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Lebanon’s Druze Fear IS and Hezbollah

By , October 30, 2014 7:53 pm

Lebanon’s Druze Fear IS and Hezbollah

By Mona Alami

Posted 2014-10-30 23:55 GMT

Lebanese army soldiers and relatives of Druze soldier Khaldoon Raouf Hamoud carry his coffin during his funeral in Akbeh, Rashaya, Aug. 3, 2014 (photo: REUTERS/Shawky Haj).The Lebanese Druze leadership and community have sat on the sidelines of the inter-Muslim conflict arising in the region. But they are facing a growing dilemma with the rise of the Islamic State (IS) in Lebanon, stuck in a struggle between the threat posed by the organization and the Druze community’s difficult history with Hezbollah.

As Lebanon’s north was rocked by battles between extremists affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra and IS against the army, a small unit of Druze militants participated in live-fire exercises and combat training in one of the verdant valleys of the Metn Mountains, sources said.

Some 250,000 Druze, representing 5% of the Lebanese population and known as al-Mowahedoon (Unitarians), are currently spread over Mount Lebanon, the Chouf area, the Bekaa Valley and South Lebanon. The movement, initiated by Hamzah Bin Ali, is built on an esoteric interpretation of Islam and Sufism. The community is known for its fierce fighters who fought in the Lebanese civil war.

Abou Alaa, a Druze military trainer whose name has been changed for security reasons, told Al-Monitor, “With the security situation deteriorating day by day, the danger has become too great for us to sit idle. When the 1975 civil war started, we were ill-prepared to face the onslaught. We will not make the same mistake twice. We have to prepare for the worst.”

Druze watch with angst as violence engulfs Lebanon. In the last month, several terror networks were dismantled by the Lebanese army, the last of which led to the discovery of three booby-trapped cars. IS terrorist Ahmad Mikati admitted this week to helping his organization create a caliphate in North Lebanon by recruiting people and preparing suicide attacks targeting Shiite Hezbollah strongholds.

Read the full story here.

Assyrian International News Agency

Lebanon’s Druze Fear IS and Hezbollah

By , October 30, 2014 7:53 pm

Lebanon’s Druze Fear IS and Hezbollah

By Mona Alami

Posted 2014-10-30 23:55 GMT

Lebanese army soldiers and relatives of Druze soldier Khaldoon Raouf Hamoud carry his coffin during his funeral in Akbeh, Rashaya, Aug. 3, 2014 (photo: REUTERS/Shawky Haj).The Lebanese Druze leadership and community have sat on the sidelines of the inter-Muslim conflict arising in the region. But they are facing a growing dilemma with the rise of the Islamic State (IS) in Lebanon, stuck in a struggle between the threat posed by the organization and the Druze community’s difficult history with Hezbollah.

As Lebanon’s north was rocked by battles between extremists affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra and IS against the army, a small unit of Druze militants participated in live-fire exercises and combat training in one of the verdant valleys of the Metn Mountains, sources said.

Some 250,000 Druze, representing 5% of the Lebanese population and known as al-Mowahedoon (Unitarians), are currently spread over Mount Lebanon, the Chouf area, the Bekaa Valley and South Lebanon. The movement, initiated by Hamzah Bin Ali, is built on an esoteric interpretation of Islam and Sufism. The community is known for its fierce fighters who fought in the Lebanese civil war.

Abou Alaa, a Druze military trainer whose name has been changed for security reasons, told Al-Monitor, “With the security situation deteriorating day by day, the danger has become too great for us to sit idle. When the 1975 civil war started, we were ill-prepared to face the onslaught. We will not make the same mistake twice. We have to prepare for the worst.”

Druze watch with angst as violence engulfs Lebanon. In the last month, several terror networks were dismantled by the Lebanese army, the last of which led to the discovery of three booby-trapped cars. IS terrorist Ahmad Mikati admitted this week to helping his organization create a caliphate in North Lebanon by recruiting people and preparing suicide attacks targeting Shiite Hezbollah strongholds.

Read the full story here.

Assyrian International News Agency

Will the Pope Challenge Turkey on Anti-Christian Bias?

By , October 30, 2014 2:11 pm

By John L. Allen

Istanbul’s Sultan Ahmet Mosque, known as the Blue Mosque, is seen in this 1998 file photo. Pope Francis will visit the mosque during a trip to Turkey Nov. 28-30 (Mehmet Gulbiz, EPA/CNS).Recently the Vatican confirmed that Pope Francis will travel to Turkey Nov. 28-30, the official purpose for which is largely ecumenical. He’ll visit Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople on the feast of St. Andrew, considered their patron in much the same way Catholics regard St. Peter as the first pope.

The trip is also a way for Francis to express concern for violence in the region unleashed by the self-proclaimed ISIS caliphate, and to expand his outreach to the Islamic world.

But what’s not yet clear is how much of a push Francis will make on another front: An increasingly virulent anti-Christian climate in Turkey, which tends to simmer constantly until it boils over into lethal violence.

Turkey is officially secular. But sociologically it’s an Islamic society, with a population of 76 million that’s 97 percent Muslim. There are just 150,000 Christians, mostly Greek Orthodox. Only the Greek Orthodox and Armenian communities are recognized, so other forms of Christianity operate in a gray zone — not quite illegal, but not quite fully legitimate either.

Despite Turkey’s reputation for moderation, there’s a strong ultra-nationalist current, with beachheads in the security services and the military, which sees the West and Christianity as eternal foes. Christians report various forms of harassment, including difficulties in obtaining permits to build or repair churches, surveillance, unfair judicial treatment, and discrimination in housing and employment.

In 2009, the normally diplomatic Bartholomew told “60 Minutes” that he feels “crucified” by a state that wants to see his Church die out.

This undercurrent of disdain is reflected, among other things, in conspiracy theories about Christianity that have become staples of the Turkish best-seller lists.

In 2001, journalist Ergun Poyraz published Six Months among the Missionaries. He wrote, “A big missionary army has invaded our country,” and added an ominous warning: “This land has been Turkish for thousands of years. Its price was paid with blood. Those dreaming of getting back these lands should foresee paying the same price.”

Ilker Cinar, who claimed to be a convert to Christianity who led a Protestant mission for ten years before returning to Islam, published a highly popular book in 2005 called I was a Missionary, the Code is Decoded. He warned that Christians are scheming to “reconquer” Turkey, working in league with the Kurds and their militant faction PKK.

It’s also become common to see public assaults on symbols of Christian identity. In December 2013, the Anatolian Youth Association, a youth branch of the pro-Islamic Felicity Party, launched a campaign against any public celebration of Christmas, including burning Santa Claus dolls and threatening retaliation against anyone who put up Christmas decorations.

Reflecting that climate, physical attacks on Christians have become increasingly common and bold.

In January 2006, a Protestant church leader named Kamil Kiroglu, a Muslim convert to Christianity, was beaten unconscious by five young men. In February 2006, a well-known Italian Catholic missionary, Rev. Andrea Santoro, was gunned down by a 16-year-old Muslim in the small city of Trabzon.


Pope Francis and Constantinople Patriarch Bartholomew prayed during a ceremony in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in May. (AP Photo) Vatican confirms Pope Francis to visit Turkey Iraqi Christians attended Mass at the Chaldean Church of the Virgin Mary of the Harvest in a 7th-century monastery overlooking Alqosh, Iraq. (AP Photo) What the Pope can do for Middle East Christians Pope Francis met Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Greek Catholic Church at the Vatican last year. (Photo/AP) A Church with verve is at risk in Ukraine / Plus: Pope Francis goes to Turkey, the vision behind Crux, and women in the Church More In January 2007, a prominent Turkish journalist of Armenian descent named Hrant Dink, a Protestant, was assassinated in Istanbul. In April 2007 in Malatya, three Protestant Christian missionaries, two Turks and one German, were tortured, stabbed and strangled.

In June 2010, Bishop Luigi Padovese, the Catholic Apostolic Vicar for Anatolia and president of the Catholic bishops’ conference, was assassinated by his driver. Witnesses reported that the killer shouted afterwards, “Allahu Akbar, I have killed the greatest Satan!”

As recently as earlier this year, there were accusations that elements in the Turkish military were aiding Muslim extremist groups that carried out lethal assaults on Armenian Christians in northwest Syria near the Turkish border.

To date, there has been little momentum to explore the ways in which this violence has been fueled by an environment in which anti-Christian prejudice is not only acceptable, but almost fashionable.

In December 2011, a columnist for the Turkish daily Zaman complained that “the Vatican is not doing anything” to ensure the investigation of Padovese’s death “is handled in a serious manner.” If the Vatican would take a more aggressive stance, he wrote, it would enhance “the well-being of all non-Muslims” and offer “a huge contribution to the promotion of human rights and freedom of religion in Turkey.”

Pope Francis has amassed tremendous political capital in the Islamic world, in part because of his friendships with Muslims in Argentina, and in part because of his May outing to the Holy Land where he made an impromptu stop at the barrier separating Jerusalem from the West Bank, a move that was perceived as a gesture of solidarity with Palestinian suffering.

The question is whether he’ll spend some of that earned capital while in Turkey to press President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an to combat this anti-Christian hostility.

If he does, we may not know right away. Whenever a pope travels to a country whose ruler has a dubious human rights record, a smiling photo-op is often the price to be paid in order to lay down a challenge behind the scenes. That was the deal John Paul II made, for instance, when he visited Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Fidel Castro in Cuba, and so on.

Certainly the Christians Francis is coming to visit are hoping he’ll do something similar during his Nov. 28 meeting with Erdo?an at Ankara’s new presidential palace, a sprawling $ 350 million structure denounced by critics as both an environmental blight and a symbol of Erdo?an’s autocratic tendencies.

The drama of Francis’ Turkey trip is partially contained in how clearly Erdo?an gets the message: “When it comes to the fate of Christians and other minorities, we are watching … and we’ll tell the world what we see.”

Assyrian International News Agency

Britain Poised to Send Apache Helicopters to Iraq

By , October 30, 2014 8:29 am

British armed forces could become deeper embroiled in the battle against the Islamic State after it was revealed last night that Apache helicopters could be deployed to Iraq.

Until now, only the Royal Air Force has been involved in air strikes against the terror group.

If Apaches are sent to Iraq – which are piloted by the Army Air Corps – it would mark the first British Army involvement in a conflict role in the country.

A source told The Times last night that Apache attack helicopters may become necessary because jihadis are able to move around the battlefield quickly thanks to social media and messaging application WhatsApp.

Warplanes flying at 20,000-30,000ft are therefore having to react to moving targets.

A Government source told the newspaper: ‘What we are seeing is ten-man, two-vehicle teams being tasked through messages on WhatsApp or Facebook.

‘Once they’ve got their objective, they decide themselves how to meet it, what equipment and arms they need, so there’s almost no command or control to hit from 20,000ft.’

The source said that, in order to respond to the changing tactics, UK troops needed ‘something that can act very quickly on intelligence’.

Apache helicopters are able to fly close to the ground and at a slow speed, making them more effective at finding opposition troops on the ground.

Britain had a fleet of eight Apaches in Afghanistan, where Prince Harry was among the co-pilots during 2012.

A second Whitehall source told The Times that the idea of sending Apaches to Iraq had been suggested to Permanent Joint Headquarters, the UK’s hub for all military operations.

Sending the helicopters could be seen by some critics as a step closer to putting troops on the ground. If Apaches were deployed, a base would also have to be set up for the helicopters closer to the area of engagement.

Describing the Apache’s strengths, Colonel Mike Smith, the Army Air Corps officer in charge of aircrafts at a US base in Kandahar told The Times: ‘What we have demonstrated [in Afghanistan] is if you take the Apache specifically, if you need to engage, it is a hugely capable attack platform.’

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said last night that Britain had no current plans to send Apache helicopters to Iraq.

‘We constantly review our options and will carry on scoping what other training and support we can offer in conjunction with the coalition,’ he said.

Assyrian International News Agency

US Ambassador to Iraq: WH Was Warned Early on About ISIS, “did Almost Nothing”

By , October 30, 2014 2:47 am

Did the rise of ISIS and the collapse of the Iraqi army really catch the Obama administration by surprise, as the White House tried to argue over the summer? Subsequent research has already shown that senior intelligence and military officials warned Congress about both as early as February, but now the man who served as Barack Obama’s ambassador to Iraq says that the administration knew what was happening — and did “almost nothing” to stop it. James Jeffrey represented the US in Baghdad from 2010-12 and oversaw the withdrawal of American troops, and told PBS’ Frontline that the White House even claimed it would act after warnings in January, and still didn’t do anything to prevent ISIS from seizing massive amounts of territory:

“The administration not only was warned by everybody back in January, it actually announced that it was going to intensify support against ISIS with the Iraqi armed forces. And it did almost nothing,” says James Jeffrey, who served as U.S. ambassador to Iraq between 2010 and 2012, in “Frontline’s” “The Rise of ISIS,” which airs on PBS Tuesday night (check local listings) and is previewed here exclusively on Yahoo News.

Jeffrey is one of a number of ex-administration officials who appear in the film and sharply criticize the decisions of the president they once served. Former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta both take issue with Obama’s refusal to arm moderate rebels in Syria who — it is now argued — could have acted as a counterweight to the Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL).

Without the pressure of the American military contingent in Iraq, the army that the US spent billions to create turned into a corrupt sinecure for politically-connected layabouts, according to the film. An analyst from the Congressional Research Service concurs:

“They were people who were — they were fat cats, I call them,” Katzman, a Congressional Research Service terrorism analyst, says in the film. “They were people who were earning good money to basically sit at a desk and smoke cigarettes and drink good liquor all day.”

It took only 800 ISIS troops to seize Mosul, thanks to the dessicated readiness of the Iraqi army, according to Martin Smith, who reports for the documentary. It will take a lot more than that to push ISIS back out of a city that once held 1.8 million people, but so far the only effort made by the US and its allies has been bombing runs that have forced ISIS to harden its communication lines and operations. When Smith asks Joint Chiefs chair General Martin Dempsey whether he’s optimistic about that being enough to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, Dempsey says no:

“No, I’m not an optimist,” says Dempsey in a less-than-confidence-building response. While thecampaign’s strategy may be right, “every campaign’s assumptions have to be revisited as the campaign evolves. Some of these assumptions are no doubt going to be challenged.”

In part of the film, Obama adviser Ben Rhodes tries to blame Congress for the collapse of the Iraqi army, claiming that Capitol Hill held up weapons transfers and that supposedly created the collapse. That’s absurd; the Iraqi army collapsed and left massive amounts of weaponry and equipment for ISIS to pick up and use. The Kurds have a real issue with materiel and ammunition because they have high morale and an effective chain of command, and so actually use munitions and require resupply. The Iraqis had the munitions but a corrupt command, in large part because the US bailed out of Iraq under Barack Obama by not negotiating for a long-term presence — and that allowed Nouri al-Maliki to purge the Sunnis and transform the professional army we’d built into a patronage ghost force. Leon Panetta warned about the consequences of Obama’s refusal to negotiate a permanent presence, as did others within the administration, to no avail. Obama’s political considerations trumped US security concerns.

This isn’t the first buck-passing exercise from the White House on Iraq and ISIS. Obama blamed the intelligence community in September, saying “they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.” The intelligence community reminded everyone that they had raised the red flag in January and February, which Ambassador Jeffrey corroborates in this film, but that Obama was too busy declaring ISIS the “jayvee” squad for his own political benefit. Not even the New York Times bought that spin, so a month later, Obama and his team are trying desperately to blame something else, anything else.

Will Barack Obama and this White House take responsibility for their failures and put a strategy in place that actually addresses the reality of ISIS that their failures allowed? Let me quote General Dempsey on this point: No, I’m not optimistic.

Assyrian International News Agency

NATO: Rebellion in the Ranks?

By , October 29, 2014 9:07 pm
Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin, the wily strategist of Russian revanchism, is well on his way to reconstructing the Warsaw Pact. That, at least, is what the pundits of The Washington Post are making it out to seem. Last week, Jackson Diehl penned a column on how Putin has driven a wedge between NATO and its easternmost members. Anne Applebaum, meanwhile, pins the failure to maintain quiet on the eastern front on NATO itself and its decision not to establish bases in the region 10 years ago. The resulting crisis of confidence in what were once Soviet satellites, she laments, has undermined alliance cohesion.

These misreadings of what’s taking place on the eastern stretches of Europe contribute to an almost 1946-like sense of foreboding and inevitability. The small countries of Eastern Europe are bending to Moscow’s will, and the West is doing little more than appease the bear. Diehl and Applebaum stop short of declaring a new Iron Curtain and insisting that the region choose sides (over and above membership in NATO). But their all-or-nothing logic tends in that direction.

Contrary to these assertions, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and the rest of the region are not replaying 1946. Although these governments are pursuing very different strategies, they all know that a new Cold War would exact a terrible price on their countries. In most cases, they are quite sensibly trying to forestall this scenario. NATO’s imperative to push ever eastward, which pundits like Applebaum are urging it to do now under the cover of demonstrating resolve, will only make matters worse.

To understand why these pundits are wrong, first it’s important to understand how Russia and NATO arrived at this impasse.

After the Berlin Wall fell nearly 25 years ago, the new democratic governments in East-Central Europe couldn’t wait to leave the Warsaw Pact. Who could blame them: the Pact was a symbol of their subjection to the will of the Soviet Union. They showed a measure of caution, however, and didn’t disband the alliance until February 1991. Then, again at a rather cautious pace, they crept under the umbrella of NATO. First the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland took the plunge in 1999. In the second wave of expansion in 2004, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the Baltic countries joined the fold. Albania and Croatia had to wait until 2009.

Russia was not overjoyed at these developments, to put it mildly. The Kremlin was under the impression that it had received guarantees that NATO would not expand to its doorstep. As Mary Elise Sarotte writes in Foreign Affairs, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and company received unwritten assurances early on that not even East Germany would be part of NATO. Then, in exchange for what amounted to a huge Deutschemark bribe, Gorbachev assented to a united Germany entering NATO. The Soviet Union didn’t expect NATO to move further eastward. But then, the Soviet Union also didn’t expected to disappear with the stroke of a pen. It is to the Russians’ perennial dismay that they never got any of these promises down on paper.

NATO didn’t have to twist the arms of the former Warsaw Pact members to switch sides. The coup in Moscow in 1991 and the outbreak of hostilities in Yugoslavia were both reminders of the importance of a security guarantee – against a revival of Russian imperialism and the potential of internecine conflicts. Also, whatever reservations they might have had about joining an alliance that had lost its original overarching purpose and however ambivalent they might have felt about the costs of modernizing their militaries to achiever interoperability with NATO, the countries in the region realized that membership conferred enormous non-military advantages. With accession to the European Union still in the future, NATO’s imprimatur was a powerful signal to investors that it was safe to pour money into the aspirant countries.

Still, significant portions of the population throughout the region expressed reservations about NATO membership. In Hungary and the Czech Republic, support for joining was actually quite low: at 32 percent and 28 percent respectively in 1997. Bulgarians were generally split down the middle. Only in Romania, often an outlier in the region, was support consistently in the 70 percent range.

Then the governments went to work on persuading their citizenry. Bulgarian opposition to NATO fell to a mere 1 percent by 2002. In Slovenia, where the public was quite skeptical of the alliance in the 1990s, opinion turned around sufficiently by 2003, when the country held a referendum on membership in both the EU and NATO. Citizens backed both measures, though their enthusiasm for the EU (89 percent) overshadowed their approval of NATO (66 percent). The populations in the other countries in the region similarly fell in line.

But this fundamental ambivalence never entirely disappeared. In fact, latent dissatisfactions sharpened when the countries in the region began to understand that NATO wasn’t just a security guarantee: it was a set of obligations. And those obligations were not simply to modernize their militaries and participate in periodic exercises. It meant authorizing combat missions (in Kosovo in 1999) and contributing soldiers to out-of-area operations, such as Afghanistan.

The Czech Republic joined NATO only six days before the alliance started bombing former Yugoslavia over the issue of Kosovo. “Javier Solana phoned me up and informed me that NATO would start to bomb former Yugoslavia the following Monday, and we as a new member of NATO should formally accept that decision,” then-Czech foreign minister Jan Kavan told me last year. “Given the traditional friendship between the Czechs and the Serbs going back many many years, this was a very difficult decision. After a very acrimonious debate at the cabinet level that lasted until early in the morning, we finally agreed. But we only agreed to allow NATO planes to fly over our airspace, no other form of cooperation. Neither our air force nor the army played any role in an action that most of us had major problems with.” It was not the kind of cooperation NATO expected. “Because it took us such a long time and was obviously a reluctant decision, NATO made it clear that it was not happy with us,” Kavan concluded.

The war in Afghanistan two years later was even more controversial. When Polish soldiers began to die in the NATO mission, enthusiasm for the more confrontational style of the United States began to wane. By 2009, 77 percent of Poles wanted their troops out of Afghanistan.

Then came the war in Georgia in 2008. It didn’t last long, and the origins of the conflict are murky. But what was abundantly clear, particularly to the countries of East-Central Europe, was that NATO didn’t do much in response. Of course, because Georgia wasn’t a member of NATO, the alliance’s collective security clause didn’t come into play. But that was a fine distinction for many in the region. They were fighting in wars far from their borders but sitting on their hands when it came to conflicts closer to home.

Jump to the present. Russia’s seizure of Crimea and its military involvement in eastern Ukraine have sent shock waves through East-Central Europe. These moves should ordinarily promote greater NATO cohesion, not less. And indeed, at the most recent NATO summit, Poland pushed for a proposal to permanently base 10,000 NATO troops on its territory. NATO politely said no. The Baltic members wanted missile defense batteries to protect against Russian missiles. Again, NATO said no.

But although Washington would have liked to see a solid anti-Russian front from Poland down to former Yugoslavia, the region has been much more nuanced in its policies. The ambivalence of the 1990s has resurfaced.

Consider, for instance, what’s happening in Poland where a new prime minister and foreign minister are sending different signals about their Ukraine policy. On the one hand, Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz has suggested that Poland needs to pay more attention to its own security and has no plans to intervene in Ukraine. At the same time, Kopacz has renewed calls for greater U.S. military presence in her country, and her defense minister has signaled that Poland is ready to sell arms to Ukraine. So, Poland has certainly not lined up on Putin’s side. But it’s not going to take on Russia by itself.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia, meanwhile, came out against economic sanctions on Russia. It’s not that these countries are prioritizing the health of their economies over the fate of Ukraine. In fact, their commercial relationship with Russia is relatively modest. The two countries trade first of all with Germany, then with each other and other Central European countries. The decision to oppose sanctions is nevertheless pragmatic. Both countries worry that an overall downturn in EU-Russian relations, and a resumption of conflict over oil and natural gas transfers, would have a devastating impact on the entire region.

Serbia and Bulgaria, meanwhile, have long had closer relations with Russia, Putin or no Putin. Neither country wants to be put in the awkward position of having to choose between the east and the west. And, until recently, they didn’t really have to do so.

The obvious exception to this pragmatism is Hungary. Led by the right-wing Fidesz party, Hungary has grown ever more distant from both the European Union and NATO. In July, for instance, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared that “since the rule of Soviet empire, no other external power has dared to try to curb the sovereignty of Hungarians openly, choosing a legal form.” Was he referring to Russia? No, he was reserving his wrath for the European Union. The European Parliament had recently issued a scathing report on the Hungarian government’s performance, and Orban was fuming. It only reinforced his turn eastward.

Hungary’s relationship with Russia has been on an upward swing, in part for reasons of energy. Hungary has signed deals with Gazprom for the delivery of natural gas and with Rosatom to build two new blocks at Hungary’s nuclear power plant in Paks. But there is also an ideological affinity between Orban and Putin. The Hungarian leader has declared his preference for Hungary to be an “illiberal democracy,” and he definitely has Putin’s Russia in mind as a potential model.

So, the countries of the region don’t have a unified position on Russia, nor are they succumbing to Putin’s arm-twisting or his charm offensive. Serbia and Bulgaria have longstanding ties to Russia, Hungary is forming an illiberal partnership with Moscow, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have larger economic concerns, and Poland wants to be even more firmly anchored in NATO even as it distances itself from direct entanglement in Ukraine.

But it’s not just a misreading of Eastern European motives that plagues the analysis of Diehl and Applebaum. By emphasizing Putin’s malevolence and NATO’s fecklessness, they fail to appreciate the impact that austerity measures dictated by Brussels and military costs dictated by NATO have had on the small countries of East-Central Europe. The rebellion in the East has been growing over a long period of time. Even if Putin wasn’t engaging in strong-arm petro-politics or attempting to reconstruct Novorossiya, the region would be expressing its reluctance to follow every order issued by Brussels or Washington.

It wasn’t long ago that East-Central Europe experienced a long-anticipated “return to diversity” with the collapse of the Soviet template. NATO and the EU provided them with some initially welcome institutional structures to fill the vacuum. Now, the countries of the region are all chafing, to one degree or another, at the “adult supervision” provided by these multinational entities (much as they once chafed at the directives provided by the multinational entities of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union).

Both Brussels and Washington should learn to respect the diversity of East-Central Europe and stop trying to force the former Warsaw Pact countries to toe the line when it comes to Russia. The region knows a cold war when it sees one, and it certainly doesn’t want to go through all that again.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus.

Foreign Policy In Focus

Christian Tells of Conditions in Iraq

By , October 29, 2014 9:05 pm

(photo: Rich Harp)HARBOR BEACH — For Fady Amin, Christianity and activism are two things that proved to be very dangerous.

The Iraqi refugee, now living in the U.S. with his extended family, told his story this week at United Methodist Church of Harbor Beach.

In his youth, Amin became involved with a youth political group, and was the chairperson for Iraqi Christian Youth Committee. As such, he did ecumenical work with different churches in the region.

In a conservative country which is 97 percent Muslim, these things were near taboo.

Fady Amin was born in 1978 in Baghdad, the largest city and capital of Iraq. He earned a degree in mechanical engineering and worked as a logistic support adviser to a large company in that country, a company that supplied security and logistics to a variety of customers.

According to Amin, his company did business with both the Iraq and U.S. governments, British companies and a variety of others, including the U.S. military.

Education and a good job were not the things that drove Mr. Amin — it was his belief in a Christian God and an internal need to be an activist.

As Amin tells the story, he was a member of Our Lady of the Deliverance, a Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad. He also was involved with church youth and a movement to change things for the better in Iraq.

Amin soon became aware of the harsh realities of being Christian in that region of the world. In 2004, his church was bombed, destroying much of the facility. The bombing, as it proved later, was nothing compared to what was to come.

On Oct. 31, 2010, terrorists again attacked his church in Baghdad. This time, it was not an empty church and it was not with explosives — but bullets.

The terrorists captured the building and all parishioners attending church services. They took hostages and began systematically killing members. In particular, they targeted youth and clergy. Before government forces could intervene, they had killed 47 churchgoers and two priests.

During his presentation, Amin asked parents to excuse children because of the violent images he would show on an overhead screen, which included scenes from a bombing in 2004 and the church attack in 2010.

Pictures of screaming women, wounded parishioners and the slain clergy were evidence of the violence Christians are subjected to in that part of the world. It was at that time that Amin’s family began seriously considering leaving their homeland.

Amin said a reason to leave was “because of the persecution of Christians over there.”

“Terrorists targeted Christians … in our churches and in our homes,” he said. “Some people were afraid to go to church.”

Amin applied for immigration as a refugee through the United Nations. In 2012, he arrived in the U.S. He later went back to Iraq to gather his mother and his brothers and their families. In February of this year, he left Iraq permanently. He and his extended family now live in California.

But tragedy still has its effects on Amin. He still has family and many friends in Iraq. In June, ISIS attacked Nineveh (now called Mosul), and took control. Amin said the terrorist group gave Christians in the area three choices: convert to Islam, pay tribute or be killed.

Amin went on to say that the area had a great concentration of Christian churches. Many Christians fled the region, and there are now 100,000 Christian refugees or displaced people in other areas of Iraq. Many left with little more than the clothing on their backs.

Amin was brought to Michigan and Ohio by a group of Presbyterian churches. He is traveling these states with their help and the assistance of other churches. He usually gives lectures with a PowerPoint presentation and a personal message.

Amin says he tries to leave a message without going into politics. While in Harbor Beach, he said, “our message now is to reach people telling them we need your prayers, your support, and we need to raise attention of the genocide of Iraqi Christians.”

During a question and answer period after his message, one person asked, “From your perspective, is it an unrealistic hope to have democracy in your country?”

Amin responded by saying everyone has hoped for democracy since 2003. Unfortunately, different groups have kept this from happening, the latest being ISIS.

Another asked how often he has contact with people in Iraq, and did he plan to go back. He said he has constant contact with friends and the church in Iraq. At this time, he has no immediate plans of returning.

The last question asked by the audience was, what Americans could do to help the persecuted church in Iraq?

“People feel alone. (You) need to let them know they are not alone.”

Assyrian International News Agency

Hearing on ISIS’s Atrocities Against Women and Religious Minorities

By , October 29, 2014 3:23 pm

CHICAGO — U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) hosted a U.S. Senate Human Rights Caucus Field Hearing to discuss ISIS’s growing threats to security and human dignity in the Middle East. Witnesses included Sandra Raheem, an Iraqi Assyrian Christian asylum-seeker; Dr. Khalil Marrar, Assistant Professor at Governors State University; Reine Hanna, Director of the Assyrian National Council of Illinois; and Mar Gewargis Younan, Diocesan Bishop at the Ancient Church of the East. Co-founded with U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), the Senate Human Rights Caucus works to raise awareness and take action against egregious human rights violations throughout the world.

“ISIS controls more money, fighters and land than al-Qaeda did on 9/11 and is committing mass atrocities against women, children, and ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East,” Senator Kirk said. “Members of Chicago’s Assyrian-American community and Illinois’ Middle East expert community highlighted how these barbaric terrorists pose grave threats not just overseas, but right here in Chicago.”

During the Field Hearing, Dr. Khalil Marrar explained why ISIS may target Chicago. “Where they really want to hit is what they call high value targets or significant value targets,” Marrar said. “Chicago, Illinois, is not just a major financial hub and a transportation hub,” he added, but also “a soft target” and “the hometown of President Obama.” This summer, a pro-ISIS Twitter user posted a photograph featuring a handwritten threat to Chicago, dated June 20th, with the city’s Old Republic Building in the background.

Bishop Younan reported that “ISIS drove millions of innocent men, women and children from their homes,” adding: “They were given three options: convert to Islam, pay a jizya tax [for non-Muslims], or leave their homes with nothing but the clothes on their back. No matter which option they chose, the outcome was always the same. ISIS would torture, maim and behead all that were in their reach.”

Sandra Raheem testified that ISIS’s advances forced her family to flee their hometown and take refuge in an Iraqi morgue. “Upon reaching where the morgue was, they met with other refugees, and they had no food, no water, minimal clothing, minimal shelter,” Raheem said with translation by Bishop Younan. “A large portion of the elderly population actually passed,” she added. “Many of the children became very sick and many died because of unsanitary conditions and lack of basic necessities to survive.”

Reine Hanna recounted meeting directly with many of ISIS’s female victims. “Our clients include a woman whose cousin was raped for refusing to convert to Islam,” she said, “an elderly woman who could do nothing but stand by as an 8-year-old girl was taken from her village and abducted, liberal Muslim women who have been threatened for not wearing the traditional hijab, and a bereaved mother whose children have been missing since the rise of ISIS in Iraq.”

Senator Kirk noted the Assyrian-American community can help the federal government given that many of the community’s members have strong language skills and personal ties to territories threatened by ISIS occupation.


In early October, the United Nations released a report detailing ISIS’s horrific human rights violations in Iraq. ISIS’s violence has displaced over 2 million Iraqis, and the terrorist movement captured and killed more than 1,500 Iraqi troops stationed at the former U.S. Camp Speicher military base. In August, ISIS reportedly kidnapped nearly 500 women and girls, selling them as sex slaves or giving them to terrorist fighters as a reward.

The U.S. Senate Human Rights Caucus was formed in the spirit of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, which former Congressmen Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and John Porter (R-Ill.) created in 1983. Later re-named the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, its members have been working to defend and advocate for internationally recognized human rights in a nonpartisan manner for more than 30 years. In this vein, the Senate Human Rights Caucus will continue the Commission’s legacy by highlighting and defending key human rights issues throughout the world. In bringing congressional-level attention to global human rights issues that the public may be unaware of, the Caucus will be able to provide a voice to the voiceless and work to provide a lifeline to those suffering at the hand of repressive regimes.

The Senate Human Rights Caucus held its first hearing on September 10, 2014, in Washington, D.C., entitled “A Region at Risk: ISIS’s Barbaric Tactics in Iraq & Syria.” Senators Kirk and Coons heard similar testimonies as those provided today, including from Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski, who detailed ISIS’s horrific tactics and objectives and called for their ultimate defeat.

Witness Biographies

Reine Hanna, an Assyrian-American from Skokie, Ill., is currently working as a paralegal at an immigration firm in the Chicagoland area. She is the director of various Assyrian organizations, including the Assyrian National Council of Illinois and the Assyria Foundation.

Dr. Khalil Marrar is a professor at Governors State University and previously belonged to the faculty of DePaul University. He has taught courses in history, religion and political science. While specializing in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, his research interests include international relations, American culture, foreign policy, political organizations and terrorism. He has served in editorial positions at the Arab Studies Quarterly and the Association of Arab-American University Graduates.

Sandra Raheem is an Iraqi national who applied for asylum in the United States due to the ISIS threat against her hometown. She is an Assyrian Christian whose family fled their home after many families in their town were forced by ISIS to pay a tax called a jizya. Many families were killed, even if the tax was paid. Sandra’s family was forced to abandon their home and temporarily live in a morgue with no access to food or water while fleeing ISIS.

Bishop Mar Gewargis Younan was born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1980 — at the start of the Iran/Iraq war. Due to the growing turmoil and his father’s refusal to become a Baath Party member, his family was forced to leave Iraq when he was only 40 days old. He was raised in Chicago. His Grace received his education on Church liturgy and Sacraments, with a focus on the Assyrian/Aramaic language in Chicago. He served as a Deacon at Saint Odisho Church in Chicago for 20 years, and was ordained a priest in 2012. In June 2014, His Grace was elevated to the rank of Bishop for the Chicago Diocese of the Ancient Church of the East. He obtained a Bachelor of Science in Management degree from Northeastern Illinois University.

Assyrian International News Agency

So, Islamic State, You Want to Rule a Caliphate

By , October 29, 2014 9:43 am
The Islamic State’s financial model can only take it so far. Pictured: the government building in the Islamic State’s capital city, Raqqa. (Photo: Beshr O / Flickr Commons)

The Islamic State’s financial model can only take it so far. Pictured: the government building in the Islamic State’s capital city, Raqqa. (Photo: Beshr O / Flickr Commons)

In an invaluable article at the Barcelona Centre for World Affairs site titled How Long Will ISIS Last Economically?, Eckart Woertz delves into the Islamic State’s finances.

SIS is not a mere terror organization, but an insurgency that follows a classic “Clear, Hold, Build” strategy. The aim is state building as the very name ISIS suggests. However, holding territory implies provision of services to the governed population such as food, energy and water and possibly health and education. The longer it holds territory, ISIS needs to worry about much more than just funding military operations. It now rules over roughly 8 million people. It does not assume a veneer of statehood for nothing; at its home base in Al Raqqa it has interfered in school curriculums, repaired roads and launched a consumer protection authority for food standards.

Woertz estimates that the Islamic State’s revenues “range between $ 1 million and $ 5 million per day. Oil is probably the most important one followed by various forms of looting, local taxation, extortion and ransom. Foreign inflows have also played a role, but have not been as dominant as often assumed.”

Regarding the oil:

To assume that ISIS could build a thriving oil business on the remnants of Syria’s ailing oil industry is a stretch of the imagination.

But …

Should ISIS be able to take possession of larger oil fields in Iraq, however, it would open whole new avenues for its economic longevity. This would be a major threat, although even then developing Iraq’s energy sector may well be beyond the capacities of an international pariah like ISIS.

Another source of income, besides theft, extortion, and ransom is, oddly, “angel” investors. Woertz:

Gulf donors have been described as “angel investors” for jihadist groups in Syria who provided the seed financing for their domestic operations, very much like a venture fund for tech start-ups. During 2012 and 2013 Gulf countries poured hundreds of millions into the Syrian civil war, often in competition with each other.

In another comparison with the financial world, he writes:

Like an overvalued stock company, ISIS needs to create a constant news flow to draw in funds and attention. … The economic base of ISIS is a Ponzi scheme of looting that is in constant need of expansion.

As for accelerating the decline of the Islamic State:

Drying up ISIS’s revenues offer credible policy approaches to fight it. Financial sanctions would have only limited reach because of ISIS largely functions on a cash basis, but curtailing of oil smuggling by the Turkish and Iraqi governments and the KRG would severely hurt ISIS. Gulf governments would need to crackdown on private donors and the flow of recruits and moral support to ISIS territory. The same is true for western and especially European governments. Any solution of the quagmire in Iraq and Syria would require regional powers like Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia to look beyond their narrow interests and step up to the occasion.

Foreign Policy In Focus

Why Does No-one Remember the Assyrian Victims of Turkey’s Christian Holocaust?

By , October 29, 2014 9:41 am

A famous painting by Leonardo de Mango, showing the stoning of the Christian population of Siirt in 1915 (Wikipedia).You may have heard of the Armenian genocide. You’ve probably heard of Stalin’s starvation of the Ukrainians, and the atrocities committed by the European empires in Africa. You’ve definitely heard of the Holocaust.

Yet chances are you’ve never heard of the Assyrian genocide, even though this was just as brutal and costly. It was perpetrated alongside the Armenian massacre, yet only one of the twin programmes has lived on in infamy.

The Assyrian genocide occurred 100 years ago, and decimated a people whose territory stretched from the areas now known as Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Egypt. Today, this very same area is the world’s fiercest conflict zone, the wounds which opened a century ago showing no sign of healing.

Which makes it all the more important that we remember the horrors inflicted on the Assyrians all those years ago.

Ethnic cleansing

Historians today describe the Assyrian Genocide as a programme of extermination carried out by the Ottoman Empire upon the Chaldean, Syriac and Assyrian populations. All three peoples were Christian, and the Ottomans attempted to wipe them out during a wider ethnic cleansing campaign, which also included the Armenian and Greek genocides.

The Assyrian extermination campaign actually lasted from 1914 to 1923, Turkey’s rulers carrying on the killing long after their empire had been dismantled. The death toll varies depending which historical scholar or record you consult.

“Estimates on the overall death toll vary, with some contemporary reports placing the figure at 270,000, and estimates range to as many as 750,000,” reported Dr. Israel W. Charny, the editor of two-volume Encyclopedia of Genocide and executive director of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide.

Charny groups the Assyrian Genocide together with the massacre of Greeks and Armenians in a “Christian Holocaust”, which he claims was “the precursor to the Jewish Holocaust in WWII.”

“To this day, the Turkish government ostensibly denies having committed this genocide” Charny adds.

Ottoman Jihad against native Christian populations

Sabri Atman, who is also one of the most well-known lecturers on the Assyrian Genocide, said in an interview with the Armenian Weekly this year that the Ottoman Empire was bent on “ethnically annihilating all non-Muslim citizens living under the Ottoman occupation, with the objective of homogenising Turkey in accordance with their goal to create a nation of ‘One Religion’.

“Their motto was ‘One Nation, One Religion.’ To achieve their goal, jihad (or holy war) was declared on Nov. 14, 1914 in all of the Ottoman mosques… The main plot was to get rid of all the Christian minorities of Turkey,.”

Atman added that “Denial is a form of continuation of the genocide. It is to be killed twice.”

Hannibal Travis, a Professor of Law at Florida International University, wrote an article on the Assyrian Genocide in 2006, suggesting that “the Ottoman Empire’s widespread persecution of Assyrian civilians during World War I constituted a form of genocide… a deliberate and systematic campaign of massacre, torture, abduction, deportation, impoverishment, and cultural and ethnic destruction.

“Established principles of international law outlawed this war of extermination against Ottoman Christian civilians before it was embarked upon, and ample evidence of genocidal intent has surfaced in the form of admissions by Ottoman officials.

“Nevertheless, the international community has been hesitant to recognize the Assyrian experience as a form of genocide.”

The Assyrian Genocide still causes controversy today. Here Turks in Australia protest their state parliament’s adoption of a motion recognising the genocide (photo Reuters).

Finally, a monument

An Assyrian genocide monument, in memory of the Assyrian victims of the Christian genocide of the Ottoman Empire during World War One, was erected on 19 October in Athens. The monument’s opening was attended by Kyriakos Betsaras, the president of the Assyrian Union of Greece, as well as the current and former Mayors of Athens.

Sabri Atman spoke at the ceremony, called on “Turkey and all nations around the world to recognise this historical reality,” adding: “In recent years, Assyrians have been working diligently towards greater public awareness and worldwide recognition of the Assyrian Genocide.

“The ethnic extermination of hundreds of thousands of our people and the destruction of our lands forever changed the demographics of the area we called home for thousands of years. We Assyrians standing here today are the children of a nation which was almost completely eliminated from the face of the earth,” he said.

“I’m also proud to stand in front of you today knowing that over 20 countries have officially recognized the Armenian Genocide. It is my hope that in the future, countries will continue to follow in this pattern, and will also include the recognition of Assyrians and Greeks as victims of the same Genocide.”

Monuments commemorating the victims of the Assyrian genocide have also been erected in Sweden, Belgium, France, Armenia, Australia, Wales and the United States. Whether Turkey follows suit, however, remains to be seen.

Assyrian International News Agency