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Qatar and Terror

By , November 22, 2014 3:08 pm

Qatar finances terrorists with one hand, while the other joins hands with the West. Above: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in New York City on September 25, 2014 (photo: U.S. State Department).There is a central weakness in the coalition against the Islamic State [IS] in Syria, as pointed out by Bryan Bender in the Boston Globe. There are 62 members of the coalition, some of which are Arab states: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, Iraq, and Qatar. The U.S., however, carries the greatest weight in the air campaign against the self-proclaimed Caliphate. America had carried out 3,589 sorties by August 8, its partners 8; between September 23 (when most partners joined in attacks) and November 3, U.S. sorties numbered a further 3,320, with 1,090 by other coalition members.

The U.S., therefore, flies over 75% of missions — an indication of American intent? It’s not quite that simple.

One of those partners, Qatar, seems to be committed to the mission in other ways. It hosts the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East, the regional headquarters of U.S. Central Command, and stations American and British aircraft and personnel at al-Udeid Air Base.

The U.S. Congress has authorized and appropriated many millions of dollars over the years in return for use and maintenance of this important base.[1]

Qatar is now prepared to pay in full for the U.S. military presence during the campaign in return for American protection.[2]

Except, as a recent headline in the New Republic put it: “Qatar Is a U.S. Ally. They Also Knowingly Abet Terrorism. What’s Going On?” Other views are harsher: “Qatar’s overall cooperation, however, is the worst in the region.”

Qatar is one of the world’s smallest states with a miniscule population. A Saudi prince once said that it is made up of “300 people and a TV Channel” (referring to Al Jazeera, based in the capital, Doha). Qatar has only 278,000 citizens and 1.5 million expatriates who make up 94% of the workforce. Qatar, the world’s wealthiest country per capita, also has an unsavory reputation for the mistreatment and effective slavery of much of its workforce.

Qatar is also imprisoning Matthew and Grace Huang, an American couple sentenced to three years in prison on charges of child endangerment, for allegedly murdering their adopted daughter, Gloria, 8, even though she apparently had health issues prior to the adoption. The Huangs continue to protest their innocence, and claim that the Qataris do not understand how an Asian couple could adopt three children, who happen to be black, from Africa.

Given Qatar’s economic and political clout, created by its sovereign wealth fund, its oil, and its ownership of the world’s third largest natural gas reserves, Qatar plays a role on the world stage and does much to enhance its public image. In a bid for international kudos, the emirate acted to ensure the award of the soccer World Cup for 2022, only to find itself mired in controversy.

In other spheres, Qatar is the single largest donor to the Brookings Institution, a major U.S. think tank. Payments included $ 14.8 million after the former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, blamed Israel for the failure of the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks; and it has given money to many universities in the U.S. and Europe.[3] Qatar also hosts eight international university campuses near Doha (Virginia Commonwealth, Weill Cornell, Texas A&M, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, Northwestern, HEC Paris, University College London, Calgary), and finances the RAND Policy Trust. It owns expensive properties in London, the Barcelona Football Club, and dabbles in other areas worldwide.

While all this increases Qatar’s influence, most of it seems to be for show, to present an amiable face to the world. Qatar is not all gleaming towers, bars for non-Muslims, and a modern approach to sexual relations. It remains the only other Wahhabi country in the world next to Saudi Arabia. The problem here is the Qatar paradox. Although outwardly more liberal than the Saudis, the Qataris have surpassed them as financiers of extremism and terrorism. As with its neighbor, it is traditional, devoted to a highly conservative form of Islam, and an underlying commitment to Islamic values.

Although praised for its liberalism in many areas, Freedom House reported in 2013 that “civil liberties and political rights are severely restricted for residents and citizens alike, foreign workers face especially repressive conditions.” Aside from a short period between 1976 and 1988, Qatar has remained categorized as “Not Free” since 1972, and has a particularly bad reputation for its brutal treatment of poor foreign workers.

Although non-Muslims are free to worship there, Qatari law bans any form of proselytization or outward show of faith (such as crosses on churches). There are severe laws against homosexuality, adultery (technically a capital crime, with provisions for flogging and stoning), and public criticism of the regime. As of 2011, the Democracy Index describes Qatar as an “authoritarian regime” with a score of 3.18 out of ten, and it ranks 138th out of the 167 countries covered.

Nowhere is this tendency clearer than in Qatar’s support for international networks of terrorist organizations. While U.S. planes bomb outposts of ISIS from their Qatar airbase, Qatar is reputed to be sending money to ISIS, Hamas, Libyan jihadists, and others. Of course, the Qataris deny this. Standing beside German Chancellor Angela Merkel on September 27, Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani declared that, “What is happening in Iraq and Syria is extremism and such organizations are partly financed from abroad, but Qatar has never supported and will never support terrorist organizations”.

Clearly, al-Thani either knows little about the country he rules or is trying to put one over on the world. One is reminded of how, after Black September’s 1973 murders of three diplomats (two American and one Belgian) in Khartoum, the PLO “privately… threatened reprisal if the Sudanese continued to hold them [the killers] or put them on trial,” while publicly disavowing the killings.[4]

The fundamentalist anti-Semitic Islamic preacher, Shaykh Yusuf ‘Abd Allah al-Qaradawi, regarded by many as the leading scholar of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been living in Qatar on and off since the 1960s, while preaching a fundamentalist and often pro-terrorist message there through his website, Islam Online, and his Shari’a and Life television show on Al Jazeera. The Qatari government has never sought to rein him in.

Qatar’s major international charity, the Qatar Charitable Society (now simply Qatar Charity) has acted as a financier and agency for terrorist outfits in several countries. It has funded al-Qaeda in Chechnya, Mali and elsewhere, was a key player in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and funded Syria’s Ahfad al-Rasul Brigade. Qatar has also financed terrorists in northern Mali operations, including Ansar Dine, alleged to be linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb [North Africa]; and it retains contacts with (and no doubt still funds) al-Qaeda.

According to David Blair and Richard Spencer, writing for London’s Daily Telegraph, four branches of the Qatari government handle relations with armed groups in Syria and Libya. These are the Foreign and Defense Ministries, the Intelligence Agency, and the personal office [al-Diwan al-Amiri], of the Emir, who, as we have seen, flatly denies financing terrorism. The Amiri Diwan, as in Kuwait, appears in the lists of government ministries and offices.[5] Of course, Qatar does nothing directly. It prefers to use middlemen and to permit private individuals to do the work for it. Large sums are passed to middlemen in Turkey (itself no stranger to support for terrorism), and this money is used for the purchase of weapons from other countries (notably Croatia). The weapons are then transferred to rebel groups in Syria. It has also been claimed that money owed to British companies operating in Qatar has been siphoned off to Islamic State. This may require some ingenious application of the dark arts of bookkeeping, but it does provide another means of evading condemnation of the state.

One of the most obvious examples of government support for jihadi groups is that the international base of the Gazan terrorist group Hamas has been located in Doha since 2012. Khaled Mashaal, Chairman of Hamas’s Political Bureau, is reportedly living an opulent lifestyle in a five-star hotel in Doha. Qatar has given generously to Hamas. In October, Ma’mun Abu Shahla, the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Labor, stated that the government of Qatar had given $ 30 million to provide staff with their first salary payments in several months, a distribution of largesse that will give half of the former Hamas government employees in Gaza their unpaid wages. This payment was arranged with Qatar by Robert Serry, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, despite fears of a backlash from international donor countries, including the U.S., which considers Hamas a terrorist organization.

Apart from cash advances to terrorist entities, the Qatari government seems to be directly involved in other activities, notably the shipping of planeloads of arms to Libyan jihadists. These shipments include a C-17 cargo plane carrying weaponry to a militia loyal to a warlord who had fought alongside Osama bin Laden; arms supplies to the jihadist coalition that now controls Tripoli after the launch of Operation Libya Dawn, and some $ 3 billion and 70 planeloads of arms to rebel forces in Syria.

Private fundraisers who coordinate donations from individual or corporate donors in Qatar are never detained or subjected to restrictions in Qatar, a privilege that means the transfer of considerable sums to al-Qaeda, Islamic State, Hamas, Jabhat al-Nusra and other Syrian Islamist groups.

The U.S. Treasury has given details of terrorist financiers operating in Qatar. The best known is ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Nu’aymi, an academic and businessman who is a key link between Qatari donors and al-Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor of today’s Islamic State. At one time, Nu’aymi transferred $ 2 million per month to the organization. He has also sent around $ 576,000 to Abu Khalid al-Suri, al-Qaeda’s Syrian representative, and $ 250,000 to the Somali jihadist group, al-Shabaab.

The U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned Nu’aymi and other Qatari financiers in recent years. U.S. officials reckon that Qatar has now replaced Saudi Arabia as the source of the largest private donations to Islamic State and other al-Qaeda affiliates. The Qatari government has taken no steps to detain or punish al-Nu’aymi or anyone else, even though Islamist politics are, in theory, illegal in Qatar.

British Prime Minister David Cameron was warned by many people, before his meeting with the Emir of Qatar, that he had to tackle the issue of Qatar’s funding of terrorism. The two men met on October 29. Here is part of the official government news briefing on the meeting:

On international affairs, they discussed the role both countries are playing in the coalition to tackle ISIL, and the importance of all countries working to tackle extremism and support to terrorist organisations. The Prime Minister welcomed the recent legislation passed in Qatar to prevent terrorist funding and looked forward to the swift implementation of these new measures. They also agreed that both countries should do more to share information on groups of concern.

Need one add that among the matters discussed by these world leaders was Qatar’s recent £20 billion investment in the U.K., and Cameron’s offer of British expertise in construction to assist the Emirate in building the 2022 World Cup events? Money talks, and in supine Western countries just coming out of a major recession, it talks very loudly. Al-Thani walked away from his meeting with Cameron covered in glory for his country’s supposed work to defeat Islamist terrorism worldwide.

Leaders of Western states threatened by jihadist advances are happy to sit down with the largest financiers of terrorism in the world, offer them help, take as much money as they can, and smile for the cameras. They then sell their publics for crumbs from oil-rich monarchs who watch, wreathed in smiles, as the West abases itself out of greed and a total lack of concern for the human rights issues that dog these sheikhdoms in almost everything they do. The Qataris have money, they have power and influence, and they have an abiding love for fundamentalist Islam. They know what they are doing and they wait for their day to come.

Denis MacEoin is a former lecturer in Arabic and Islamic Studies and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.


[1] Here is a short list of these payments: From FY2003 to FY2007, Congress authorized and appropriated $ 126 million for U.S. military construction activities in Qatar. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (P.L. 110-181) authorized $ 81.7 million in FY2008 spending to build new Air Force and Special Operations facilities in Qatar. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 (P.L. 110-417) authorizes $ 69.6 million in FY2009 spending to build new Air Force and Special Operations facilities. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (P.L. 111-84) authorizes $ 117 million in FY2010 spending to build new Air Force recreational, dormitory, and other facilities at Al Udeid. The Administration’s FY2011 military construction request for Qatar was $ 64.3 million, for Air Force facilities and a National Security Agency warehouse. The FY2012 request includes $ 37 million to continue the dormitory and recreation facility project. See “Congress Appropriations and Authorizations”, in “Al-Udeid Air Base,” Wikipedia.

[2]Qatar says ready to pay ‘in full’ for US military presence: Amr Moussa,” Press TV, 1 December 2012 (accompanied by many condemnation of Qatar for doing so).

[3] For some details about its donations to the UK, see Robin Simcox, “A Degree of Influence“, London, The Centre for Social Cohesion, 2009.

[4] Joshua Muravchik, Making David into Goliath, New York, 2014, p. 49, citing David Korn.

[5] See also State of Qatar Ministry of Interior, “Ministries”.

Assyrian International News Agency

Why Does Turkey’s President Think Muslims Discovered America?

By , November 22, 2014 9:26 am

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sparked controversy at home and abroad by backing a widely disputed claim that Muslims reached America before Columbus.Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is no stranger to controversy but even many seasoned Turkey watchers were taken aback when he boldly claimed that “Muslims discovered America in 1178, not Christopher Columbus.”

Speaking at an Istanbul summit with Latin American Muslim leaders on November 15, the conservative president attempted to bolster his claim by saying that when the Italian-born explorer Columbus arrived 300 years later he “mentioned the existence of a mosque on a hill on the Cuban coast.” Erdogan then added that his government would be happy to build a new mosque at the site in Cuba.

Critics were quick to point out that Erdogan’s remarks about the discovery of America were based on a 1996 article by Youssef Mroueh, a historian with somewhat dubious academic credentials who “The Washington Post” notes is “not listed as a historian at any institution of higher learning.”

Mroueh’s claims — described by one investigative researcher as a “particularly fanciful” piece of “slipshod scholarship and fabricated quotations” — relies heavily on a diary entry by Columbus mentioning a mosque in Cuba as proof that “the religion of Islam was widespread” in the New World.

Although most scholars believe Columbus was simply making a poetic allusion to the shape of the Cuban landscape, a small number of Islamist researchers like Mroueh have taken his words literally even though there is no archaeological evidence of Islamic structures or settlements in the Americas pre-dating the Genoan mariner’s arrival.

While many Western observers have quickly dismissed Erdogan’s comments as just another quirky outburst in a long list of whacky sound bites, some see the Turkish president’s remarks as a further indication of his long-standing desire to reshape modern Turkey into a society based on traditionalist Islamic values.

Halil Karaveli, editor of “The Turkey Analyst,” maintains that Erdogan’s claims “reflect a certain rationality” in the conservative leader and pious Muslim who ruled the country as prime minister from 2003 before moving to his new post in August this year.

“Even though they may seem bizarre, almost insane, they are actually grounded in an ideological reality,” he says. “And that reality is that Erdogan is very purposefully remaking Turkey in his own image into a more religiously dominated country, more Sunni Islamic, and he’s more and more putting the emphasis on Islam. And, so in this endeavor to change Turkey — to create what they call ‘new Turkey’ — using the ideological instrument of Islam makes perfect sense.”

For good measure, the Turkish president also used his speech to take a swipe at the Christian colonization of the New World in the centuries after Columbus’s voyage there in 1492. “Converting people by force, by the sword, has never been a part of Islam. Our religion has never been a tool of exploitation,” Erdogan said, adding that European Christians “colonialized America for its gold and Africa for its diamonds, [and] now do it in the Middle East for its oil with the same dirty plot.”

While pro-government media in Turkey have backed the president to the hilt, saying Western sources on the discovery of America are wrong, many Erdogan critics at home were quick to pour scorn on the president’s claims. In a sarcastic piece for the “Hurriyet” daily, one columnist even suggested that the Turkish leader would soon go on to “correct other assumptions misunderstood by the world,” such as the fact that a Muslim, and not Isaac Newton, had discovered gravity.

Despite the criticism, Erdogan has stuck to his guns. On November 18, he insisted that “very respected scientists in Turkey and in the world” supported his claim.

He has since upped the ante and said that the supposed Muslim discovery of the Americas should be included in school curricula. “A big responsibility falls on the shoulders of the national education ministry and YOK [higher education board] on this issue,” he said in televised comments. “If the history of science is written objectively, it will be seen that Islamic geography’s contribution to science is much more than what’s known.”

According to Turkey-watcher Karaveli, Erdogan’s defiant stance is consistent with the Islamist roots of his socially conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) and reflect the president’s view of himself as a paternalistic leader and his desire to change society.

“Basically, he is creating a new ideological, historical narrative, which is changing the history of Turkey retroactively itself and at the same time — together with the new narrative of Turkish history — he is also fitting this into the broader historical ideological narrative of Islam. So in that sense it is a reflection of the very ideological nature of the Erdogan regime.”

The danger in pushing a conservative, Islamic agenda, Karaveli warns, is that it could deepen divisions in a country that also has strong secular traditions dating back to the days of Kemal Ataturk.

Far from seeing it as an attempt to push an Islamist agenda, however, some of Erdogan’s political opponents believe there are far more mundane reasons for the president’s comments.

Devlet Bahceli, leader of the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), said on November 18 that the controversy was a political maneuver devised by Erdogan to “cover up his faults,” and to distract the public from damaging corruption allegations that have been dogging his presidency in recent months.

With reporting by AFP.

Assyrian International News Agency

Despite Differences, Turkey and Russia Forge on

By , November 22, 2014 9:26 am

Despite Differences, Turkey and Russia Forge on

By Semih Idiz

Posted 2014-11-22 09:41 GMT

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) attends a news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Strelna near St. Petersburg, Nov. 22, 2013 (photo: REUTERS/Aleksey Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/Kremlin).Russian President Vladimir Putin is due in Turkey in early December for the fifth annual meeting of the High Level Cooperation Council, which the two countries established in 2010. He plans to use his visit to “open up new horizons and take bilateral relations even further,” to use his words. Putin made this remark while accepting a letter earlier this week from Turkey’s newly appointed ambassador to Moscow, Umit Yardim.

Given the warmth reflected by Putin during the Kremlin ceremony, when he also underlined his extremely close dialogue with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, one would not be amiss in assuming that all is well in Turkish-Russian ties.

It is Erdogan himself, however, who not so long ago underlined that this was not necessarily the case, especially when it came to Syria.

“Unfortunately, we disagree with Russia over the Syria issue. We have talked about this many times, but we have wasted time, despite our meetings. Russia continues to support [the Syrian regime],” Erdogan told reporters when he was flying back to Turkey from an Oct. 25 visit to Estonia.

Russia has in fact proved to be the main obstacle for Erdogan’s Syria policy, which from the start has been based on getting rid of Bashar al-Assad. Moscow has firmly opposed Turkey in this regard and has used its veto in the UN Security Council to block all resolutions against Assad. Meanwhile, it has continued to arm the Syrian regime against the Free Syrian Army, which is supported by Ankara, and other opposition groups.

Read the full story here.

Assyrian International News Agency

U.S. Urges Iraq to Make Use of the Military Aircraft it Bought

By , November 22, 2014 3:44 am

[unable to retrieve full-text content]WASHINGTON — The United States has urged Iraq to use its new military aircraft in the war against Islamic State of Iraq and Levant. Officials said Washington was pressing the Iraq Air Force to begin using its new fleet of C-130J air transports, which arrived in Baghdad in 2013.
Assyrian International News Agency

Chaldean Patriarch Urges Moderate Muslims to Challenge Extremist Acts

By , November 21, 2014 10:02 pm

Archbishop Louis Sako is the patriarch of the Iraq-based Chaldean Church, one of the world’s most ancient Christian communities (Haidar Hamdani/AFP/Getty Images).VIENNA — Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad implored moderate Muslims to reject “terrorism in the name of religion” and step up to challenge the actions of Islamic State militants against minority communities in Iraq.

During an international conference of Muslim and Christian leaders, Sako called the situation in Iraq an “unprecedented historic crisis” and called on Muslims in attendance to exercise their responsibility to protect Christian, Yezidi and other minority communities.

Aid to the Church in Need distributed the letter Sako read to the conference.

“With this letter,” the patriarch told participants Tuesday, “I would like to express my pain and the pain of your Christian brothers and sisters in the face of our calamity, appealing to your conscience and goodwill to do something for the liberation of their towns, recovery of their property and restitution of their rights.

“Accordingly, I request a drastic change, because it is your responsibility to find an answer, which has to come from you and not from an outside force,” he said during a two-day conference organized by the KAICIID Dialogue Center, also known as the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue.

A joint statement from the participants, “United Against Violence in the Name of Religion,” was released Wednesday, a day after the conference ended. The statement also called on the international community to protect the religious and cultural diversity in Iraq and Syria.

Participants also rejected claims of legitimacy by the Islamic State and other militant organizations and condemned the serious human rights violations in Iraq and Syria, particularly against Christian, Yezidi and other religious and ethnic groups.

Sako described some of the actions of the militants, who destroyed church buildings, burned old manuscripts and sold women as slaves in places such as Mosul and the historic Ninevah Plain.

“It is quite shameful to see the captivity of women become a legal legislation, as they are sold in the slave markets at a ‘bargain price’ as if they were ‘junk.’ That is evil in the worst respect. This reminds me of the monster which was mentioned in the Book of Revelation,” the patriarch said.

The Chaldean leader compared the militants’ actions to those of Nazi forces during World War II and other totalitarian regimes in history.

“I feel more shocked because of those who disbelieved and belittled the serious danger that (Islamic State) represents, especially when our helpless people, Christians, Yezidis and other minorities, were targeted in the name of the Islamic religion,” he said.

“It is quite shocking to see the insufficiency of the official Islamic community that only denounced these acts by shy and helpless statements, showing the absence of a real role in raising the awareness of the public about the impending danger of ISIS in the name of religion,” Sako added, using an acronym that refers to the Islamic State group.

“How can one stand inactive in the face of these countless crimes, repression and displacement of innocent people that are considered legal and legitimate by ISIS and hard-liners? Isn’t this a humiliation for all mankind in general and women in particular? Have we started to live in an era of turning our backs on values? There is no apparent respect for human beings, nor does it appear that is life worth anything,” he told the conference.

Sako reminded participants of what he called a “superior law,” Shariah, of love and mercy.

“This superior law demands compassion and charity for every helpless father with a hungry infant in his arms and mercy for every human fellow in pain,” Sako told the assembly. “Therefore, the crimes committed by ISIS against such helpless civilians demonstrate the absurd theory or law that is by no means based on any human law except on a barbaric one.”

The patriarch said Arabs must present a unified position against extremism and that a united Arab coalition must work toward a peaceful solution in Iraq.

“Extremism is everywhere, and what is required is the adoption of moderation and a thinking process excommunicating obscurantism, in addition to the rejection of terrorism in the name of religion and resisting it in all its forms,” he said.

Assyrian International News Agency

How Ebola Could End the Cuban Embargo

By , November 21, 2014 4:22 pm
Ebola-aid-Cuba-West Africa

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

When was last time in recent memory a top U.S. official praised Cuba publicly? And since when has Cuba’s leadership offered to cooperate with Americans?

It’s rare for politicians from these two countries to stray from the narratives of suspicion and intransigence that have prevented productive collaboration for over half a century. Yet that’s just what has happened in the last few weeks, as Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power spoke favorably of Cuba’s medical intervention in West Africa, and Cuban President Raul Castro and former president Fidel Castro signaled their willingness to cooperate with U.S. efforts to stem the epidemic.

As it causes devastation in West Africa and strikes fear in the United States and around the world, Ebola has few upsides. But one of them may be the opportunity to change the nature of U.S.-Cuban relations, for the public good.

Don’t Squander the Opportunity

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel once famously said. “And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”

President Barack Obama should heed his former chief of staff’s advice and not squander the opportunity presented by the Ebola crisis. Political leadership in the White House and the Palace of Revolution could transform a fight against a common threat into joint cooperation that would not only promote the national interests of the two countries, but also advance human rights—and the right to health is a human right—throughout the developing world.

Political conditions are ripe for such turn. Americans strongly support aggressive actions against Ebola and would applaud a president who placed more value on medical cooperation and saving lives than on ideology and resentment.

In the sixth in a series of editorials spelling out the need for a change in U.S. policy towards Cuba, for example, The New York Times called on Obama to discontinue the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program—which makes it relatively simple for Cuban doctors providing medical services abroad to defect to the United States—because of its hostile nature and its negative impact on the populations receiving Cuban doctors’ support and attention in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

“It is incongruous for the United States to value the contributions of Cuban doctors who are sent by their government to assist in international crises like the 2010 Haiti earthquake while working to subvert that government by making defection so easy,” the editorial board wrote. The emphasis should be on fostering Cuba’s medical contributions, not stymieing them.

As Cuba’s international health efforts become more widely known, it’s become increasingly clear how unreasonable it is for Washington to assume that all Cuban presence in the developing world is damaging to U.S. interests. A consistent opening for bilateral cooperation with Cuba by governmental health institutions, the private sector, and foundations based in the United States can trigger positive synergies to update U.S. policy towards Havana. It will also send a friendlier signal for economic reform and political liberalization in Cuba.

The Whole World Has Something to Gain

The potential for cooperation between Cuba and the United States goes far beyond preventing and defeating Ebola. New pandemics in the near future could endanger the national security, economy, and public health of other countries—killing thousands, preventing travel and trade, and choking the current open liberal order by encouraging xenophobic hysteria. At this dramatic time, the White House needs to think with clarity and creativity.

As the leading nation in the Western Hemisphere, the United States should propose the creation of a comprehensive continental health cooperation and crisis response strategy at the next Summit of the Americas, which will be held in Panama City in April 2015. As numerous Latin American countries have already asserted, Cuba must be included at the summit.

Havana has developed extensive medical expertise at home and abroad, with more than 50,000 doctors and health personnel serving in 66 countries. Preventive measures, early detection, strict infection controls, and natural disaster crisis response coordination are essential parts of the Cuban approach to nipping pandemics in the bud. The lack of some of these components in already-collapsed health systems explains the failures of governance that inflamed the impact of Ebola in West Africa.

As a senator and presidential candidate, Obama was one of the loudest critics of looking at Cuba through the glasses of the Cold War. As president, it isn’t enough for him to just retune the same embargo policy implemented by his predecessors. He must adjust the U.S. official narrative about Post-Fidel Cuba: It is not a threat to the United States but a country in transition to a mixed economy, and a positive force for global health.

Arturo Lopez-Levy is a visiting lecturer at Mills College, California and a PhD Candidate at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. You can reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter at @turylevy.

Foreign Policy In Focus

Airstrikes Continue Against ISIL in Syria and Iraq

By , November 21, 2014 4:20 pm

WASHINGTON — U.S. and partner-nation military forces continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria and Iraq over the past several days, conducting seven airstrikes in Syria and 23 in Iraq.

Strikes in Syria

Fighter and bomber aircraft in Syria conducted six airstrikes near Kobani destroyed four ISIL staging areas, two ISIL-occupied buildings, two ISIL tactical units, and suppressed an ISIL fighting position. Near Ar Raqqah, an airstrike damaged an ISIL barrack.

Strikes in Iraq

U.S. and partner nation military forces conducted 23 airstrikes in Iraq using fighter, attack, bomber and remotely-piloted aircraft against ISIL terrorists.

Six airstrikes near Bayji destroyed three ISIL buildings, a bunker, two ISIL transport vehicles, five ISIL tactical units, an ISIL checkpoint and damaged another ISIL building. Near Sinjar, four airstrikes destroyed two ISIL barracks, an ISIL bunker and storage facility, an ISIL guard post, at least eight ISIL armored vehicles and a truck in a vehicle storage yard, as well as two tactical ISIL units. West of Kirkuk, three airstrikes destroyed five bunkers, two ISIL vehicles and an ISIL tactical unit. Near al Asad, four airstrikes destroyed four ISIL vehicles, an ISIL building, and struck three ISIL tactical units. Near Mosul, three airstrikes destroyed an ISIL guard post, an ISIL vehicle and two ISIL tactical units. Near Ramadi, two airstrikes destroyed an ISIL vehicle and an ISIL tactical unit, while also damaging an ISIL armored vehicle and an ISIL-occupied building. Finally, in Tal Afar, an airstrike damaged an ISIL-occupied airfield.

All aircraft returned to base safely. Airstrike assessments are based on initial reports.

The strikes were conducted as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the terrorist group ISIL and the threat they pose to Iraq, the region and the wider international community. The destruction of ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq further limits the terrorist group’s ability to project power and conduct operations.

Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Iraq include the U.S., Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Coalition Nations conducting airstrikes in Syria include the U.S., Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Assyrian International News Agency

What “Free Trade” Has Done to Central America

By , November 21, 2014 10:40 am

(Photo: Danny.C.Jackson / Flickr)

With Republicans winning big in the midterm elections, the debate over so-called “free-trade” agreements could again take center stage in Washington.

President Barack Obama has been angling for “fast-track” authority that would enable him to push the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP—a massive free-trade agreement between the United States and a host of Pacific Rim countries—through Congress with limited debate and no opportunity for amendments.

From the outset, the politicians who support the agreement have overplayed its benefits and underplayed its costs. They seldom note, for example, that the pact would allow corporations to sue governments whose regulations threaten their profits in cases brought before secretive and unaccountable foreign tribunals.

So let’s look closely at the real impact trade agreements have on people and the environment.

A prime example is the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement, or DR-CAFTA. Brokered by the George W. Bush administration and a handful of hemispheric allies, the pact has had a devastating effect on poverty, dislocation, and environmental contamination in the region.

And perhaps even worse, it’s diminished the ability of Central American countries to protect their citizens from corporate abuse.

A Premonition

In 2004 and 2005, hundreds of thousands of protesters filled Central America’s streets.

They warned of the unemployment, poverty, hunger, pollution, diminished national sovereignty, and other problems that could result if DR-CAFTA were approved. But despite popular pressure, the agreement was ratified in seven countries—including Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and the United States.

Ten years after the approval of DR-CAFTA, we are seeing many of the effects they cautioned about.

Overall economic indicators in the region have been poor, with some governments unable to provide basic services to the population. Farmers have been displaced when they can’t compete with grain importedfrom the United States. Amid significant levels of unemployment, labor abuses continue. Workers in export assembly plants often suffer poor working conditions and low wages. And natural resource extraction has proceeded with few protections for the environment.

Contrary to the promises of U.S. officials—who claimed the agreement would improve Central American economies and thereby reduce undocumented immigration—large numbers of Central Americans have migrated to the United States, as dramatized most recently by the influx of children from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras crossing the U.S.-Mexican border last summer. Although most are urgently fleeing violence in their countries, there are important economic roots to the migration—many of which are related to DR-CAFTA.

One of the most pernicious features of the agreement is a provision called the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism. This allows private corporations to sue governments over alleged violations of a long list of so-called “investor protections.”

The most controversial cases have involved public interest laws and regulations that corporations claim reduce the value of their investments. That means corporations can sue those countries for profits they say they would have made had those regulations not been put into effect.

Such lawsuits can be financially devastating to poor countries that already struggle to provide basic services to their people, much less engage in costly court battles with multinational firms. They can also prevent governments from making democratically accountable decisions in the first place, pushing them to prioritize the interests of transnational corporations over the needs of their citizens.

The Mining Industry Strikes Gold

These perverse incentives have led to environmental deregulation and increased protections for companies, which have contributed to a boon in the toxic mining industry—with gold at the forefront. A stunning 14 percent of Central American territory is now authorized for mining. According to the Center of Research on Trade and Investment, a Salvadoran NGO, that number approaches 30 percent in Honduras and Nicaragua—and rises to a whopping 35 percent in Honduras.

In contrast to their Central American neighbors, El Salvador and Costa Rica have imposed regulations to defend their environments from destructive mining practices. Community pressure to protect the scarce watersheds of El Salvador—which are deeply vulnerable to toxic mining runoff—has so far prevented companies from successfully extracting minerals like gold on a large scale, and the Salvadoran government has put a moratorium on mining. In Costa Rica, after a long campaign of awareness and national mobilization, the legislature voted unanimously in 2010 to prohibit open-pit mining and ban the use of cyanide and mercury in mining activities.

Yet both countries are being punished for heeding their citizens’ demands. Several U.S. and Canadian companies have been using DR-CAFTA’s investor-state provisions to sue these governments directly. Such disputes are arbitrated by secret tribunals like the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, which is hosted by the World Bank and is not accountable to any democratic body.

In 2009, the U.S.-based Commerce Group sued El Salvador for closing a highly polluting mine. The case was dismissed in 2011for lack of jurisdiction, but El Salvador still had to pay several million dollars in fees for its defense. In a case still in process, the gold-mining conglomerate Pacific Rim has also sued El Salvadorunder DR-CAFTA for its anti-mining regulations. To get around the fact that the Canadian company wasn’t from a signatory country to DR-CAFTA, it moved its subsidiary from the Cayman Islands to Reno, Nevada in a bid to use the agreement’s provisions. Although that trick failed, the suit has moved forward under an outdated investment law of El Salvador.

Elsewhere, Infinito Gold has used DR-CAFTA to sue Costa Ricafor nearly $ 100 million over disputes related to gold mining. And the U.S.-based Corona Materials has filed a notice of intent to sue the Dominican Republic, also claiming violations of DR-CAFTA. These costly legal cases can have devastating effects on the national economies of these small countries.

Of course, investor-state disputes under DR-CAFTA are not only related to mining.

For example, TECO Guatemala Holdings, a U.S. corporation, alleged in 2009 that Guatemala had wrongfully interfered with its indirect subsidiary’s investment in an electricity distribution company. Specifically, TECO charged that the government had not protected its right to a “minimum standard of treatment”— an exceptionally vague standard that is open to wide interpretation by the international tribunals that rule on such cases — concerning the setting of rates by government regulators. In other words, TECO wanted to charge higher electricity rates to Guatemalan users than those the state deemed fair. Guatemala had to pay $ 21.1 million in compensatory damages and $ 7.5 million in legal fees, above and beyond what it spent on its own defense.

The U.S.-based Railroad Development Corporation also sued Guatemala, leading to the country paying out an additional $ 11.3 million, as well as covering both its own legal fees and the company’s. Elsewhere, Spence International Investments and other companies sued Costa Rica for its decision to expropriate land for a public ecological park.

A Chilling Effect

What’s at stake here is not only the cost of lawsuits or the impact of environmental destruction, but also the ability of a country to make sovereign decisions and advance the public good.

Investment rules that allow companies to circumvent national judicial systems and challenge responsible public policies can create an effect that’s been dubbed “regulatory chill.” This means that countries that might otherwise have curtailed corporate activity won’t—because they’re afraid of being sued.

Guatemala is a prime case. It’s had to pay companies tens of millions of dollars in investor-state lawsuits, especially in the utility and transportation industries. But it hasn’t yet been sued by a mining company. That’s because the Guatemalan government hasn’t limited the companies’ operations or tampered with their profit-making.

Take the Marlin Mine in western Guatemala, for example. In 2010, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights advised the Guatemalan government to close the mine on account of its social and environmental impacts on the surrounding region and its indigenous population. Nonetheless, after briefly agreeing to suspend operations, the Guatemalan government reopened the mine a short time later.

In internal documents obtained by activists, the Guatemalan government cited potential investment arbitration as a reason to avoid suspending the mine, writing that closing the project could provoke the mine’s owners “to activate the World Bank’s [investment court] or to invocate the clauses of the free trade agreement to have access to international arbitration and subsequent claim of damages to the state.” As this example demonstrates, just knowing that a company could sue can prevent a country from standing up for human rights and environmental protection.

More recently in Guatemala, the communities around San Jose del Golfo— about 45,000 people — have engaged in two years of peaceful resistance to prevent the U.S.-based Kappes, Cassiday, and Associates from constructing a new mine. Protesters estimate that 95 percent of families in the region depend on agriculture, an industry that would be virtually destroyed if the water were to be further contaminated. But the company threatened to sue Guatemala if the mine was not opened. “They can’t afford this lawsuit,” a company representative said. “We had a big law group out of [Washington,] DC fire off a letter to the mines minister, copied to the president, explaining what we were doing.”

On May 23, the people of San Jose del Golfo were violently evicted from their lands by military force, pitting the government in league with the company against its own people—potentially all to avoid a costly lawsuit.

A Prelude to the TPP

Warnings about the crises that “free trade” would bring to Central Americans were, unfortunately, correct. Central America is facing a humanitarian crisis that has incited millions to migrate as refugees from violence and poverty, thousands of them children. One push factor is the environmental degradation provoked by ruthless mining corporations that are displacing people from their rural livelihoods.

And it’s not just DR-CAFTA. The many investor-state cases brought under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and in countries all over the world, have exposed the perniciousness of investor protection rules shoehorned into so-called “free-trade” pacts. Many governments are realizing that these agreements have tied their hands when it comes to protecting their own environments and citizens.

We must use these egregious investor-state cases to highlight extreme corporate power in the region. We must work to help Central American people regain their livelihoods lost to ruthless extractive projects like mining. And we must change trade and investment agreements to stop these excessive lawsuits that devastate communities, the environment, and democracy itself.

Like DR-CAFTA, the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership includes investor-state provisions that are likely to hurt poor communities and undermine environmental protections. Instead of being “fast tracked” through Congress, future trade agreements like the TPP—and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership being negotiated between the European Union and the United States—must be subject to a full debate with public input.

And such agreements must not, at any cost, include investor-state mechanisms. Because trading away democracy to transnational corporations is not such a “free trade” after all.

Foreign Policy In Focus

85 Percent of Syrian Refugees in Turkey Living Outside Government Camps

By , November 21, 2014 10:38 am

ISTANBUL (AP) — With Turkey’s government-run refugee camps operating at full capacity, more than 1 million Syrian refugees who have flocked to Turkey to escape fighting at home are struggling to survive on their own, according to an Amnesty International report released Thursday.

Turkey, which hosts half of the 3.2 million refugees who have fled Syria, is shouldering the heaviest burden of what the report calls the world’s worst refugee crisis in a generation.

“In three days in September 2014, Turkey received some 130,000 refugees from Syria — more than the entire European Union had in the past three years,” the report said.

It also detailed cases where Turkish border guards have abused — even killed — refugees trying to enter the country.

An estimated 1.6 million Syrian refugees have entered Turkey since the Syrian war began in March 2011. About 220,000 are living in 22 government-run camps that offer food and essential services, the report said. The remaining 1.38 million — more than 85 percent — are living outside the camps, mostly in communities along the Turkey-Syrian border. An estimated 330,000 live in Istanbul, the Turkish capital.

So far, Turkey has spent about $ 4 billion on Syrian refugees and granted free health care to all Syrian refugees in the country.

The report said while Turkey has an open-border policy for Syrian refugees, there are just two fully open crossings along its 900-kilometer (560-mile) border. Even at those crossings, the report said, people without passports are being denied entrance unless they have urgent needs. Other refugees trek into Turkey through often dangerous crossing points.

According to Amnesty, at least 17 people were shot and killed by border guards at unofficial crossing points between December 2013 and August. The report cited 10 other incidents in which 31 people were allegedly beaten by Turkish border guards. The organization has shared the information with Turkish authorities.

“Turkey is clearly struggling to meet even the most basic needs of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. The result is that many of those who have made it across the border have been abandoned to a life of destitution,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s researcher on Turkey.

The report urged Turkey to “radically revise its border practices, ending the necessity for refugees to use dangerous irregular crossings.”

Jordan is hosting 619,000 Syrian refugees and as of Oct. 14, Lebanon had registered 1.13 million, although the number in the country is believed to be far higher. Last month, Lebanon announced that it won’t accept any more Syrian refugees except in special cases. Refugees already make up nearly a quarter of Lebanon’s population of 5 million, stretching the tiny Mediterranean nation’s already fragile infrastructure.

Of the United Nation’s funding appeal for $ 3.74 billion to aid Syrians, only 51 percent has been received, the report said.

Assyrian International News Agency

U.S. Has Almost as Much to Lose as Iran if Nuclear Deal Isn’t Reached

By , November 21, 2014 4:58 am
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton, and US Secretary John Kerry during the E3/EU+3 talks with Iran on October 15. (Photo: Flickr Commons)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton, and US Secretary John Kerry during the E3/EU+3 talks with Iran on October 15. (Photo: Flickr Commons)

At Politico, Gary Sick writes that, if Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif fails to capitulate to the demands of the United States and a nuclear deal isn’t reached, it would play into the hands of Iran’s hardliners. As well,

… the failure to reach a deal by Nov. 24 would in all likelihood have a second effect that would compound the problem: weakening the external leverage that the United States could bring to bear on Iran. The primary leverage that the U.S.-led side has brought to the table is the international sanctions regime that has limited Iran’s energy exports and choked off its access to international financial networks. But those are not U.N. sanctions; they rely primarily on Washington’s ability to persuade or pressure companies in countries whose governments do not endorse those sanctions to refrain from trade with or investment in Iran, under threat that noncompliance could result in their being shut out of the international banking system.


… if Iran is internationally perceived to have made a good-faith offer of compromise to no avail, the dynamic could change. Washington might no longer have that leverage.

Sick notes that

One of the great triumphs of President Obama’s diplomacy on Iran has been the ability to hold together the very disparate group of negotiating partners—the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany. … China and Russia, as well as the European powers, would welcome an agreement that removed the constant threat of a military confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program, and gave Iran a potent incentive to become a responsible international citizen. To that end, all parties have been willing to back what has increasingly become a bilateral U.S.-Iran negotiation, tacitly recognizing that no agreement on the issue is possible without full U.S. involvement.

But (emphasis added)

… deference to the United States, whose control over crucial international banking mechanisms gives sanctions their bite, is not unqualified. If the United States should reject what is perceived to be a reasonable Iranian offer, there are growing signs that the coalition might begin to fray.


Most foreign firms are unwilling to risk Washington’s wrath as long as negotiations are underway, but that reluctance is likely to evaporate if these corporations come to believe the United States rejected an Iranian offer acceptable to their own governments.

Worse, as Julian Borger writes at the Guardian:

Failure would be a heavy setback for both Obama and Rouhani. But there are worrying signs that Rouhani is making preparations for a Plan B, that would help him to survive collapse in Vienna or its aftermath. That involves rhetoric, repeated by Zarif on arrival in Vienna, blaming the West in advance for ‘excessive demands’. It also involves signing deals and memoranda of understanding with Russia and China, as an alternative to the full reintegration in the global economy Tehran was hoping for.

Foreign Policy In Focus