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Audio: Kurdistan – a State of Uncertainty

By , July 29, 2014 5:42 am

Audio: Kurdistan – a State of Uncertainty

From the BBC.

John McCarthy meets the Kurds of northern Iraq, a unique island of stability in a nation broken into warring fragments.

He asks how a people who have been victims of abuse and atrocity for generations managed to transform their fortunes so dramatically.

How did they recently gain the confidence to calmly take over the disputed city of Kirkuk and claim it as their own? And how can they avoid being sucked once more into a maelstrom of violence?

Click here to listen to the BBC programme.

Iraq Business News

Documentary film: Ukraine Crisis

By , July 29, 2014 3:38 am

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Iraq Appears Split Into Three States

By , July 29, 2014 12:10 am

Ever since U.S. forces invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, the U.S. government has worried that Iraq would splinter into three states — each representing the feuding religious and ethnic factions the dictator held together through his iron rule.

It may no longer be necessary to worry that Iraq will break apart. In many ways, it already has.

The radical Islamic State that seized a swath of western and central Iraq last month effectively left the nation in three pieces, government officials and analysts say.

The United States worries that a fractured Iraq could lead to a failed state, allowing the radical Islamists to establish a stronghold from which they can export terrorism to other parts of the region and world.

Ryan Crocker, who served as U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009, described the divisions as “Shiastan,” “Jihadistan” and Kurdistan. The references are to the majority Shiite Muslims, who run the national government in Baghdad; the insurgent Sunni Muslim jihadists who make up the Islamic State; and the ethnic Kurds, who have long presided over an oil-rich, semiautonomous enclave in the north

“In a sense, it’s apocalypse now,” Crocker said.

“Iraq is not one Iraq anymore,” Fuad Hussein, chief of staff to Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani, said at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy during a recent U.S. visit.

The challenge for Washington is determining whether — and how — the country can be pieced back together. The Obama administration says Iraq must stay united if it is to take back the country from the radical Islamists.

Ironically, Joe Biden had argued as a U.S. senator in 2006, when Iraq was in the throes of sectarian violence, that the country be divided into three autonomous regions with a weak central government . His idea never gained traction, and the administration in which he serves as vice president argues the opposite view.

“The strongest single blunt to that threat (division) would be a strong capable federal government in Iraq that is actually able to exert control and influence to push back on that threat,” Elissa Slotkin, a top Pentagon official, testified to Congress recently.

Politicians in Baghdad are haggling over formation of a unity government that can fulfill the mission outlined by Slotkin. By custom, the top three jobs are parceled out to the three factions.

Last week, Kurdish politician Fouad Massoum was named the new president of Iraq by Parliament. His selection followed lawmakers’ election of a Sunni, Salim al-Jabouri, as speaker of Parliament.

Lawmakers have a long way to go before creating a broad government that would lessen tensions among the Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, has been widely criticized within his country and the USA for limiting Sunni participation in his government and empowering Shiite militias that have targeted Sunnis during his eight-year rule. Al-Maliki is fighting to stay in office for a new four-year term.

One key to holding Iraq together is convincing the Kurds, who have long sought an independent state, to remain part of the central government. The Obama administration is trying to convince Kurdish leaders to remain part of Iraq.

“Without the Kurds, you’re going to have a struggle with all Sunni Arabs against an Iranian-backed Shiite rump state,” said James Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

The Kurds have seized on the offensive by the radical Sunnis to further assert their independence. Kurdish forces have occupied territory abandoned by Iraq’s army, attempted to sell oil without Baghdad’s approval and announced plans for a referendum on independence.

“Division is the only solution, provided that this division should be consensual,” said Barzo Ibrahim, a civil engineer in Irbil, in Kurdistan. “This is the most difficult part of the task.”

The Kurds have the best chance of survival should they break away from Iraq’s central government. They have created an oasis of political stability in the north, fueled by their own oil reserves and protected by one of the most disciplined fighting forces in the region, the peshmerga.

The Kurds have used the crisis to expand their control over oil-rich Kirkuk in the north by taking over positions from Iraq’s army when it retreated in the face of attacks from Islamic militants. It’s not clear whether the Kurds will withdraw should the crisis subside.

“They are making the most of the current tactical situation,” said Mark Kimmit, a retired Army brigadier general and former State Department official with extensive experience in Iraq.

“They achieved on the ground what they were unable to achieve politically, by moving into positions abandoned by the Iraqi security forces,” he said.

The Kurdish regional government has begun pumping oil from the Kirkuk field into its own network, so it can sell it independently through its pipeline into Turkey, according to the Iraq Oil Report, which covers the industry. Baghdad considers the move illegal.

The Kurds have said Iraq’s central government hasn’t fulfilled its commitment to support the regional government’s budget, leaving the government with no choice but to sell its own oil.

Baghdad still has control over the bulk of Iraq’s oil wealth. The Kurdish region produces about 220,000 barrels per day, compared with about 2.6 million in the Shiite south.

The Sunnis, whose power center is in western Iraq, have little in the way of resources to fall back on. Their anger against al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government has driven many to support the Islamic State.

While the government’s forces are in disarray, al-Maliki has turned again to Shiite militias to help provide security, further heightening sectarian tensions.

Iraq has long had sectarian clashes and divisions. The Sunni minority held power for centuries until the United States ousted Saddam, a Sunni. Iraq’s mostly Sunni Baath Party, which ruled Iraq for decades, ruthlessly suppressed Shiites and Kurds.

Some Iraqis, such as Omar Mohammed, a dentist in Diyala in eastern Iraq, see a splintered Iraq as the only solution after so many episodes of sectarian bloodshed.

“I would accept any solution to stop the bloodshed,” he said, “even if it was a confederation or division.”

Contributing: Gilgamesh Nabeel, Ammar Al Shamary and John Dyer in Baghdad and Sumi Somaskanda from Berlin.

Assyrian International News Agency

Emirates to Reroute Flights

By , July 29, 2014 12:00 am

Emirates to Reroute Flights

By Patrick M Schmidt.

Sir Tim Clark, Chief Executive of Emirates Airlines, has announced that the airline would no longer allow its own aircraft to fly over Iraq.

This statement comes as a reaction to the missile strike on Malaysian Airlines MH-17 and concerns about ISIS militants in the north of Iraq being in possession of surface-to-air missile systems from arsenals captured in Syria.

Clark stated that, “The horrors that this created was a kick in the solar plexus for all of us. Nevertheless having got through it we must take stock and deal with it.

Within the next ten days, Emirates will issue new flight plans for routes that pass over Iraq. It is expected that these new routes could add up to an hour to current flight times.

Meanwhile, Australian airline Qantas has said that based on its latest security assessments it has no plans to stop flying over Iraqi airspace on its Dubai-London flights.

(Sources: The Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald)

Iraq Business News

Will have an Audio up Tuesday Morning, thanks for the questions all.

By , July 28, 2014 7:06 pm

Please any Questions: send to I will get to your questions as soon as possible by personal e-mail, blog post or audio “If you Knew you could not fail, what would you try today?” Philippians 4:13

U.S. International Religious Freedom Report for 2013

By , July 28, 2014 6:28 pm

U.S. International Religious Freedom Report for 2013

In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory. In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs. Out of fear or by force, entire neighborhoods are emptying of residents. Communities are disappearing from their traditional and historic homes and dispersing across the geographic map. In conflict zones, in particular, this mass displacement has become a pernicious norm.

In Syria, as in much of the Middle East, the Christian presence is becoming a shadow of its former self. After three years of civil war, hundreds of thousands fled the country desperate to escape the ongoing violence perpetrated by the government and extremist groups alike. In the city of Homs the number of Christians dwindled to as few as 1,000 from approximately 160,000 prior to the conflict. Elsewhere, in the Central African Republic, widespread lawlessness and an upsurge in sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims reportedly resulted in at least 700 deaths in Bangui in December alone and the displacement of more than one million people throughout the country during the year.

Anti-Muslim violence in Meikhtila, Burma, led to up to 100 deaths and an estimated 12,000 displaced residents from the area in early 2013. This event showed that mob violence against Muslims was no longer confined to western Rakhine State, where over 140,000 persons have also been displaced since 2012. Although the government’s overall human rights record continued to improve, organized anti-Muslim hate speech, harassment, and discrimination against Muslims continued, exploited by those seeking to divide and pit Buddhist and Muslim communities against one another, often for political gain.

All around the world, individuals were subjected to discrimination, violence and abuse, perpetrated and sanctioned violence for simply exercising their faith, identifying with a certain religion, or choosing not to believe in a higher deity at all. Militants in Pakistan killed more than 400 Shia Muslims in sectarian attacks throughout the year and more than 80 Christians in a single church bombing; the government arrested and jailed a number of those responsible for sectarian attacks, but it generally failed to prevent attacks. Both Shia Muslims and Christians faced violent and deadly attacks in Egypt, and Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia continued to face discrimination and prejudice, as were others who did not adhere to the government’s interpretation of Islam. In Iran, officials threatened, detained and harassed members of almost all non-Shia religious groups. Hindus and other ethnic and religious minorities in Bangladesh faced increased harassment and physical attacks amidst political turmoil while in Sri Lanka violent Buddhist nationalist groups destroyed mosques and churches while security forces simply stood by. China prosecuted family members of self-immolators, imprisoned and tortured Falun Gong practitioners, continued its harassment of members of house churches and unregistered Catholic bishops and priests, and sought the forcible return of ethnic Uighurs who were seeking asylum overseas. Members of unregistered religious groups were continuously intimidated in Eritrea, where 1,200 to 3,000 people were imprisoned because of their religious beliefs. Throughout Europe, the historical stain of anti-Semitism continued to be a fact of life on Internet fora, in soccer stadiums, and through Nazi-like salutes, leading many individuals who are Jewish to conceal their religious identity.

And yet, amidst the darkness of religious strife lay inspiring and unheralded acts of interfaith solidarity. Following the deadly Peshawar church bombing in Pakistan resilient Muslim community members formed human chains around churches during services in a show of solidarity and to stand up against senseless violence. In Egypt, Muslim men stood in front of a Catholic church to protect the congregation from attacks. And after an increase of mosque attacks in the United Kingdom, a local orthodox Jewish neighborhood watch team began assisting Muslim leaders to ensure safe access to mosques and alert them to possible attacks.

Despite the momentary glimpses of progress, there is much work to be done. President Obama recently noted that “around the world freedom of religion is under threat.” The 2013 International Religious Freedom Report, now in its 16th year, chronicles where and when the universal right to religious freedom was neglected and protected, upheld and abused. Congressionally-mandated and comprising of almost 200 distinct reports on countries and territories, this report continues to reflect the United States commitment to, and advancement of, the right of every person to freedom of religion or belief.

Government Repression of Religious Freedom

Governments from all regions subjected members of religious groups to repressive policies, discriminatory laws, disenfranchisement, and discriminatory application of laws. These governmental actions not only infringed on freedom of religion themselves, but they also often created a permissive environment for broader human rights abuses. Restrictive policies included laws criminalizing religious activities and expression, prohibitions on conversion or proselytizing, blasphemy laws, and stringent registration requirements or discriminatory application of registration requirements for religious organizations.

North Korea again stood out for its absolute prohibition of religious organizations and harsh punishments for any unauthorized religious activities. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan put severe restrictions on members of religious groups that did not conform to the state-approved religion(s) while in China, Cuba, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, religious activity was only lawful if explicitly authorized by the state.

In North Korea, the government continued to severely restrict religious activity, except for some officially recognized groups tightly supervised by the government. Reports by refugees, defectors, missionaries, and NGOs indicated that religious persons who engaged in proselytizing in the country and those who were in contact with foreigners or missionaries were arrested and subjected to extremely harsh penalties, including executions.

In Pakistan, authorities continue to enforce blasphemy laws and laws designed to marginalize the Ahmadiyya Muslim community; these laws continued to restrict religious freedom, and remained the most visible symbols of religious intolerance. Meanwhile, the government took some limited steps in response to major incidents of violence against members of religious minority communities, such as condemning attacks against Shia and Christian worshipers and adding some additional security measures, but generally failed to take adequate steps to hold accountable those responsible for the attacks. There were continued reports of law enforcement personnel abusing members of religious minorities and persons accused of blasphemy while in custody.

Tajikistan is the only country in the world in which the law prohibits persons under the age of 18 from participating in public religious activities. Muslim women are also effectively barred from attending mosques under a religious edict enforced by the government. Authorities prohibited the operation of some unregistered religious groups, and raided, monitored, and harassed members of both registered and unregistered groups.

In Turkmenistan, there were reports of beatings and torture of persons detained for religious reasons, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose beliefs prevented them from complying with compulsory military service. One report also indicated that government officials threatened a relative of a Jehovah’s Witness with rape during detention after a raid on her home. Changes to the administrative code in September introduced monetary penalties for disseminating religious literature and further codified a variety of restrictions faced by members of religious groups.

In Eritrea, members of religious groups not sanctioned by the government faced harassment and detention while persons who refused to serve in the national militia on religious grounds were detained for extended periods and pressured to convert. An estimated 1,200 to 3,000 individuals remain imprisoned for their religious beliefs and at least three died in 2013 due to prison conditions.

In China, police detained students, monks, laypersons, and others in many Tibetan areas who called for freedom, human rights, including respect for freedom of religion, or for expressing support for the Dalai Lama or solidarity with individuals who had self-immolated. China criminalized various activities associated with self-immolation, and prosecuted family members and colleagues of self-immolators on charges of “intentional homicide.” In September Falun Gong practitioner Yu Jinfeng was reportedly arrested and then taken to a former reeducation-through-labor (RTL) facility. Her lawyer, Tang Jitian, was refused access to Ms. Yu and then detained for five days. Unregistered house churches and their practitioners continue to face persecution by Chinese officials. In April seven house church Christians were sentenced in Ye County, Henan Province, to prison terms ranging from three to seven-and-a-half years reportedly for recording and copying sermons. Human rights organizations asserted that security forces shot at groups of Uighurs in their homes, claiming they were “terrorists”. The government reportedly sought the forcible return of ethnic Uighurs seeking asylum overseas. There were reports of imprisonment and torture of Uighurs who were returned.

In Iran, the government imposed legal restrictions on proselytizing and regularly arrested members of the Zoroastrian and Christian communities for practicing their religion. Government rhetoric and actions created a threatening atmosphere for members of nearly all non-Shia religious groups, most notably for Bahais. Pastor Saeed Abedini, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen, remained imprisoned at year’s end after being sentenced to eight years in prison on charges related to his religious beliefs.

In Saudi Arabia, the public practice of any religion other than Islam is prohibited; freedom of religion is neither recognized nor protected under the law. Shia and other Muslims who did not adhere to the government’s interpretation of Islam faced discrimination. The government detained individuals on charges of insulting Islam, encouraging or facilitating conversion from Islam, “witchcraft and sorcery,” and for engaging in non-Muslim religious services. No public places of worship for non-Muslims exist.

In Uzbekistan, the government continued to imprison individuals on charges of “extremism,” raid religious and social gatherings of unregistered and registered religious organizations, confiscate and destroy religious literature, and discourage minors from practicing their faith. There were reports of deaths in custody, torture, beatings, and other harsh treatment of prisoners the government considered religious extremists, and some reports of police beating members of unregistered religions. By continuing to deny registration to some religious groups and punishing members for their activities, authorities effectively deprived these individuals of their right to worship freely, which is also provided for in Uzebkistan’s constitution. NGOs estimate that approximately 10,000 to 12,000 people reportedly remain imprisoned on vague charges of religious extremism due to their religious beliefs or practice.

In Sudan, the government prohibited conversion from Islam to another religion, denied permits for churches, closed or demolished churches built without permits, and failed to provide legal remedies for some instances of religious discrimination.

In Burma, there were reports of violence against Christians; the destruction of religious buildings in areas of active conflict in Kachin State; and policies prohibiting or impeding Muslim land ownership in some areas and discrimination on the basis of religion in the promotion of government employees into senior government and military ranks. Local government officials reportedly participated in anti-Muslim discrimination and failed to stop violence in Rakhine State, and local officials were slow to respond to anti-Muslim violence in Meiktila, Mandalay Division.

In Russia, the government used a new law against “extremism” and amendments to existing laws to further restrict the activities of members of minority religious groups, including making it illegal for foreigners to participate in religious organizations. The government continued to grant the Russian Orthodox Church a privileged position, but generally allowed other established Judeo-Christian groups to practice their beliefs freely. Police across the country participated in raids on private homes and places of worship of minority religious groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and followers of Sunni theologian Said Nursi. Local officials often refused minority groups permission to establish houses of worship. Especially after instances of extremist violence in the North Caucasus, members of Muslim ethnic groups were subjected to physical attacks and social discrimination. Violence against moderate religious leaders in the North Caucasus continued.

Bahrain continued to experience political/sectarian tensions. Sunni Muslims enjoyed favored status, while Shia Muslims suffered discrimination in employment and government services, and there were reports of arbitrary arrest and excessive use of force. The government continued to rebuild mosques demolished in 2011, and at the end of 2013 reported 10 of the 30 projects were completed. On various occasions during the year, however, security forces prohibited citizens from performing prayers at the locations of some of these demolished mosques. Leading up to the Shia holy day of Ashura, Ministry of Interior personnel removed Ashura flags, and decorations from streets and houses. In September, the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs brought a lawsuit seeking to disband the Islamic Ulema Council (the main assembly of Shiite clerics in Bahrain) claiming it was an illegal organization.

Discrimination, Impunity and Displacement of Religious Minorities

When governments choose not to combat discrimination on the basis of religion and intolerance, it breeds an environment in which intolerant and violent groups are emboldened, even to the point of physically attacking individuals on the basis of their religious beliefs. Governments in these countries failed to protect vulnerable communities and many religious minority communities were disproportionately affected, resulting in a large number of refugees and internally displaced persons.

In Syria, the Asad regime increasingly characterized the conflict in sectarian terms and targeted religious groups it considered opposition-aligned, particularly members of the country’s Sunni majority. Regime-aligned militia groups composed of Iraqi Shia and Hezbollah fighters targeted members of groups seen as aligned with the opposition, especially Sunnis. Militant groups, especially those linked to al-Qa’ida, increased their targeting of Alawite, Shia Muslim, Christian, and other religious communities, some because of perceived alignment with the regime. Many Syrian Christians have fled the country as a result.

In Sri Lanka, the Sinhala Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) continued to promote its anti-Muslim campaign, which was linked to violent activities during the year. Local media and NGOs noted strong linkages between the BBS and the government. According to numerous reports, the BBS was behind a growing wave of anti-Muslim activities carried out by other violent Buddhist nationalist groups. Nationalist groups were allegedly involved in a series of attacks on mosques, protests over animal slaughter, and a sustained attempt to further marginalize Muslims by outlawing the halal system of meat certification. On December 1, Buddhist monks reportedly led a mob of 200 villagers that destroyed the Methodist Church of Habarana, located in Anuradapura District. Two Criminal Investigation Division (CID) police officers arrived at the scene and ordered the church to shut down, saying that it had no legal recognition to operate.

In Egypt, on multiple occasions organized groups attacked churches and Christian-owned homes and businesses and then looted and torched the properties. Islamist-led mobs carried out acts of violence, intimidation, compelled expulsions, and punishment against Christians, especially in Upper Egypt. Attacks on Christians spiked August 14 -17 when, according to NGO reports, assailants attacked at least 42 churches in various governorates, in addition to schools, orphanages, and other Christian-affiliated facilities. The violence resulted in the looting and destruction of at least 37 churches and the deaths of at least six Christians who were targeted because of their religious identity. On June 23, a mob of thousands of angry villagers led by Salafist sheikhs killed four Shia citizens, including a prominent cleric, in a village near Cairo. The lynching followed months of government and official Islamic anti-Shia rhetoric and was immediately preceded by incendiary speech at a mosque. In June then-President Morsy attended a televised conference at which a Salafist sheikh described Shia as “non-believers who must be killed,” according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

In Iraq, there were reports of societal abuses and discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, although to a lesser extent in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) than in other areas of the country. A combination of sectarian hiring practices, corruption, targeted attacks, and the uneven application of the law had a detrimental economic effect on minority non-Muslim communities, and contributed to the departure of non-Muslims from the country.

In many instances, governments increasingly failed to prevent, investigate, or prosecute crimes targeting members of religious minority groups. Governments’ failure to hold perpetrators of religiously motivated crimes accountable helped create an environment which legitimized intolerance and emboldened those who would commit abuses and violence.

In Bangladesh, there were a large number of arson attacks and looting of minority religious sites and private homes across the country, especially against the Hindu community. According to a domestic human rights organization, 495 statues, monasteries, or temples were destroyed; 278 homes and 208 businesses were destroyed; 188 were injured; hundreds displaced, and one person was killed during the year. In November, a mob assaulted a Hindu man and set fire to 26 homesteads in a predominantly Hindu village in Bonogram, Pabna. The police reportedly did not detain any of the perpetrators the victim named but did detain an individual who sheltered Hindus during the attack. Increased violence against minorities in the lead-up to the elections shows how minority communities are especially vulnerable during periods of political instability, when some partisans exploit latent communal sentiment to settle scores, take land, or intimidate opponents to achieve political aims.

In Indonesia, the government sometimes did not adequately prosecute instances of violence, abuse, and discrimination against individuals based on their religious belief, especially when minority Shia or Ahmadiyya Muslims were victimized. In January and February, the Surabaya Court lightly sentenced five suspects for their roles in the August 2012 attack on a Shia community in Sampang, East Java, which left two Shiites dead, dozens of homes burned, and 300 people displaced. There were also cases of officially encouraged conversion. In May the minister of religious affairs attended a conversion ceremony in Tasikmalaya, West Java, during which 20 members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community publicly professed their commitment to Sunni Islam. Members of small minority religious groups found it difficult to register births or marriages. A group of 116 Ahmadi Muslims living as internally displaced persons in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara, reported that the local government refused to issue to them identity cards or their children birth certificates, thus impeding their access to government services. Interreligious couples also continued to face obstacles to marrying and officially registering.

In India, clashes in the Muzaffarnagar district in Uttar Pradesh between Hindu and Muslim communities between late August and mid-September led to the deaths of 65 persons, 68 persons injured, and an estimated 40,000-50,000 displaced. Broader communal violence spread after a Muslim youth was killed by two Hindu youths who accused the boy of sexually harassing a female family member. The local police and the army reportedly allowed unlawful gatherings by individuals carrying arms on September 7 and local administrators allegedly did not respond to counter public calls by politicians and community leaders for violence.

Repression of fundamental freedoms creates a more fertile environment for violent extremism to take hold, as people denied their right to freely practice their beliefs become more alienated and resentful and vulnerable to recruitment by extremist groups. Violent extremist groups continued to interfere with the enjoyment of religious freedom conditions particularly in Africa, Asia, Eurasia, and the Middle East and led some governments to invoke draconian anti-extremism laws and impose restrictions that increasingly infringed on the religious freedoms of members of minority religious groups. Such laws were used to target Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, Scientologists, and Falun Gong practitioners.

In Nigeria, casualties and human rights abuses associated with Boko Haram attacks and the government’s response escalated. Boko Haram killed more than 1,000 people during the year. The group targeted a wide array of civilians and sites, including Christian and Muslim religious leaders, churches, and mosques, often killing worshippers during religious services or immediately afterward. The federal government was ineffective in preventing or quelling the violence, only occasionally investigated, prosecuted, or punished those responsible for abuses related to religious freedom, and sometimes responded to violence with heavy-handed tactics, which were associated with both human rights abuses and civilian casualties. Over 10,000 people have fled to neighboring countries as refugees, fearing both Boko Haram and sometimes the military.

Rising anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment in parts of Europe demonstrated that intolerance is not limited to countries in active conflict. The European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism among Jews in eight member states (Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden and United Kingdom), released in November, found that in some countries as many as 48 percent of the local Jewish population had considered emigrating because of anti-Semitism.

Religious minority communities were disproportionately affected by violence, discrimination and harassment. In many regions of the world, religious intolerance was linked to civil and economic strife and resulted in mass migration of members of religious minority communities throughout the year. In some of these areas, the outward migration of certain communities has the potential to permanently change the demographics of entire regions.

U.S. Policy and Programs in Support of Religious Freedom

Promoting religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy. And I’m proud that no nation on Earth does more to stand up for the freedom of religion around the world than the United States of America. President Barack Obama

Religious freedom is a human right knitted into the fabric of our founding and enshrined in our Constitution. As such, the U.S. government continues to prioritize the advancement of this freedom into its broader foreign policy objectives. The same law that mandated the International Religious Freedom Report and created the Office of International Religious Freedom also gave us a series of powerful mechanisms to promote the cause of religious freedom worldwide. This includes the ability to identify and sanction governments that engage in or tolerate “particularly severe” violations of religious freedom. It also includes the ability to deny entry to the United States of government officials who have themselves directly carried out or were responsible for “particularly severe violations of religious freedom”.

As in years past, the 2013 report chronicles the efforts of senior U.S. officials and our diplomatic corps to help people throughout the world enjoy the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Our officials are charged with speaking truth to power, promoting accountability and redress for injustices, and helping the global community connect with and understand the plight of members of little-known groups in far-flung places. Every day and at every level, we are meeting with and pressing government officials to respect the human rights, including religious freedom, of all individuals. Through various programs and resources, speeches and statements, campaigns and multilateral resolutions, we are intervening on behalf of oppressed communities and individuals, speaking with average citizens, and providing comfort and support to victims of abuses.

Promoting religious freedom is a whole-of-government effort, and the President, the Secretary, our country Ambassadors, and other senior Department officials, including the Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom and the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, regularly raise religious freedom concerns around the world. The President has raised cases regarding individuals imprisoned for their religious beliefs, such as that of imprisoned Iranian-American Saeed Abedini, publicly and privately with other governments. In Egypt, the President condemned sectarian violence, including attacks on churches. Secretary of State Kerry has also emphasized the importance of ensuring freedom of religion for all Egyptians, regardless of their faith, with equal rights and protections under the law.

Embassies around the world advocate for and support freedom of religion. Active engagement by Embassy officials in Armenia encouraged the passage of a law to protect conscientious objectors. This led to the release of 28 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the fall of 2013. In Pakistan, we support victims of religion-based persecution, fund programs to promote peaceful coexistence between religious groups, and are working to develop curricula and training materials to promote religious tolerance and combat violent extremism. In Egypt, our programs are developing Arabic-language and English-language educational materials that encourage diversity and understanding of others. The U.S. Embassy in Albania organized a civic education and religious tolerance program that engaged over 7,000 students in discussions of common civic values shared across religions.

U.S. officials from the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, using foreign assistance funds provided by the State Department, are implementing a training program in various countries in all regions of the world to assist governments in training local officials on enforcing non-discrimination laws and in cultural awareness with religious minorities. The training includes topics such as legislative reform, best practice models, prosecuting violent crimes motivated by religious hatred, and combating discrimination in employment, housing and other areas. So far, successful training sessions have been held in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, and Indonesia.

Teachers in Estonia, funded by the U.S. Embassy, were trained on Holocaust education which was incorporated into their existing curricula. The U.S. Ambassador in Moldova worked closely with municipal authorities to encourage them to allow the Jewish community to display a menorah publicly for the first time in three years. In Niger, continuous U.S. Embassy involvement with the local interreligious council provided resources that allowed the council to mediate local religious-based disputes and opportunities for members to participate in exchange programs to increase their religious tolerance education and efforts.

These efforts underscore the U.S. government’s commitment to religious freedom. But creating a more free and tolerant world, is not a job reserved for any one government or institution. Rather, it is a global requirement incumbent on all of humanity. Whereas repression of religious freedom contributes to instability and economic stagnation, respect for it leads to more security and prosperity.

On International Religious Freedom Day, Secretary Kerry stressed that “nations that protect this fundamental freedom will have the partnership of the United States and the abiding commitment of the American people as we seek to advance freedom of religion worldwide.” It is our hope that this year’s report not only identifies the abuses, problems and violations, but also sparks the areas for change, action, and accountability. We invite governments, community groups, faith-based and secular organizations, students, activists, human rights defenders, change makers and every-day citizens to use this report to defend and advance international religious freedom, a universal right which we are all entitled.

Full report.

Assyrian International News Agency

Iraq Stock Market Report

By , July 28, 2014 6:18 pm

Iraq Stock Market Report

Advertising Feature

Rabee Securities Iraq Stock Exchange (ISX) market report (week ending: 24th July 2014).

Note: ISX will be closed starting from July 27, 2014 to July 31, 2014 due to the national holiday of Eid Al-Fitr. The next session will be held on Sunday, August 3, 2014.

Please click here to download a table of listed companies and their associated ticker codes.

The RSISX index ended the week at ID1,471 (-1.6%)/ $ 1,576 (-1.3%) (weekly change) (-21.1% and -20.7% YTD change, respectively). The number of week traded shares was 5.6bn and the weekly trading volume was ID8.3bn ($ 6.9mn).

ScreenHunter_822 Jul. 19 18.01

ISX Company Announcements

  • Iraqi Agricultural Products (AIRP) will hold its AGM* on Aug. 17, 2014 to discuss and approve 2013 annual financial results, distributing 50% cash dividend and elect new board members.
  • Ready Made Clothes (IRMC) will hold its AGM* on Aug. 4, 2014 to discuss and approve 2013 annual financial results and decreasing 36% of the accumulated deficit. ISX will suspend trading of IRMC starting on July 27, 2014.
  • Original shares of North Bank (BNOR) resumed trading on July 23, 2014 after they discussed and approved 2013 financial results and increasing its capital from IQD265bn to IQD300bn through 13.2% bonus issue.
  • New shares of Union Bank (BUOI) from the capital increase to IQD252bn through 36.2% bonus and 29.6% rights issues resumed trading on July 23, 2014.
  • Bank of Baghdad (BBOB) held its AGM* on July 23, 2014. In its AGM, BBOB approved distributing 11% cash dividend (IQD0.11 per share).
  • Shares of Iraqi Islamic Bank (BIIB) resumed trading on July 22, 2014 after they discussed and approved 2013 financial results and distributing 9% (IQD0.09 per share) cash dividend.
  • Original shares of Kharkh Tour A. City (SKTA) resumed trading on July 22, 2014 after they discussed and approved 2013 financial results and increasing its capital from IQD368mn to IQD500mn through 35.9% bonus issue.
  • A cross transaction occurred on IQD200mn Asiacell (TASC) shares on July 22, 2014. This represents 0.1% of TASC capital.
  • Original shares of Mamoura Real Estate (SMRI) resumed trading on July 21, 2014 after they discussed and approved 2013 financial results and increasing its capital from IQD15.010bn to IQD16.511bn through 10% rights issue.
  • Iraqi Middle East Bank (BIME) held its AGM* on July 19, 2014. In its AGM, BIME approved distributing 10% cash dividend (IQD0.1 per share) Also, they decreased the accumulated deficit of IQD17bn.

Iraq Business News

Hague court fines Russia over $50bn in Yukos case

By , July 28, 2014 4:45 pm

Hague court fines Russia over $ 50bn in Yukos case
By: Pre on: 28.07.2014 [14:03 ] (130 reads)

Hague court fines Russia over $ 50bn in Yukos case
Mon Jul 28, 2014 1:28PM GMT

An international arbitration panel in the Netherlands has ordered Russia to pay USD 51.6 billion (£30.38 billion) in damages to a group of shareholders of the defunct oil giant, Yukos, for expropriating its assets.

The ruling was issued on Monday by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague after almost a decade of hearings.

The court accused officials under Russian President Vladimir Putin of manipulating the country’s legal system to bankrupt the energy giant.

It also noted that Russian courts assigned the valuable assets of Yukos to a state-controlled company and imprisoned its founder, former Russian oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

“Yukos was the object of a series of politically-motivated attacks by the Russian authorities that eventually led to its destruction,” the court said.

In reaction to the ruling, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that Moscow could launch an appeal and would do everything to defend itself.

“The Russian side, those agencies which represent Russia in this process, will…use all available legal possibilities to defend its position,” he said.

Meanwhile, Russia’s energy company, Rosneft, which acquired the assets of Yukos, also said that all its dealings have been lawful.

Khodorkovsky, the former chief of Yukos Oil Company, was arrested in 2003 in Siberia over fraud and tax evasion. The company, once worth USD 40 billion, was broken up and later sold off after Khodorkovsky’s arrest.

He was also convicted of theft and money laundering in a second trial in 2010. Three years later, however, Khodorkovsky was freed from jail on humanitarian grounds following a decree from the Russian president pardoning the former tycoon.

SSM/AB/SS (en) RSS feed for articles and news

Bans may make Russia more independent: Lavrov

By , July 28, 2014 2:02 pm

Bans may make Russia more independent: Lavrov
By: Press TV on: 28.07.2014 [14:04 ] (93 reads)

Bans may make Russia more independent: Lavrov

Mon Jul 28, 2014 9:56AM GMT

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says West’s sanctions against Russia over the crisis in Ukraine would not achieve their goal and instead may make Moscow more economically independent.

Lavrov made the remarks at a news conference on Monday in the Russian capital Moscow.

“(Sanctions) simply cannot achieve (their aim) … I assure you, we will overcome any difficulties that may arise in certain areas of the economy, and maybe we will become more independent and more confident in our own strength,” said Lavrov.

The top Russian diplomat added that Moscow would not take tit-for-tat moves or act “hysterically” in response to imposed sanctions by the United States and the European Union.

Lavrov’s remarks come as members of the European Union are due to make a final decision on Tuesday on widening its sanctions against Russia.

The measures include closing EU’s capital markets to Russian state banks, an arms sales embargo and restrictions on dual-use and energy technologies.

On July 25, the European Union added another 15 Russian and Ukrainian individuals and 18 entities to its sanction list, bringing the totals of those affected by bans to 87 people and 20 organizations.

The European Union has been accusing Moscow of playing a key role in the crisis in eastern Ukraine, which broke out when Kiev launched military operations to silence pro-Russia protests in April.

Threats of sanctions against Russia intensified further after Malaysian Flight MH17, heading from the Dutch capital of Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was reportedly shot down on July 17, over Ukraine’s volatile Donetsk region.

Western powers accuse pro-Russia forces of downing the civilian airliner. The pro-Russians deny any involvement in the tragedy. (en) RSS feed for articles and news

France Offers Asylum To Iraqi Christians

By , July 28, 2014 12:46 pm

[unable to retrieve full-text content]France says it is ready to welcome Christians from northern Iraq who have been told by Islamic extremists ruling the region to either convert to Islam, pay a religious tax, or face death.
Assyrian International News Agency