghdad, ejected from or denied jobs that had been promised during the American tenure, and targeted by Iranian-backed Shia militia violence. Many saw the American withdrawal of forces as abandonment, and some have since joined the ranks of ISIS’ fighters.

That was worsened by the Nouri al-Maliki government’s overtly repressive and exclusionary policies toward the Sunni population, which were in turn worsened by the new Haider al-Abadi government’s failure to change those policies, and use of Shia paramilitaries – long a battlefield enemy to the Sunni – to bolster the overwhelmed Iraqi army in fighting ISIS.

Anbar’s Sunni population is very much aware of the threat from ISIS; the fighters under the black flag have not met with an unalloyed welcome, but rather by Sunni tribal militias fighting them street by street.

Who is seen as the greater threat? ISIS or the Shiite government?

But while some of the Sunni population sees threat from ISIS, all of the population sees threat from the Shiite government and militias. ISIS’ combination of superior force and political beachhead has been amplified by the fact that the group has good administrators as well as good fighters – a contrast to central government failures with regard to basic services, which has served it well throughout the Sunni parts of Iraq and Syria alike.

So what happens next?

American and other international actors, seeing one strategy in ruins, argue over what to replace it with, and whether the fall of Ramadi represents a strategic failure or merely a setback.

But this misses a critical point. The real question isn’t about the strategy of the American administration. The real question is about the strategy of the Iraqi administration – not to defeat ISIS, but to build an Iraqi society and politics that’s inclusive of Sunni and Kurd as well as Shiite.

Throughout its years in power, the Maliki government could hardly have done more to convince Iraqi Sunnis that they faced a real threat. The new government, distracted by ISIS since almost its first day in office, has done far too little to ameliorate that perception. Instead, it has already used paramilitary Shia militias to bolster its flagging regular military – the same militias that fought with Sunni counterparts during recent years of warfare.

The use of those militias, exacerbated by reports that they turned their violence on Sunni populations immediately after engaging ISIS’ fighters in Tikrit and elsewhere, has only added to the problem.

The result: All the easy options are long since gone, and any strategy to defeat ISIS will fail if it doesn’t address the underlying drivers of insecurity and/or continues using the same tools that previously fueled violence.

Facing the hard options in Iraq

That may sound glib, but it’s also going to be impossible to rouse the will to tackle the hard options until this tough reality is recognized and accepted. Some situations simply do not lend themselves to easy, straightforward solutions.

In the meantime, those Shiite militias massing west of Baghdad on the Anbar frontier are certainly capable of winning the initial fight against ISIS. With more easily defensible supply lines, they can mobilize greater numbers and greater firepower than the ISIS fighters now holding Ramadi. The US, seeking to defeat ISIS as soon as possible, will likely add air power and perhaps even special operations troops to the fight. The Iraqi flag will fly over Ramadi again, however briefly.

But unless an Iraqi-conceived and Iraqi-led plan for a peaceful governance – which includes Sunnis – follows, the victory will be Pyrrhic. Those militias will be seen – for good reason – as a worse threat than ISIS in the long term and at least as bad in the short term by the population of Ramadi. The militias are symbolic of more than a decade’s worth of sectarian violence, and while there may be a temporary alliance against a larger enemy, that alliance will be entirely ephemeral.

Two key actions, short term and long term, are required

ISIS cannot, of course, be allowed to continue its expansion or to continue holding the territory it has already taken. But two things are required if Baghdad wants to halt ISIS and also ensure that a civil war between Sunni tribal militias and Shia paramilitaries does not begin the second the fighting with ISIS is done.

For the short term, the Iraqi government should ensure that any troops massing on the Anbar provincial frontier are Sunni, with Sunni leadership and the full and explicit blessing of the national government as such.

For the long term, Baghdad will need to provide guarantees of inclusive, nonrepressive government and power-sharing for the Sunni population.

Iraq’s government will need to lay out its own explicitly Iraqi strategy for socio-political inclusion and power sharing -— something it has yet to do. That strategy cannot be seen as either American or Iranian, if it hopes to induce willing Sunni participation in a shared government.

No American strategy, no matter how tactically decisive, will make a positive difference in the presence of an Iraqi government that continues to do its utmost to marginalize and repress the Sunni population. The US has been reminded that imposed regime change is a losing battle – change needs to be argued out by the Iraqis themselves.

A successful strategy regarding ISIS would aim to produce a peaceful, unified Iraq in which ISIS cannot find common cause. There will, of course, be a need for some tactical action to dislodge the group and protect civilians in the short term.

But the attempt to “defeat ISIS militarily” without also ensuring that change is the same strategy that scattered broken pieces of al-Qaida into the fertile ground of Iraqi exclusion … only to see it grow into this new menace.

As will happen again, if we continue to make the mistake of bringing defeat and forgetting to build peace.

The Conversation

David Alpher is Adjunct Professor at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

David Alpher is Adjunct Professor at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “US-led airstrikes and Iraqi militias target ISIL near Ramadi”

contributors <![CDATA[Venezuela to Boost Palestine to Full Embassy Status]]> 2015-05-24T05:57:35Z 2015-05-24T05:57:35Z By Ben Tavener – IMEMC/PNN –

Venezuela will boost its diplomatic representation in Palestine to full embassy status, according to the Venezuelan minister for foreign affairs.

“Following instructions from President Nicolás Maduro, we will raise our representation in the heroic Palestinian states to embassy level,” Delcy Rodríguez announced on social media Thursday evening.

Venezuela is currently represented by a first secretary in the city of Ramallah – headquarters of the Palestinian National Authority.

The news comes after a visit by Palestinian foreign affairs minister Riyad al-Maliki to Venezuela this week, during which 18 agreements of cooperation and a contract were signed covering a wide range of strategic areas.

According to broadcaster TeleSUR, the new deals include agreements in education, trade, energy, agriculture, health, defense and security.

Formal diplomatic ties between the two nations were established in 2009 under late President Hugo Chávez as a result of the Palestinian conflict with Israel that year. Venezuela went on to expel Israeli representatives as a sign of support for the Palestinian cause.

Maduro, who was Venezuela’s foreign minister at the time, was vocal in his desire for a lasting cease-fire between the two sides through peace negotiations, and repeatedly urged Israel to withdraw its troops from the Gaza Strip.

Venezuela has since provided extensive support to Palestine, including shipments of humanitarian aid, as well as lobbying for all countries to recognize the country’s independence and sovereignty.

Al-Maliki has made numerous trips to Venezuela during his time in office, and this week was officially awarded the Key to the City by the mayor of the Liberator municipality of the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, in a “sign of fraternity between Venezuela and Palestine”, the Noticias24 news website reported.



related video added by Juan Cole:

TeleSur: “PLO Hails Vatican Recognition of Palestine”

contributors <![CDATA[Conservative, Catholic Ireland 1st Country to vote in Gay Marriage]]> 2015-05-24T05:48:22Z 2015-05-24T05:48:22Z Channel 4 News | (Video) –

“Support for gay marriage in Ireland reaches 65 per cent with just the final votes to be counted – a resounding yes which forces the hugely influential Catholic church into turmoil after it opposed the change.”

Channel 4 News: “Ireland votes to legalise gay marriage”

contributors <![CDATA[Snowden’s Revenge: USA “Freedom” [Surveillance] Act Fails in Senate]]> 2015-05-24T05:38:48Z 2015-05-24T05:38:48Z By Nadia Prupis, staff writer | ( —

“The failure of these bills to pass shows just how dramatically the politics of surveillance changed once the extent of the government’s surveillance programs became known to the public.”

In a move that is being hailed by civil liberties advocates as a victory for privacy rights, the U.S. Senate on Friday rejected the USA Freedom Act, a bill that sought to rein in the National Security Agency’s (NSA) spying powers but that would have reauthorized some of the most controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act.

By a vote of 57-42, the Senate did not pass the bill that would have required 60 votes to move forward, which means that the NSA must start winding down its domestic mass surveillance program this week. The Senate also rejected a two-month extension of the existing program by 54-45, also short of the necessary 60 votes.

The Obama administration had previously warned Congress that if the Senate was unable to extend Section 215 of the Patriot Act by May 31, which the NSA leans on to justify its mass surveillance program, the government would need to launch its shutdown of the phone records collection operation ahead of time. With the U.S. House of Representatives already gone for Memorial Day holiday, the Senate had until this weekend to resolve its gridlock.

Section 215 is set to expire on June 1 absent congressional action.

The House voted in favor of the USA Freedom Act earlier this month.

Calling the vote a historic departure from the Patriot Act, “Sunsetting the Patriot Act is the biggest win for ending mass surveillance programs,” Tiffiniy Cheng, co-founder of Fight for the Future, a coalition of civil liberties and privacy rights organizations, said in response to the vote. “We are seeing history in the making and it was because the public stood up for our rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association—and there’s no turning back now.”

This was a “historic tactical win against surveillance,” Cheng added.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the most outspoken supporter of the Patriot Act, who has called for its clean reauthorization, said he would reassemble the Senate on Sunday, May 31 for a last-ditch effort at passing either bill.

But opposition is strong against the idea of allowing government spying to continue, even at a modified pace, as outrage over the NSA’s domestic phone records collection program—exposed in 2013 by whistleblower Edward Snowden—has grown among lawmakers and the public alike. Opposition became stronger after a federal appeals court ruled earlier this month that the NSA’s phone data sweep is illegal.

Some in Congress see the USA Freedom Act as their best bet at reforming the NSA, as it would have enshrined the end of the domestic surveillance program into law, but many civil liberties advocates took issue with what they say as the bill’s numerous concessions to intelligence powers. In a blog post published April 30, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) legislative analyst Mark Jaycox and activism director Rainey Reitman called the USA Freedom Act “a small step instead of a giant leap,” particularly in comparison with previous iterations of the bill, introduced in 2013 and 2014, which offered stronger reforms but failed to progress through Congress.

The House “missed an opportunity” to add stronger amendments to the USA Freedom Act when it voted in favor of the bill on May 13, Jaycox wrote in a separate post. “2015 can and should be the year for powerful surveillance reform, and we’re urging the Senate to rise to this opportunity.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a Republican presidential candidate who spent more than 10 hours on Wednesday night filibustering McConnell’s attempts to vote on the Patriot Act, said early Saturday morning that the Senate’s move “is only the beginning.”

“We should never give up our rights for a false sense of security,” Paul said in a statement. “This is only the beginning—the first step of many. I will continue to do all I can until this illegal government spying program is put to an end, once and for all.”

“These bills were an attempt to disregard the abuses revealed by Snowden and cement mass surveillance into law in defiance of the Constitution, the courts, and public sentiment,” said Jeff Lyon, CTO of Fight for the Future. “The failure of these bills to pass shows just how dramatically the politics of surveillance changed once the extent of the government’s surveillance programs became known to the public.”


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “US Senate blocks blocks measure to extend surveillance bill”

Juan Cole <![CDATA[Daesh/ ISIL blows up Shiite Mosque in Saudi Arabia, seeking Sectarian Civil War]]> 2015-05-23T06:46:35Z 2015-05-23T06:41:04Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | –

A suicide bomber with a concealed weapon detonated his payload during Friday prayers at the Ali b. Abi Talib Mosque in Qadif, a suburb of the major Shiite city of Qatif in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. It killed 21 and wounded 102, according to the Eastern Province ministry of health.

Daesh (ISIL, ISIS) announced that the operation was its.

Daesh’s policy, like al-Qaeda from which it branched off, is to “sharpen the contradictions,” provoking sectarian civil war so as to be able to take advantage of it. Among the Shiites of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, it is fishing in troubled waters.

Saudi’s Council of Leading Clerics roundly condemned the bombing and counted it a hideous crime that aimed to strike a blow against the unity of the Saudi people and to shake the country’s stability, saying “Behind it stand criminal terrorists with foreign fighters.” It added, “They were driven mad with rage when the Kingdom fulfilled its religious and Arab and Islamic duty.”

This is murky, but I suppose they are referring to the fact that Saudi Arabia is one of the coalition allies of the US that have conducted airstrikes against Daesh in Syria. Now Daesh has taken a clever sort of revenge, not just hitting back at the capital, Riyadh, or at the Saudi royal family, but rather hitting Saudi Shiites in hopes of stirring them up against the monarchy. The idea is that the Shiites will either think that King Salman should have protected their mosque from being blown up or they will think that the bombing was a false flag operation actually carried out by the Saudi secret police against them. Either way, Daesh has succeeded in making trouble for Riyadh.

In late April, Saudi Arabia arrested 93 persons allegedly belonging to Daesh, who were charged with a plot to blow up the US embassy in Riyadh. Such a bombing could have hurt US-Saudi relations.

The kingdom’s relationship with its Shiite citizens in the Eastern Province has long been difficult. They improved a bit in 2005 when the first municipal elections were held in Saudi Arabia, and the major Shiite city of Qatif put Shiites in charge for the first time. Although Wahhabis abhor Shiite rituals and had driven them underground, the elected city council permitted mourning rituals for Imam Husayn, the martyred grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, inside Qatif city limits (so as to avoid offending Wahhabis in the rest of the Eastern Province).

But relations with the central state took a downward turn with the youth protests of 2011, which were disproportionately staged in the majority Shiite Eastern Province. The Wahhabi government cracked down hard and is said to have arrested 500 people. One of them, the prominent cleric Nimr al-Nimr, has been sentenced to death, provoking further protests in the Eastern Province.

Saudi Arabia is a country of about 20 million citizens, with roughly 8 million foreign guest workers. About 12% of its citizens, i.e. 2.4 million, adhere to the Shiite branch of Islam. Most of them live in the Eastern Province (al-Hasa), though there are also communities in Medina in the Hejaz and in Najran (the latter being Ismaili rather than, as with the others, Twelvers, who believe in 12 Imams or vicars of the Prophet Muhammad. Twelvers predominate in Iraq and Iran).

The state religion and the majority religion in Saudi Arabia is the Wahhabi (“Unitarian”) branch of Islam founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in the 18th century. It was originally not part of Sunni Islam and considered Sunnis lax apostates and infidels, but over time it has been accepted as a form of Sunnism among some. (When I’m in the Gulf, I hear people talking about “Sunnis and Wahhabis,” so regionally they are still not considered the same thing). Wahhabis have distinctive beliefs and practices, being more suspicious of technology, more willing to excommunicate people from Islam, and more insistent on the public practice of a rigid form of the religion, in the service of which it provides religious police to whip people into praying at mosque (this is not done in Sunni countries). There are still substantial numbers of Sunnis in the western Hejaz province, where 35% or 7 million of Saudi’s citizens dwell. There has even be a revival of Sufi mysticism in the Hejaz, despite the hatred for that broadminded form of Islam among the Wahhabi clergy. Saudi Arabia is thus more religiously diverse than usually realized, and it is also therefore vulnerable to sectarian fracturing.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Wahhabis viewed Shiite Muslims as idolaters, and in 1803 Wahhabi tribes raided up into Iraq to loot the shrine of Imam Husayn, the martyred grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Wahhabis are like iconoclastic Protestants, objecting to saints, shrines, and visual icons. Theirs is an austere religion wherein there can be no intercession, no intermediary between God and human beings. The Saudis conquered the Eastern Province in 1913 and for decades imposed severe restrictions on the Shiites there, who were persecuted.

The late King Abdallah appears to have tried to reach out to the Shiites. He appointed two to his Shura Council, the embryonic Saudi parliament. And he let some Shiite areas have un-gerrrymandered municipal elections. Since 2011 there has been a distinct downturn in Shiite relations with the Saudi monarchy, of which Daesh is now trying to take advantage.

One thing King Salman should do right now is pardon Nimr al-Nimr.


Related video:

AJ+: “ISIS Claims Responsibility For Deadly Mosque Attack In Saudi Arabia”

contributors <![CDATA[Richest Countries Bomb among World’s Poorest: Yemen already a Forgotten War]]> 2015-05-23T04:39:28Z 2015-05-23T04:39:28Z VICE News | (Video) | –

“For more than six weeks, nine countries led by Saudi Arabia have been carrying out airstrikes on Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest nation. Whole neighborhoods have been destroyed and communities reduced to rubble.

According to the United Nations, the strikes, targeting Iranian-backed Houthi rebel positions in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, have killed over 1,400 people, many of them civilians.

With international media unable to enter the besieged capital, Yousef Mawry, a local journalist, recorded the devastation of his home city for VICE News. He meets the survivors and victims, getting the inside view of life in Yemen.”

VICE News: “Inside War-Torn Yemen: Sanaa Under Attack”

contributors <![CDATA[Now Jeb Bush thinks Scientists are Arrogant for Discovering Climate Change]]> 2015-05-23T04:32:10Z 2015-05-23T04:30:18Z John Iadarola and Ben Mankiewicz | (The Young Turks) | (Video) –

“A few weeks back we gave Jeb Bush credit for admitting that climate change is actually a fact. Well today we get to take that back. Bush expanded on his original thought and it got a little bit less thoughtful.

John Iadarola (Think Tank) and Ben Mankiewicz (What The Flick) discuss the details of the story. Is there actually a conversation to be had about whether climate change is real or not?”

Jeb Bush Backtracks On Climate Change