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Iraq: The Road to Chaos

By , April 18, 2014 2:38 am

Members of Asaib Ahl al Haq, a Shiite militia, in Karbala, Iraq, March 21, 2014.Baghdad’s version of Tahrir Square is far shabbier than Cairo’s. It consists of a yellowed park, frequented by vagrants, and sits next to a crowded market, where second-hand appliances, sex videos, and penis enlargement pumps are sold. It was here that Iraq experienced its own Arab Spring in the first half of 2011. Almost every Friday, a few thousand people gathered at Baghdad’s Tahrir and in other public squares around the country, from the Shiite-dominated south to the Sunni regions of the north and west. Like their counterparts in Cairo, Tunis, Tripoli, and Damascus, the demonstrators had grievances about the existing political order–complaints about human rights abuses, corruption, and the misuse of oil wealth; but also the lack of jobs, reliable electricity, clean water, and adequate healthcare.

Yet in another respect, the very fact that these peaceful protests were taking place seemed to show how much progress Baghdad had made since the end of the violent civil war in 2008; the protesters included both Shiites and Sunnis, and they were facing off against Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who, though a former political exile with a long history of involvement in Shiite political parties, had sought to appear as a non-sectarian figure running a new national government.

Now, as Iraq prepares for its first national election in four years on April 30, it is hard to imagine democracy activists rallying weekly in Iraqi streets. For months, suicide bombers have been dynamiting themselves in crowded Shiite markets, coffee shops, and funeral tents, while Shiite militias and government security forces have terrorized Sunni communities. The Iraqi state is breaking apart again: from the west in Anbar province, where after weeks of anarchic violence more than 380,000 people have fled their homes; to the east in Diyala province, where tit-for-tat sectarian killings are rampant; to the north in Mosul, where al-Qaeda-linked militants control large swathes of territory; to the south in Basra, home to Iraq’s oil riches, where Shiite militias are once more ascendant; to Iraq’s Kurds, who warn that the country is disintegrating and contemplate full independence from Baghdad.

More than 2,500 Iraqis have been killed since the start of the year, including nearly three hundred in the first ten days of April; in the capital itself, which has become a showcase for the country’s multiplying conflicts and uncontrolled violence, there have been several brazen attacks on government buildings, and a terrifying string of car bombings, including eight on April 9 alone.

In theory, this month’s parliamentary elections, which are being contested by parties from across the political spectrum, will allow voters to take a stand against extremism. While many Iraqis say they are disillusioned with their current leaders, however, few think their vote is likely to produce major changes: Most of the candidates play to the fears of their own sects, or seem too weak to change the currently hateful mood. Across Iraq, people seek diversions through a trip to a mall or coffee shop, half-expecting a fatal explosion, or they lock themselves away at home losing themselves in American movies and video games. Others seek solace in the sectarian fantasies now promoted by the elite political parties: the stories told by many Sunnis of Iran’s domination of Iraq through militias and political figures, and by the Shiite religious parties of a plot hatched in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Turkey to destroy the Shia communities in Syria and Iraq.

On the surface, the speed with which Iraq’s new political order has fallen apart is a puzzle. Although bombings never stopped, there had been relative stability since the spring of 2008, when Maliki, emboldened by the successful US-backed Sunni revolt against al-Qaeda, known as the Awakening, set out to disband the Shiite militias endangering law and order in Basra and Baghdad. The campaign, supported by the Americans, produced a surge of patriotism among both Shiites and Sunnis. By 2010, when the country was preparing to stage its second national elections for a four-year government, Iraq seemed poised to cast off its divisions. Maliki, running for reelection, had learned to present himself as both staunchly Shiite and a leader for all Iraqis. Resisting pressure from other Shiite religious parties and Iran, he ran his own list of candidates, including Sunni tribesmen and secular politicians. His main competition was the Iraqiya bloc, headed by Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite who had briefly served as prime minister of Iraq’s interim government in 2004–2005; it was supported by many Sunnis and included the most popular Sunni political leaders.

Yet Maliki and his Shiite Islamist supporters were unable to shed their deep mistrust of those they believed had fought them in the past. Rather than being integrated into the political system, several dozen leaders of the Awakening ended up dead or in jail, or forced into exile. Take Mohamed Husayn Jasim, a former Sunni insurgent who joined the movement against al-Qaeda and then became the deputy governor of Diyala province, to the east of Baghdad. His reward was to be arrested on terrorism charges and sentenced to death. (He was released in 2013 when, in a final appeal, a judge found the charges were without merit.)

After the Awakening, al-Qaeda fighters had been forced to retreat to remote rural areas and were in disarray. But the arrest of Awakening leaders like Jasim created a security vacuum that extremist groups were quick to exploit. On a visit I made in the fall of 2010 to Jufr Sakr, a farm community south of Baghdad, residents said they did not dare turn in Sunni militant cells in their area because they did not trust the army and had no one from their own community who could protect them.

Meanwhile, instead of producing a decisive outcome, the 2010 election left the country deeply divided. The vote was a near draw between Maliki and Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc, and it took nine months of negotiation and heavy involvement from both the Americans and Iranians to forge a new “national unity” government. According to the compromise reached, it was to be headed by Maliki with important cabinet positions allocated to Iraqiya, including the vice presidency and the ministries of finance and defense. Allawi himself would head a new military and political council, a step the US had strongly pushed for. But as soon as the new government was seated, Maliki refused to relinquish control of the defense and interior ministries, and thwarted the establishment of Allawi’s council. He eventually chased his Sunni vice president and finance minister away with the threat of arrest warrants. As Maliki saw it, his political survival depended in part on ruthlessly limiting his opponents’ power, and he could not leave himself exposed to enemies, whether Shiite Islamist rivals or members of the Sunni opposition.

A poster of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, Iraq, March, 2013.

In the early months of 2011, as popular uprisings raised hopes for democracy around the Middle East, Iraqis were inspired to make their own call for a more democratic government and for a time, it seemed possible that they might induce significant reforms. On February 25, 2011, when thousands of young Iraqis took to the streets in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and more than a dozen other cities, several local officials, including the governors of two Shiite provinces, were forced to resign. A few days later, Maliki, unnerved by the toppling of dictators in Egypt and Tunisia, announced a hundred-day deadline for the government to weed out corruption and improve the delivery of services. Maliki’s Sunni and Shiite critics seized upon the protests. Rather than come together to fix Iraq’s myriad problems, however, each political party saw the demonstrations as a way to pressure its rivals. It was a pattern that would repeat again and again over the next four years as politicians bullied and embarrassed one another at the country’s expense.

That summer, the prime minister responded with authoritarian tactics. During the second Friday protest in Baghdad that June, Maliki supporters and plainclothes security agents descended upon the protesters and attacked them with clubs and knives. These roving bands of pro-Maliki men, who identified themselves as victims of terrorism, waved pictures of Allawi with a giant red X slashed across his face, while shouting “death to Baathists.” Iraqi soldiers stood by and officials from Maliki’s office toured the square in praise of their armed supporters, ignoring the violence.

Maliki understood that the Americans were getting ready to leave and that the American-sponsored rules that had been imposed after 2003 were temporary. Vice President Biden, who traveled to Iraq four times between January 2010 and January 2011 to promote a successful democratic transition, had stopped coming as the American military prepared for its final withdrawal. And during the June crackdown, the US embassy–which is right across the river from Baghdad’s Tahrir Square–remained silent.

By the fall, Maliki’s office was insinuating that his own Sunni-vice president, Tareq Hashimi, was running death squads, and stories were circulating that Hashimi and his fellow Sunni politicians, including finance minister Rafaa Issawi and Parliament speaker Usama Nujafi, were conspiring with Turkey and the Gulf states to bring down the new Shiite-led order. Upon his return from a triumphant visit to the White House that December to mark the formal US withdrawal, Maliki sent security forces to arrest Hashimi, who fled to Turkey, and to surround the homes of prominent Sunni officials inside the Green Zone.

Maliki’s popularity surged with Iraq’s Shiite majority, but he underestimated how much he had alienated mainstream Sunnis. Many Sunni leaders were embittered by their lack of voice after an election they believed they had won, and the uprising in neighboring Syria, which increasingly pitted Syria’s Sunni majority against its minority Alawite leadership, seemed to offer a more radical approach to change. Sunni politicians spoke in private of the creation of a “Sunni crescent ” on Iraq’s Western flank if Syria fell. They believed it would deter Maliki from carrying out raids in their communities. At the same time, they were aware that a Sunni-ruled Syria meant more oppressive policies from Baghdad and the Shiites, who feared international plots by Sunni Islamist groups to topple them.

In February 2013 I traveled to Anbar to spend a week with Sheikh Ali Hatem Sulaiman, the crown prince of Anbar’s largest tribal confederation. A hero of the Awakening, he had been one of the first to rise up against al-Qaeda in 2006, and had once posed for pictures with President Bush and then-Senator Obama. Now, however, he was throwing himself behind huge anti-government protests, which had erupted six weeks earlier after Maliki sent troops to arrest the bodyguards of the Sunni finance minister Issawi. Sheikh Ali drove his own jeep from meeting to meeting with tribal figures, a small silver machine gun strapped to his side, enlisting support for the protesters’ demands to free tens of thousands of Sunni detainees and to end discrimination against his sect. During my visit, he also invited Shiite tribal leaders to the demonstrations, hoping to find common cause with them over such grievances as government corruption and abuses by the security forces.

Barack Obama and Sheikh Ali Hatem Suleiman, Ramadi, Iraq, July 22, 2008.

But the government was in no mood to negotiate with Sunni leaders like Sheikh Ali and the demonstrations were quickly exploited by hardliners. In April 2013, after the shooting of an Iraqi soldier near a protest camp in Hawija, a town in the north close to Iraq’s traditional border with Iraqi Kurdistan, elite security units attached to the prime minister’s military office opened fire on the camp, killing fifty-one people, including old men and children. A Western diplomat described the event to me as “carnage” and “a vendetta out of all proportions.” Veteran Iraqi jihadists, many of whom had gone to Syria to fight against Assad, used the Hawija killings to recruit more fighters. The shootings came just two weeks after al-Qaeda-linked militants renamed themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and, while taking over significant areas of northern Syria, began to stage raids in Iraq itself, including a prison break at Abu Ghraib to free more than 500 Sunni militants.

In late December 2013, ISIS fighters ambushed and killed an Iraqi general and seventeen officers in the Anbar desert. Maliki responded by ordering the arrest of a senior Sunni lawmaker and by clearing out the main Sunni protest camp in Ramadi, Anbar’s capital, where Sheikh Ali had been active. Maliki said his actions were necessary to stop al-Qaeda, but the brutal crackdown provoked mainstream Sunni tribes into a general armed uprising and forced hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to flee their homes. Sheikh Ali was now roaming the Anbar countryside, trying to wage a guerrilla campaign against Maliki’s elite counter-terrorism forces and juggling an uneasy co-existence with ISIS. “I will die a victor or a martyr,” he told his brother in a phone call from the battlefield.

In interviews, US officials portrayed the fight in Anbar as a battle between Baghdad and al-Qaeda, and sent hellfire missiles for Maliki to use, regardless of the consequences and of the lack of a clearly defined objective. As my Reuters colleagues and I have documented, in recent weeks Iraqi Special Forces soldiers have bragged of executing suspected militants in Anbar. They describe it as revenge for what ISIS did to them. On Facebook community pages, Iraqi soldiers post pictures of ISIS fighters they have killed, depicting the executions as part of a regional war against Sunni extremists that spans from Iraq to Syria to Lebanon. Despite such boasts, control of the province’s main cities, Fallujah and Ramadi, is now divided among the Iraqi security forces, tribal leaders, ISIS, and other Sunni insurgents. ISIS has even seized a dam near Fallujah and flooded land to prevent the military from approaching its strongholds.

But Iraq’s extremist violence is no longer limited to Qaeda militants, as Shiite militias, emboldened by the security forces’ conflict with Sunnis over the last year, have steadily regrouped. In the center of Baghdad, Shiite militias display pictures of fighters slain in Syria where they have gone to defend a sacred Shiite shrine against Sunni militants. It is a powerful recruiting tool for the groups and testament to their newfound sway in the capital. Shiite eyewitnesses and tribal figures describe Sunnis displaced or executed by militia groups. In Basra, the Shiite-dominated southern city where in 2008 Maliki stood up to the militias, the new radicalism is even more pronounced. The city is once again infested by such groups, some of them, like Asaib Ahl al Haq, enjoying close ties to the government.

Asaib is headed by Qais Khazali, a one-time aid to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr who the US military believes masterminded the kidnapping and execution of five US soldiers in January 2007. Jailed soon after, Khazali was released by US forces two years later under pressure from Maliki. But Khazali promptly reconstituted Asaib, which many Iraqis say has since carried out racketeering, kidnapping, and executions. Asaib and other Shiite militias have been suspected of a wave of killings in Basra that are reminiscent of the darkest days in Iraq’s civil war. At least seventeen Sunnis were assassinated, with some estimates putting the number as high as fifty between September and December. Letters were left on the doors of families from Basra’s main Sunni tribe, the Sadouns, warning the “killers of Hussein” to leave. The UN estimates at least fifty-nine families left Basra and its neighboring province Nasiriya for the north.

In December, I travelled to Basra, where I met Sheik Jamal Sadoun, the head of the Sadoun clan. A policeman watched from the door during our meeting; posters of dead Asaib fighters in Syria papered a nearby wall. Sheik Jamal called the killings and threats a “sectarian campaign” but swore he had never been bothered by Asaib or Kita’ib Hezbollah, another powerful Shiite militia. Echoing comments by Maliki, he nervously claimed that al-Qaeda must be responsible for the violence. “No one can protect you but the state,” he said.

Those not under the watch of the government, however, were far more alarmist. A family from the Sadoun tribe refused to rule out the government or the militias as responsible: “We don’t feel safe. You can’t recognize your enemy. You don’t know who he is.”

The ambiguity between regular security forces and militia groups evokes memories of 2005 and 2006, when many police units often doubled as sectarian death squads. Many Asaib militants carry badges from the prime minister’s office that allow them through checkpoints to conduct operations against their enemies. A Shiite politician, with links to Asaib, said the group has assassinated Sunnis, but that those killed were definitely terrorists. The question is: Are Asaib members carrying out gangland-style hits of Sunnis or Sadrists on behalf of Maliki, or are they free agents the prime minister cannot afford to alienate? One Western diplomat, who defended Maliki, suggested that Asaib bought their badges by bribing officials around the prime minister’s office.

Throughout the country, pervasive corruption has weakened the chain of command of the army and police. Security officers regularly detain people and then offer to free them for thousands of dollars in ransom; they take bribes at checkpoints, and run rackets based on inflating company rosters with names of soldiers who don’t exist. Actual battle commands are now for sale to the highest bidder, according to senior government officials. The more the chaos, the greater the opportunities for criminals and extremists to take advantage of an increasingly weakened state, as was the case during Iraq’s last round of civil war.

With elections now two weeks away the prime minister appears confident. One way his Shiite political opponents might challenge his bid to continue in office would be to form a ruling coalition with Sunnis and Kurds after the election. But despite their shared wish to replace Maliki, the competition among his Shiite opponents to claim his position, and the most lucrative governmental posts, may prevent them from coming together. Sunni political figures are in a similar battle for preeminence within their own community. Sunni candidates also face threats from members of ISIS, the Qaeda-linked group, who consider any participation in the election as traitorous. Deteriorating security conditions in the north and west are likely to limit Sunni voter turnout, and the electoral commission has already announced that some areas in western Anbar will not be able to cast ballots. In any case, a lengthy negotiation period will likely be required after the election to form a new government, during which Maliki, by virtue of his office, will continue to exercise the most power in the land.

Though less popular than in 2010, Maliki believes he will benefit from the fear and chaos, presenting himself as the only one capable of guarding his community and saving Iraq. Sectarian conflict becomes another way of waging politics and outlasting competitors. One evening in December, I visited a former commander of a Shiite militia who had become a politician. He eyed news of a bombing in Baghdad and said, “See, fifteen of our people died today.” As we talked, a dozen military-age men arrived at his house, some wearing green military pants and vests. The politician called the men to a separate room and terminated our meeting. He ordered no one to disturb them: suddenly, he had become his former self, a militia commander who defended Shiite areas against suspected terrorists during the heights of sectarian violence in 2005 and 2006. It was time for the next battle.

Assyrian International News Agency

Turkey No Longer Respects Europe

By , April 17, 2014 8:55 pm

Last week, German politician David McAllister, the leading candidate of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) for next month’s European Parliament election, had a message for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There is no room in the European Union, McAllister said, for “the Erdogan Turkey of 2014.” The politician, whose father was Scottish, is the former Prime Minister of Lower Saxony, Germany’s second largest state, and a heavyweight in Merkel’s party.

The CDU has always been ambivalent about Turkey’s EU membership. Like other major parties in Germany, the CDU hopes to attract the votes of the growing number of Germans of Turkish origin, while, at the same time, the party is well aware that a majority of indigenous Germans oppose Turkey’s entry into the EU.

Europe’s political leaders have been promising the Turks EU membership for decades. The recent actions of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, however, offer the CDU a perfect excuse to distance itself from Turkey at a moment when it is politically expedient to do so. Whenever national elections are due, it is always electorally advantageous to cater to the Turkish vote. However, when European elections are due and parties need to convince as many indigenous voters as possible to turn out and vote, it is rewarding to speak out against Turkey. Lambasting “the Erdogan Turkey of 2014″ is then an opportunity not to be missed.

“The Erdogan Turkey of 2014 has moved further away from the standards of the European Union,” McAllister said, referring to Erdogan’s recent ban of Twitter and YouTube in Turkey. The bans were prompted by postings referring to corruption and abuse of power by Erdogan cronies.

“The current assault on freedom of expression [in Turkey] in no way conforms with European standards,” McAllister said. He is right, of course. However, one wonders why the CDU is suddenly disturbed by the “current” assault, while it has been common knowledge for years that the Erdogan regime does not respect freedom of expression. The Erdogan Turkey of 2012 held the world record for jailing journalists, but that did not seem to bother the CDU much at the time.

Also last week, the Netherlands, whose Prime Minister Mark Rutte is a close ally of German Chancellor Merkel, decided to lobby the EU for the suspension of EU funds to Turkey. Here, too, the reason for the sudden Dutch concern is said to be Turkey’s treatment of Twitter and YouTube.

Europe’s, and in particular Germany’s, exasperation with Erdogan’s Turkey, however, has a deeper cause than the EU’s concern for ordinary Turks’ access to social media outlets. Germany, which for over a century has been a traditional ally of Turkey, is simply responding to the cooling of Turkey’s affection for Berlin. Ankara seems to be no longer interested in close links with a Europe that is becoming increasingly irrelevant in world politics.

That, too, became apparent last week. Indeed, writing for a pro-government Turkish newspaper, Erdogan’s chief economic advisor, Yigit Bulut, explained last week that Europe is rapidly losing its political and economic importance in the world. Bulut said that the United States is currently the sole representative of Western values, while Europe no longer matters. He consequently called on Turkey to “end the relations with Europe,” adding “we don’t need [the EU] anymore.”

Bulut’s views come as no surprise. In August last year, Bulut declared that there are only two-and-a-half leaders in the world who really matter. The two leaders are Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the “half-leader” is U.S. President Barack Obama.

In last week’s op-ed piece, Bulut wrote: “In the new equation, the new West for Turkey means only the U.S. We no longer need Europe and its material and moral affiliates which may become a burden to us.” Last March, Turkey’s Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci already announced that by June, Turkey is going to re-open the negotiations about its 1996 Customs Union Agreement with the EU. The Customs Union Agreement is a prerequisite for EU membership, but Zeybekci claims the agreement restricts the competitiveness of Turkey’s exports. The global potential of Turkey’s exports outweighs the eventual benefits of EU membership. This analysis is not very different from that of British diplomat Iain Mansfield, who last week published a report arguing that a British exit from the EU — the so-called Brexit — could lead to greater trade with emerging economies and, hence, an increase of the British GDP. Last February, another report reached similar conclusions regarding Nexit — a Dutch exit from the EU.

The way in which the EU has mismanaged the crisis in the Ukraine, creating the situation which allowed Putin to annex Crimea and leaving a diplomatic and geopolitical mess which the Americans now have to solve, will only have reinforced Ankara’s view that the EU is powerless.

But Europe’s biggest failure vis-à-vis Turkey is another example of its unwillingness to face unwelcome truths. Ironically, this unwillingness has so far benefitted Erdogan, although it did not lead him to respect the EU.

The truth, which Europe fails to confront, is that whenever Islamists go into politics, they never turn out to be moderates. For years, EU leaders such as Merkel saw Erdogan and his Islamist AKP party as the proof that there was a moderate political Islam. They are now, belatedly, coming to realize that he is not their friend. They hope that he will lift his ban on the social media, so that they can welcome him back into their midst, but they refuse to see that his agenda is one of Islamic imperialism. And that the only politicians whose power he fears are Putin’s and, to half of that, Obama’s.

A world where Turkey no longer respects, let alone fears, Europe, is a more dangerous world than one in which the opposite was the case. David McAllister announced on Merkel’s behalf that there is no room for the Erdogan Turkey of 2014 in the European Union. The really sad thing, however, is that there is no longer any room for Europe and its values in contemporary Turkey. And Europe is at least as much to blame for that situation as Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Assyrian International News Agency

Scientists Support Seymour Hersh

By , April 17, 2014 3:16 pm
Tom Stoddart Collection

On April 15, we wrote about the controversy sparked by Seymour Hersh’s latest article in the London Review of Books, The Red Line and the Rat Line. As in his earlier LRB article, Whose Sarin?, he maintains that the Obama administration knew that the extremist Islamist rebel group, al-Nusra, possessed chemical weapons capabilities and mounted the attack on Damascus suburb Ghouta which spurred President Obama to take the United States to the brink of mounting a massive attack on Syria. Of course, at the last minute he elected to seek the approval of Congress first and then Russian Prime Minister Putin saw Secretary of State John Kerry’s offer to refrain from attacking Syria if it liquidated its chemical weapons and raised it.

Compounding the controversy, Hersh also maintained that Turkey helped al-Nusra with the attack on Ghouta to implicate Syria in a false flag operation and lure the West into attacking Syria.

Much of the controversy over Hersh’s articles coalesced around Eliott Higgins, who maintains Brown Moses Blog and clings to the notion that the Syrian government was the guilty party in the chemical weapons attack. Though he’s self-taught, Higgins’s expertise on Syrian rockets and chemical weapons is highly regard. But, at Mint Press, Carmen Russell-Sluchansky talked to Professor in the Science, Technology, and Global Security Working Group at MIT Theodore Postol, as well as Richard Lloyd, an analyst at Tesla Laboratories and former UN weapons inspector. In December 2013, they took the U.S. Government to task for its willingness to act as if it were certain that the Syrian government was guilty of the attack.

“The thing I find extremely disturbing is that the Secretary of State and the White House were very specific,” Postol told MintPress. “They claimed that they had satellite positions of the launches of these rockets. That’s a pretty specific claim. I know the satellites they’re talking about and I also know they can’t tell what rockets are carrying a chemical warhead and what rockets are carrying explosive warheads.”

In addition to stating that the launch points looked like they weren’t in government-held territory

Both Postol and Lloyd are confounded by Higgins’ contention that these “volcano rockets” could have only come from the Syrian army.

“They are well within the manufacturable range by a modest machine shop,” Postol said. “The design is clever for what it’s designed to do, but once you have the design, you can make it pretty easily. … Lloyd points out that he has designed a course on the arms used in the Syrian conflict.

“I have a section all on the rebels,” he explained. “They have factories. A production line. They have just as much capability as anyone else in building these weapons.”

It’s nice to know Hersh has science on his side.

A rebuttal by Higgins can be found in his April 9 post The Knowledge Gap ― Seymour’s Hersh of Cards. (Agreed: lame pun.)

Foreign Policy In Focus

Electoral Race Heats Up Among Iraq’s Sunni Factions

By , April 17, 2014 3:13 pm

Iraqi Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq (L) and Iraqiya Sunni Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi hold a news conference for the seniors of the Iraqiya List in Baghdad, Jan. 18, 2012 (photo by REUTERS/Mohammed Ameen).On April 12, Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) declared alternative plans for the success of the electoral process in mostly Sunni Anbar province. It is noteworthy that Anbar has seen military operations, and some of its districts are in the grip of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). However, this announcement did not remove the doubts surrounding the possibility of holding elections there, the turnout of voters in polling centers and the ways to guarantee the transparency and integrity of the elections.

Still, the Sunni blocs and parties in the more secure regions went on to launch their electoral campaigns. Just like the situation in the mostly Shiite cities, the competition in the Sunni provinces is between traditional and new forces, as well as the local parties. It seems that the coming elections will result in a divided Sunni political map, unlike the previous 2010 elections, when the overwhelming majority of Sunni voters voted for the Iraqiya List.

Five main coalitions will compete to win Sunni votes, but we cannot rule out surprise results that might be achieved by small or local parties. Three of these five coalitions, in fact, represent fragments of the Iraqiya List, which is no longer present in the elections. The Mutahidoun bloc, led by parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, is the first of these coalitions. It consists of 13 parties and is seeking to appear as the biggest Sunni force after the elections. The second coalition is the Arabiya led by Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, and includes nine parties. Third, there is the Nationalist Coalition, led by Ayad Allawi, the former prime minister who was the leader of the Iraqiya List.

The Nationalist is one of the rare blocs that includes Sunni and Shiite members. Moreover, it is participating in the elections in all Arabic-speaking provinces. However, this coalition has poor chances because of intense sectarian polarization and Allawi’s loss of a large part of his traditional constituency, partly due to the emergence of a new liberal list called the Civil Democratic Alliance.

These coalitions will compete with each other and with two new groups that have emerged on the Sunni electoral scene. The first group, the Karama (Dignity) List, was formed by the prominent Sunni businessman Khamis Khanjar. He was considered the main funder of the Iraqiya List, which participated in the elections in 2010. Karama is more right-wing than other Sunni forces, as it has taken a stricter stance toward Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government and considers itself the political heir of the wave of protests that went on for a whole year in the Sunni cities. MP Ahmad al-Alwani, who was arrested by Iraqi forces on the grounds of sectarian provocation at the end of December 2013, is one of the founding political leaders of the Karama List.

The fifth main group is the Coalition of Iraq, which was formed by another businessman, Fadel al-Dabbas. It is a new coalition that includes several technocrats and is competing in all Sunni and Shiite provinces. This coalition is the most moderate in its attitude toward the Maliki-led government compared to the remaining forces competing over the Sunni seats. It advocates a technocratic governance and a larger role for businessmen. It is widely believed that this coalition is seeking to ally with Maliki after the elections and that it represents the interests of some Sunni tribal and social leaders who are close to the prime minister, such as Sheikh Hamid al-Hayes.

All these forces are seeking to win the support of the Sunni majority, but some have specific geographic areas of influence. The main electoral constituency for the Mutahidoun bloc is in the city of Mosul, the largest Sunni city, from which hails the leader of the coalition and his brother, who is the city’s governor.

Nujaifi has sought to enter into alliances to expand his influence, especially in the Anbar province, where the Iraqi Awakening Conference, headed by Ahmed Abu Risha, is seen as one of the bloc’s founding groups.

Some of the bloc’s leaders and Abu Risha disagreed on certain issues, especially after Abu Risha had made a military alliance with the Iraqi government to confront ISIS. He has gone so far as to publicly criticize some of the coalition’s members, arguing that they failed to take tough stands against terrorism. However, it remains unclear whether or not this disagreement will continue after the elections, in light of the future stances of both sides.

The Arabiya Coalition has influence in the provinces of Saladin and Kirkuk, while its influence declined in Anbar where many think that Mutlaq has been compromised by Maliki. However, Mutlaq has been recently trying to change this perspective, by being harsher in his criticism of Maliki, as shown by an article he wrote for Foreign Policy on April 3.

Mutlaq represents the secular and pan-Arab inclination in Sunni policies, so he enjoys the support of Kirkuk, where the main conflict is between Arab Sunnis and Kurds. It seems that he tried to take advantage of the alliance between Kurds and Nujaifi, and to play the nationalist card in these areas, especially following his alliance with the controversial politician Meshan al-Jabouri.

Jabouri has been recently barred by the IHEC from participating in the elections because of his statements that were seen as inciting hatred against Kurds, but the electoral court, which many accuse of being influenced by the Maliki government, has annulled this decision and allowed him to participate. If anything, this insistence to keep Jabouri in the electoral race despite various accusations against him indicates how important it is to win every additional seat and perhaps a future anti-Kurdish alliance between Mutlaq and Maliki.

It seems that the Karama List considers Anbar to be its main constituency, and is seeking to take advantage of the growing feelings of resentment among Sunni towards the Shiite-dominated government and the disappointment in the performance of Sunni politicians in the government and parliament.

Some Sunni hard-line clerics, such as Sheikh Abudllah al-Janabi — who is currently in Fallujah, which is not under government control — called for boycotting the elections, which reflects previous positions taken by more moderate clerics, such as Abdul-Malik al-Saadi. However, Ali Hatem, the sheikh of the Duleim tribes who is also the spokesman of the anti-government military revolutionary council, announced that if elections should be held, Sunni parties must agree on preventing Maliki from staying in power for a third time.

Finally, some coalitions are fielding candidates in only one province, focusing their efforts on gaining the support of local population. They may be able to win a number of seats at the expense of the larger Sunni blocs. Among these are the National Corrective Movement, led by the former governor of Anbar, Kamel al-Dulaimi; “Diyala is our identity,” which is a group close to Mutahidoun; and the National Coalition for Reformation in Saladin.

Translated by Pascale Menassa.

Assyrian International News Agency

World Cuts Back Military Spending, But Not Asia

By , April 17, 2014 10:11 am

Asian countries are spending more on their militaries even as other regions cut back. (Photo: U.S. Pacific Command / Flickr)

For the second year in a row, the world is spending a little less on the military. Asia, however, has failed to get the memo. The region is spending more at a time when many others are spending less.

Last year, Asia saw a 3.6-percent increase in military spending, according to figures just released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The region — which includes East Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, and Oceania — posted topping off a 62 percent increase over the last decade.

In 2012, for the first time, Asia outpaced Europe in its military spending. That year, the world’s top five importers of armaments all came from Asia: India, China, Pakistan, South Korea, and (incredibly) the city-state of Singapore.

China is responsible for the lion’s share of the increases in East Asia, having increased its spending by 170 percent over the last decade. It has also announced a 12.2-percent increase for 2014.

But China is not the only driver of regional military spending. South Asia — specifically the confrontation between India and Pakistan — is responsible for a large chunk of the military spending in the region. Rival territorial claims over tiny islands — and the vast resources that lie beneath and around them — in both Northeast and Southeast Asia are pushing the claimants to boost their maritime capabilities.

Even Japan, which has traditionally kept its military spending to under 1 percent of GDP, is getting into the act. Tokyo has promised a 2.8-percent increase in 2014-15.

The United States, a Pacific power whose military spending is not included in the Asia figures, has also played an important role in driving up the expenditures in the region. The Barack Obama administration’s “Pacific pivot” is designed to reboot the U.S. security presence in this strategically critical part of the world.

To a certain extent, the arms race in Asia is connected not to the vast expansion of the Pentagon since 2001, but rather to the relative decline of Asia in U.S. priorities over much of that period.

As U.S. allies, South Korea and Japan were expected to shoulder more of the security burden in the region while the United States pursued national security objects in the Middle East and Central Asia.

China, meanwhile, pursued a “peaceful rise” that also involved an attempt to acquire a military strength comparable to its economic strength. At the same time, China more vigorously advanced its claims in the South China Sea even as other parties to the conflict put forward their counter claims.

The Pacific pivot has been billed as a way to halt the relative decline of U.S. influence in Asia. So far, however, this highly touted “rebalancing” has largely been a shifting around of U.S. forces in the region.

The fulcrum of the pivot is Okinawa, where the United States and Japan have been negotiating for nearly two decades to close an outdated Marine Air Force base in Okinawa and transfer those Marines to existing, expanding, and proposed facilities elsewhere.

Aside from this complex operation, a few Littoral Combat Ships have gone to Singapore. The Pentagon has proposed putting slightly more of its overall fleet in the Pacific (a 60-40 split compared to the current 50-50). And Washington has welcomed closer coordination with partners like the Philippines and Vietnam.

Instead of a significant upgrade to U.S. capabilities in the region, the pivot is largely a signal to Washington’s allies that the partnerships remain strong and a warning to Washington’s adversaries that, even if U.S. military spending is on a slight downward tilt, the Pentagon possesses more than enough firepower to deter their power projection.

This signaling function of the pivot dovetails with another facet of U.S. security policy: arms exports. The growth of the Pentagon over the last 10 years has been accompanied by a growth in U.S. military exports, which more than doubled during the period 2002 to 2012—from $ 8.3 to $ 18.8 billion.

The modest reduction in Pentagon spending will not necessarily lead to a corresponding decline in exports. In fact, the opposite is likely to be true, as was the case during the last Pentagon slowdown in the 1990s. The Obama administration has pushed through a streamlining of the licensing process in order to facilitate an increase in military exports — in part to compensate U.S. arms manufacturers for a decline in orders from the Pentagon.

Asia and Oceania represent the primary target for U.S. military exports, absorbing nearly half of all shipments. Of that number, East Asia represents approximately one-quarter. South Asia accounts for nearly half.

The biggest-ticket item is the F-35 fighter jet, which Washington has already sold to Japan, South Korea, and Australia. Long-range missile defense systems have been sold to Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Overall, between 2009 and 2013, Australia and South Korea have been the top U.S. clients. With its projected increase in military spending, Japan will also likely rise much higher on the list.

The more advanced weaponry U.S. allies purchase, the more they are locked into future acquisitions. The United States emphasizes “interoperability” among its allies. Not only are purchasers dependent on the United States for spare parts and upgrades, but they must consider the overall system of command and control (which is now C5I — Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat systems, and Intelligence).

Although a French fighter jet or a Russian naval vessel might be a cheaper option in a competitive bid, the purchasing country must also consider how the item integrates with the rest of its hardware and software.

The United States has argued that its overwhelming military presence in the region and lack of interest in territorial gain have dampened conflict in Asia. But the security environment has changed dramatically since the United States first presented itself as a guarantor of regional stability.

Japan no longer abides by a strict interpretation of its “peace constitution.” North Korea has developed nuclear weapons. China has dramatically increased its capabilities. South Korea has created its own indigenous military manufacturing sector and greatly expanded its exports. Territorial disputes in the South China, Yellow, and East China Seas have sharpened. The only flashpoint that has become more peaceful in the last few years has been the Taiwan Strait.

The continued increase in military spending by countries in East Asia and the massive influx of arms into the region are both symptoms and drivers of conflict. Until and unless the region restrains its appetite for military upgrades, the risk of clashes and even all-out war will remain high.

In such an increasingly volatile environment, regional security agreements — on North Korea’s nuclear programme, the several territorial disputes, or new technological threats like cyberwarfare — will be even more difficult to achieve.

Most importantly, because of these budget priorities, the region will have fewer resources and less political will to address other pressing threats, such as climate change, which cannot be defeated with fighter jets or the latest generation of battle ship.

John Feffer is the co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus.

Foreign Policy In Focus

Syrian Christians Face Arduous Holy Week

By , April 17, 2014 10:11 am

Los Angeles — One of the oldest Christian communities in the world is facing one of the most challenging Holy Weeks in its history. “This Holy Week was introduced by the murder of Fr. Frans from Homs in the fourth year of war and violence. Shells raining down on our neighborhoods, schools closed, we cannot give an account of the victims. We are abandoned to Providence,” Nassar says.

“This small Syrian people, so kind, generous and patient, have become accustomed to suffering and die in silence. It is in this spirit that we live Holy Week and Easter holidays, knowing that the Way of the Cross . has marked our lives for three years, accompanies the fourth year . The end of the tunnel is invisible.”

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The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron said that the British Government should stand up against the persecution of Christians abroad.

“I hope we can do more to raise the profile of the persecution of Christians around the world. It is the case today that our religion is now the most persecuted religion around the world. I think Britain can play a leading role in this,” Cameron said at a reception on Downing Street. It marked the first time Cameron spoke up on the issue of Christian persecution.

“We have met our obligations in terms of the aid we give to countries around the world,” he said. “We’re seen as a country, which is engaged internationally, and I know that [the Foreign Secretary] William Hague shares my view about this as does Sayeeda Warsi who leads on this issue in the Foreign Office. We should stand up against persecution of Christians and other religious groups wherever and whenever we can, and should be unashamed in doing so.”

Cameron also referred to his recent trip to the Holy Land. “I’m proud this year to have completed a small pilgrimage, which is I have finally made it to the place where our Savior was both crucified and born.”

In the meantime the investigation into Lugt’s murder continues. One theory is that the murder was carried out by a hardline rebel group, called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. It’s suspected that the group retaliated against the evacuation of an elderly Christian woman, a blind Sunni man and 21 young rebels from Homs.

A new campaign is seeking to include a prayer for persecuted Christians at the end of every Sunday Mass. Church officials are said to be “extremely interested” in the idea.

Assyrian International News Agency

Syrian Christians Long to Return to Maloula

By , April 17, 2014 3:49 am

A view shows a part of Maloula village which is located northeast of Damascus, in this handout photograph distributed by Syria’s national news agency SANA on September 11, 2013 (REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters).DAMASCUS — In the Bab Touma district of Syria’s capital Damascus, Fadi Mayal dreams of returning home to the ancient Christian town of Maalula which was retaken by government forces this week.

But he and many other residents chased out when rebel forces including jihadists entered the town in September fear it may still be too early to go back.

The Syrian army recaptured Maloula on Monday, saying it had restored “security and stability” to the picturesque hamlet where 5,000 people lived before the war began in March 2011.

“I would love to go back and celebrate Easter there, but it’s still a bit early,” said Mayalm in the capital’s Christian district of Bab Touma.

“I’ll go back, that’s for sure. My father is buried there,” added the 42-year-old building contractor.

“But there are still sleeper cells in Maloula.”

On Monday, as the army worked to recapture the town, three employees of Al-Manar, the television channel of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, were killed there.

An AFP correspondent who was in the town on Monday saw widespread destruction.

The Al-Safir hotel, which rebels had used as a base, was almost completely destroyed, its facade collapsed.

Downhill from the hotel, the Mar Sarkis Greek Catholic monastery was also damaged, its walls pierced by mortar rounds, and icons and other religious objects strewn on the ground inside.

Mayal said he saw his own house burning in a video that rebels posted on YouTube.

He suspects it was targeted because he had put up a picture of President Bashar al-Assad, but he is still eager to return to Maloula.

“Social life is different here in Damascus, and because of the crisis work is scarce,” he said.

Nearly half of Syria’s population has been displaced inside or outside the country by the conflict that began in March 2011.

More than 150,000 people have been killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

Antoinette Nasrallah, a 35-year-old Maloula native wearing sunglasses and white jeans, said she felt “great joy” when she heard that the Christian town had been “liberated”.

“But I’m saddened by the destruction of the churches,” she added.

She too hopes to be able to return as soon as possible.

“We want to spend next summer there,” she said.

“Celebrating the Feast of the Cross there on September 14, as we do every year, has become a dream.”

Built into a dramatic cliff, and full of churches, convents and monasteries, Maloula is considered a symbol of Christian presence in the Damascus region.

Its residents are renowned for speaking Aramaic, the language Jesus Christ is believed to have spoken.

“I hope with all my heart that the situation will go back to how it was before,” Nasrallah said.

“We’re afraid of forgetting Aramaic. We don’t know when we’ll be able to go back home.”

Maloula’s residents, who are mostly Greek Orthodox Christians, have found refuge in and around Damascus, which is around 55 kilometres (35 miles) from their home town.

Some are afraid of returning even after the army recaptured Maloula, traumatized by their flight and worried about the destruction to their homes.

“The houses were looted and some were burned,” said Diab Bahkit, a 62-year-old.

But others said they were ready to head back immediately, including one man who refused to give his name but said he wanted to “defend” his town and religion.

“I’m going back to Maloula as soon as possible — I won’t stay here a minute more,” he insisted.

He said fighters had tried to “destroy Maloula, especially its religious establishments”.

And a mother from the town, living in a single room in Damascus with her husband and four children, said she too was ready to return straight away.

“If they allow us, we’ll go back immediately,” the 50-year-old said, declining to give her name.

“Life is hard here. We’re living on aid, and it’s hard to come by,” she added.

Assyrian International News Agency

Syria Fighting Leaves Maaloula, a Historic Christian Town, in Ruins

By , April 16, 2014 10:07 pm

By Patrick J. McDonnell and Nabih Bulos

Fighters scan the streets below for any sign of rebels in Maaloula, Syria, where units of the Syrian army, pro-government militiamen and a loyalist Shiite militia have taken over (Nabih Bulos/For The Times/April 15, 2014).MAALOULA, Syria — From the debris-strewn front garden of the Safir Hotel, Syrian military commanders barked orders to troops taking cover in the smoke-shrouded maze of streets below.

“If you hear any movement, throw hand grenades immediately!” a general advised on his two-way radio as he peered at the battle unfolding like a distant video game at the bottom of the hill.

On Tuesday, Syrian forces were targeting the remnants of a rebel force in this historic town, long a center of Christian worship and pilgrimage.

Though most insurgents had long fled, a determined few remained well concealed in buildings and within the rubble, moving through tunnels and blasted-out passages. But they faced overwhelming force. Russian-made tanks pounded their positions while automatic-weapons fire rained down on them. Snipers posted on the bare hillsides trained their rifles on remaining rebel redoubts.

Maaloula, situated at the foot of a mountain gorge 40 miles northeast of Damascus, represents the latest in a string of government triumphs north of the capital in the strategic Qalamoun area, a swath of mountainous terrain along the Lebanese border. The offensive is meant in large part to shut off the infiltration of weapons and fighters from Lebanon, closing a back-door route to the capital and securing the nation’s key north-south highway.

Opposition forces, who held sway in much of the rugged zone for 18 months or more, are reeling. Many rebel survivors have retreated to Lebanon or to pro-opposition terrain in the suburbs of Damascus, officials say. The relentless course of the battle here is another indication that President Bashar Assad is winning the war.

Maaloula never had the strategic value of other nearby areas, such as the city of Yabroud to the north, which was recaptured by the military in March. But it possesses vivid symbolic importance. The Christian enclave has long been a signature site for Syria’s diverse assemblage of faiths and ethnicities.

Assad’s government has presented itself as a staunch defender of religious tolerance and minorities in the face of Islamic militants who make up some of the strongest rebel forces. Recapturing Maaloula helps reinforce that message.

The town is acclaimed as one of the few places where a version of Aramaic, said to be the language of Jesus, is still spoken and taught. Its ancient churches and monasteries are iconic.

Most of the 2,000 or so residents fled long ago. A group of 13 nuns abducted by Islamic rebels who overran the town last year has since been freed in a prisoner exchange.

One of the first tasks facing officials will be to determine the damage inflicted on Maaloula’s historic churches and other Christian sites. Statues of Jesus and Mary that once looked down from twin ridges have been destroyed — whether by the rebels or government shelling is not clear.

St. Thecla monastery, from where the nuns were kidnapped last year, remains in a perilous zone. It was impossible on Tuesday to assess the damage. But crosses had been removed from the tops of St. Thecla and other churches, apparently by Islamic rebels. It seemed likely that the crosses and hillside statues will be easier to replace than other, more profound losses yet to be cataloged.

Up the hill from St. Thecla, the ancient Church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus lay in ruins. The sturdy brick structure still stands, but shells have crashed through the dome, and much of the interior has been reduced to wreckage.

A piece of what appears to have been part of a painting of the two saints was found Tuesday amid the rubble; the image of one of them on horseback was crudely defaced, clearly a deliberate act.

Postcards, rosary beads, prayer books and other items from the gift shop were littered about the grounds. Jars of apricot preserves and bottles of wine made on the site were shattered in a storeroom. The wooden pews were smashed and covered with dust and debris. The altar appeared to have been demolished.

Syrian officials blame the rebels, but government shelling could also have caused much of the damage.

Christian clerics and historians fear that priceless medieval icons and other works of art may have been destroyed or looted and will never be recovered.

The Church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus, named for former Roman soldiers who were popular saints in medieval times, appears to have been a victim of its setting. It is just down the hill from the Safir Hotel, once a four-star hostelry for tourists and pilgrims, but more recently the base for Syrian rebels. The insurgents commandeered the hotel last year and stayed for months.

Syrian military shelling and fire in the battle to retake the hotel has transformed it into a ghostly ruin. Rebar juts from the concrete frames of what were once well-appointed rooms, and an interior staircase is now exposed to the elements. Exterior walls are pocked with holes. Government forces lounge in a lobby, littered with glass, concrete and other debris.

The hotel is now a base for units of the Syrian army, pro-government militiamen and a loyalist Shiite militia known as Liwa Abu Fadl al Abbas, whose ranks include many volunteers from Iraq. The army tries to coordinate their actions, but the process is not always smooth.

Commanders stood Tuesday in the garden of the hotel, directing forces in the streets about 150 yards below. Much of the fire seemed to be directed at a pair of homes close to a mosque, where remaining rebels appeared to be holed up.

“They’re in that building,” one commander told forces on the ground.

“Where did they disappear to?” asked another.

The shooting below was so intense that commanders worried about friendly fire casualties.

On Monday, three journalists for Al Manar, the media arm of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, which is allied with the Syrian government, were shot and killed entering Maaloula, adding to the death toll that has made Syria the most dangerous country for journalists. Authorities blamed rebels for the attack.

The Syrian military has suffered devastating losses in the three-year war, but the government does not release casualty figures. One army fighter, Abdul Qader Ahmad, 23, said two of his friends had been killed five days earlier outside the nearby town of Sarkha when a shell hit the tank they were riding in; he had only a minor wound above his left eye, requiring four stitches.

“I think the war will end soon, maybe in a year or so,” said Ahmad, who said he hoped to return to his civilian life as a nurse-anesthesiologist in the northern city of Aleppo. “All the destroyed buildings can be rebuilt, though it will take time. But I think things will eventually be better than they were before.”

A commander of the Shiite brigade, who goes by the nickname Abu Ajeeb, is called “uncle” by his young fighters. He opted to hold off on dispatching more combatants from the hotel grounds to the town below, judging that there was no need. His enthusiastic charges were devastated.

“Uncle, please let us go down!” implored one of his men, AK-47 at the ready.

Later, Abu Ajeeb said his fighters sometimes became frustrated because the army tended to allow escape routes for many rebels, apparently to avoid clashes and reduce army casualties.

“We don’t want them to get away,” he said. “We’re here to kill them.”

Assyrian International News Agency

A Roadmap for Survival

By , April 16, 2014 4:28 pm

The latest IPCC report on climate change mitigation offers a compromised and politically biased map of the potential solutions to climate change. But it’s clear on one thing: survival requires a rapid decarbonization of energy and a massive rollback in fossil fuels. (Photo: Samira / Flickr)

Greenhouse gas emissions are rising, and our addiction to fossil fuels is to blame.

That, in a nutshell, is the conclusion of an authoritative new UN report published on April 13th. Emissions have not only continued to increase, but have done so more rapidly in the last 10 years. While the growing reliance on coal for global energy supplies is chiefly to blame for the latest increase, the broader picture is that “economic growth has outpaced emissions reductions.”

The new report, entitled Mitigation of Climate Change, is the third in a series of blockbuster surveys from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body tasked with reviewing the work of thousands of scientists and experts to establish the “current state of knowledge” on climate change and its impacts. The first report—The Physical Science Basis—once again established with overwhelming certainty that the climate is changing and greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans are primarily responsible. The second report—Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability—warned that climate change would have a catastrophic impact on food supplies, hitting the world’s poorest people the hardest. It also documented the increased risks posed by floods, droughts, and damaged ecosystems as a result of climate change. The mitigation report models scenarios for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A final synthesis of all three elements will be released in October.

The IPCC is not tasked with recommending what should happen next, but it maps out the terrain upon which the battles over what should be done are fought. A full “underlying” report, running to a thousand pages, is prefaced with a 30-page “policymakers’ summary” written in often impenetrable bureaucratic jargon. That’s a result of how the IPCC works: hundreds of authors (272 on the mitigation report alone) review thousands of scientific papers to produce the underlying report, and then representatives of the 195 governments that participate in the IPCC are asked to approve the summary report line by line.

It’s a wonder that anything manages to emerge from this labyrinthine operation, and it’s to the credit of the many authors that they have managed to clearly chart some of the contours of the challenge we face in addressing climate change. The results are clearest in the case of fossil fuels, with the IPCC mitigation report making perfectly clear that we cannot continue to rely on coal, oil, and (over the long term, at least) gas and expect to avert dangerous climate change.

Almost half of the increase in greenhouse gas emissions between 2000 and 2010 came from the energy supply sector, with a greater reliance on coal chiefly to blame. Continuing on this course would lead to a rise of up to 5°C (compared to pre-industrial levels) by the end of the century, with disastrous consequences. Averting this catastrophe requires a rapid “decarbonization” of electricity generation and a reduction in subsidies for fossil fuels, alongside measures to soften the impacts of these changes on poor and vulnerable populations. The report also provides succor to proponents of fossil fuel divestment, noting that “mitigation policy could devalue fossil fuel assets and reduce revenues for fossil fuel exporters.”

At its best, the IPCC report can help us to refocus attention on the practical measures that can make a real difference in addressing climate change. In an insightful section on urbanization and buildings, for example, the report lays out the important role that can be played by tougher codes on the construction of new buildings, regulations to retrofit existing ones, the importance of expanding public transport and encouraging “modal shifts” away from cars and planes, and city planning that avoids urban sprawl.

The IPCC’s overview is more problematic on issues that are more politically contentious, however—notably on how and when to replace fossil fuels. Natural gas power generation is referred to as a potential “bridge technology,” a conclusion that reflects linear thinking about how emissions might decline, but ignores more sophisticated modeling (from MIT, among other institutions) showing how investments in gas displace renewable energy and increase greenhouse gas emissions. Elsewhere in the report, in fact, there is a clear warning that “infrastructure developments and long-lived products that lock societies into GHG-intensive emissions pathways may be difficult or very costly to change.” That must surely include new gas power plants, although the compromises reached in constructing the IPCC summary don’t give space for further dialogue on the matter.

The IPCC’s take on other energy generation options is similarly hedged. The report notes that renewable energy technologies “have achieved a level of maturity to enable deployment at significant scale.” But nuclear power and “carbon capture and storage” (CCS) from fossil fuel plants are presented as having potential, albeit with greater caution about their respective safety, storage, waste issues, and costs. That is not so much a neutral expert view on the future of energy generation as it is a reflection of the influence of large private and state-owned utilities in shaping the agenda on these issues. Much of the research the IPCC reviews, after all, is funded by large energy utilities or government research councils that reflect their agenda, and its findings are ultimately reviewed by governments that own (or are heavily lobbied by) the large fossil fuel and nuclear companies. The IPCC reflects the balance of power in struggles over energy. But the battle for clean, renewable energy is happening elsewhere.

The IPCC summary report is also selective in how it treats the global distribution of emissions. Glen Peters, a University of Oslo academic who studies how emissions relate to consumption patterns, took to Twitter to note that “All material on consumption-based emissions and embodied (outsourced) emissions [were] removed” from the summary.

Significant compromises can be seen where international negotiating positions are at stake. With a new global climate treaty expected in 2015, the working group on mitigation was fraught with arguments on how to frame the responsibility for taking global action. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), under the auspices of which a new global climate treaty will be devised, is clear that cumulative greenhouse gas emissions are primarily the responsibility of industrialized countries. That same group of countries (which includes the United States, the EU, Canada, Japan, Australia, and a handful of others) has the greatest capacity to act to reduce their own emissions, and should also provide the transfers of finance and technology needed to help the rest of the world reduce its emissions.

The IPCC summary report is broadly in keeping with the UNFCCC framework. It reaffirms the importance of “sustainable development and equity” as the basis for climate policy assessments. The former aspect is essential for developing countries, which argue that climate action should not compromise efforts to reduce poverty or improve healthcare, education, and other services. In this regard, the IPCC notes that “most mitigation has considerable and diverse co-benefits”: reducing emissions can cut air pollution, for example, while renewables can enhance energy security. The controversies are greater on how “equity” is defined, but here the IPCC report clearly references “past and future” contributions, which gives lie to the notion often promoted by U.S. policymakers that only current and future comparisons with competitors like China should be taken into account.

But matters get more controversial in relation to the underlying report and an accompanying “technical summary,” which is peppered with references to “high income countries,” “upper middle-income countries,” “lower middle-income countries,” and “low income countries”—a differentiation that conflicts with how the UNFCCC divides the world. Those divisions, translated into the arena of climate diplomacy, are viewed as an attempt to divide up developing countries in a way that undermines the UNFCCC and opens up key issues of responsibility (and financial or technology transfers) for renegotiation. This resulted in a series of formal objections to the report from, among others, Bolivia, Saudi Arabia, India, the Maldives, Venezuela, Malaysia, and Egypt.

More generally, the IPCC’s scenarios for how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions betray a strong Western bias in the report. After all, 70 percent of its authors are from the developed world, and it relies heavily on literature published in developed countries. Negotiations are underway on how to reform the IPCC to better reflect the breadth of global knowledge, but unless academic agendas become less parochial—which starts with research funding at the national level, potentially provided by financial transfers facilitated by an international climate agreement—progress on this aspect is unlikely to happen soon.

Until that time, the IPCC will remain far from perfect. The latest report on mitigation is a clear illustration, offering a partial, compromised, and politically biased map of the potential solutions to climate change. But it remains the most comprehensive map that’s available to us—one that, for all its flaws, codifies the fundamental importance of cutting our addiction to fossil fuels if we’re to have any chance of avoiding a climate catastrophe.

Oscar Reyes, an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, helped launch

Foreign Policy In Focus

Chaldean Prelate, in Easter Message, Asks Peaceful Future for Iraq

By , April 16, 2014 4:26 pm

Chaldean Prelate, in Easter Message, Asks Peaceful Future for Iraq

Posted 2014-04-16 22:16 GMT

Baghdad — “I hope that the Easter celebrations, Easter of Resurrection and new life, put an end to the suffering of our people”. This is the hope expressed in the Easter message issued by the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, Louis Raphael Sako. “Despite the worrying situation in Iraq”, says the Chaldean Patriarch in the message sent to Fides Agency, the celebrations of Holy Week “keep alive our Christian memory and give us a living hope. Jesus is the heart of these events, his body destroyed and then resurrected is the force that drives us to new life. Even in the darkest hours, his resurrection rises like the sun on us and on mankind”.

His Beatitude Sako invites everyone to “meet in our churches and homes to celebrate, pray, give thanks, rejoice together and help one another” and to be for everyone, in every situation, “a living example in community life through our behavior, loyalty, our renunciation and our love”. With this spirit – said the Patriarch – “no one is in a position to feel threatened”.

The Easter message also offers the Head of the Chaldean Church an opportunity to highlight the importance of the forthcoming elections in a country still torn by sectarian violence: “We need to participate in the upcoming vote in large numbers, with a spirit of responsibility”, writes Patriarch Sako, suggesting to choose “qualified and loyal people, who are committed to the good of the country and for its progress, focusing on the true values of freedom, dignity and social justice”. The national elections, scheduled for April 30, will have to select the 325 members of parliament (with 5 seats reserved for Christians), called in turn to elect the President and the Prime Minister of Iraq, in compliance with the system which reserves the presidential office to a Kurd and that of Prime Minister to a Shiite.

Assyrian International News Agency