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Islamic State’s Persecution Of Christians Is A ‘Crime Against Humanity’

By , August 3, 2014 5:35 am

In this Saturday, July 19, 2014 photo, displaced Christians who fled the violence in Mosul, pray at Mar Aframa church in the town of Qaraqoush on the outskirts of Mosul (AP Photo).Iraq’s Christians are begging the world for help. Is anybody listening?

Since capturing the country’s second largest city of Mosul in early June, the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, has ordered Christians to convert to Islam, pay taxes levied on non-Muslims, or die. The extremist Sunni group is also persecuting and murdering Turkmen and Shabaks, both Muslim religious minorities.

Human rights lawyer Nina Shea described the horror in Mosul to me: “(The Islamic State) took the Christians’ houses, took the cars they were driving to leave. They took all their money. One old woman had her life savings of $ 40,000, and she said, ‘Can I please have 100 dollars?’, and they said no. They took wedding rings off fingers, chopping off fingers if they couldn’t get the ring off.”

“We now have 5,000 destitute, homeless people with no future,” Shea said. “This is a crime against humanity.”

For the first time in 2,000 years, Mosul is devoid of Christians. “This is ancient Nineveh we are talking about,” Shea explained. “They took down all the crosses. They blew up the tomb of the prophet Jonah. An orthodox Cathedral has been turned into a mosque. … They are uprooting every vestige of Christianity.” University of Mosul professor Mahmoud Al ‘Asali, a Muslim, bravely spoke out against the Islamic State’s purging of Christians and was executed.

Lebanon-based Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younnan, who heads the Syrian Catholic Church, called the crisis “religious cleansing” in an interview. “I want to tell American Christians to stand up, wake up and no longer be a silent majority. American-elected representatives need to stand up for their principles on which the U.S. has been founded: the defense of religious freedom … and respect for human rights.”

Mosul’s Christians have fled to Kurdistan, which is providing refuge. Going back to Mosul is not an option: The Islamic State has given their houses and businesses away. There is nothing to go back to even if the Islamic State left.

Virginia Republican Rep. Frank Wolf has taken to the House floor three times in the past week to plead for action from the U.S. and world community.

Wolf told me, “The Kurds have done a good job, but they are bearing the burden. President Obama should thank and encourage the Kurds for protecting the Christians. He also needs to provide (humanitarian aid), including funds for water and food.”

Though many Iraq War boosters have claimed that keeping U.S. troops there would have avoided this atrocity, Shea pointed out that a million Christians left Iraq in the decade before the Islamic State’s purge campaign. The U.S. invasion “did not benefit the Christians at all. Back in 2007, jihadists moved into Baghdad’s Christian Dora neighborhood and did just what they are doing in Mosul now. We had 100,000 troops on the ground and we pushed them out, but the Christians never got back their property.”

Patriarch Younan concurred, telling me, “Christians used to live (peacefully) and get educated. But since the invasion in 2003, there is…no safety.”

Assyrian International News Agency

Data from United States Undermines Canadian Dollar

By , July 30, 2014 9:40 am

Many 100-CAD notesThe Canadian dollar dropped against its US counterpart today, reaching a lowest level in more than a month, pressured down by signs of economic growth in the United States. The currency also retreated against the euro but managed to log gains versus the Japanese yen.

US economy expanded 4 percent in the second quarter of this year, faster than was expected. It is not necessarily bad for the Canadian currency in a long run as the United States is the biggest trading partner of Canada, meaning that economic expansion in the USA leads to improving prospects for Canada’s exports. Yet for now Forex traders are selling commodity-related currencies, such as the Australian and the Canadian dollars.

As for economic news from Canada itself, indicators were somewhat mixed. The Raw Materials Price Index rose 1.1 percent in June, mainly driven by higher prices for crude energy products. At the same time, the Industrial Product Price Index slipped 0.1 percent.

USD/CAD jumped from 1.0852 to 1.0908 as pf 15:21 GMT today, trading near the highest rate since June 10. EUR/CAD advanced from 1.4550 to 1.4592. CAD/JPY edged higher from 94.06 to 94.27.

If you have any questions, comments or opinions regarding the Canadian Dollar, feel free to post them using the commentary form below.

Forex News

Iraq Appears Split Into Three States

By , July 29, 2014 12:10 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assyrian International News Agency

Syria Becoming Home to Two Competing Islamic States

By , July 25, 2014 4:21 pm

(AFP) — A new power struggle has emerged within the Syrian rebellion after Al-Qaeda announced it aims to create an Islamic “emirate” to compete with rival jihadist group, the Islamic State (IS).

As with IS in its early days, when it was still known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Al-Qaeda affiliate the Al-Nusra Front is spreading its zone of influence, taking over strategically located villages, and competing with other rebel groups.

On July 11, an audio recording attributed to Al-Nusra’s chief Abu Mohammad al-Jolani was distributed via YouTube, in which he announced the group’s intention to establish an Islamic “emirate”.

“The time has come, O loved ones, to create an emirate in the Levant,” Jolani said, adding that its borders will be with “the regime, those who exaggerate (the Islamic State), the corrupt ones (the rebels),” and the Kurds.

The audio recording emerged two weeks after IS proclaimed an Islamic “caliphate” straddling Syria and Iraq.

Days later, for the first time in Syria’s war, battles erupted between Al-Nusra and their rebel allies from a patchwork of opposition groups.

The first major fight was in the Jisr al-Shughur area of Idlib province, near the northwestern border with Turkey, in which dozens of fighters on both sides died, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Al-Nusra and rebels have also since fought each other in Daraa province in the south, and Aleppo in the north.

Activists say the change is in part due to the fact that Al-Nusra has been significantly weakened in recent months by the fighting against IS and is now seeking to extend its influence once more.

- Openly at war -

IS and Al-Nusra, who both have thousands of fighters in their ranks, are rooted in Al-Qaeda in Iraq but the latter has since split with the global terror network and faced criticism from its head Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The two groups have been openly at war with each other in Syria since early this year.

In eastern Syria’s oil-rich Deir Ezzor, IS won the battle, killing hundreds of Al-Nusra fighters and forcing those who survived either to flee or to submit.

According to Abu Yasmin, a rebel in Idlib province in Syria’s northwest, “Al-Nusra is going through a real crisis. Its announcement that it wants an emirate is a way to draw new jihadists into its ranks. On the ground, it is pushing to create an emirate exclusively under its control.”

Al-Nusra first emerged in Syria’s war at the end of 2011 — a year and a half before IS appeared on the scene.

Unlike IS, Al-Nusra integrated well into the Syrian rebellion, and claimed responsibility for major attacks on regime positions.

But some opposition fighters are now changing their view of Al-Nusra, and are even preparing to fight it.

Earlier this week, a group of moderate rebel groups — including Western-supported Hazem and the Syrian Revolutionaries Front — published a stinging statement, vowing not to cooperate with Al-Nusra.

- ‘Showing its true face’ -

Part of the backlash reflects a rising rejection of jihadism, as a whole, among rebel ranks.

Abu Yasmin told AFP via the Internet that Al-Nusra’s tactics “are about power, not about Islam. We Syrians don’t need anyone to teach us Islam.”

According to Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Al-Nusra has been pushing for exclusive control in several border areas in Idlib and Aleppo province near Turkey, and Daraa province near Jordan.

“This is exactly how IS started out,” said Abdel Rahman. “First it took control, then it announced its caliphate. We are seeing this happen again, with Al-Nusra Front.”

Abdel Rahman also told AFP that, like IS, Al-Nusra is starting to go it alone, cutting its ties with joint rebel Islamic courts that act as the de facto authority in opposition-held areas.

Al-Nusra and its Islamist rebel sympathisers, for their part, claim to be waging a campaign against “corrupt” rebel groups with questionable reputations.

“Remember, IS used to do just the same, singling out small groups and fighting them, in order to gain popular support at first while legitimising its spread of influence,” said Abdel Rahman.

The key difference, said a rebel officer who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, between IS and Al-Nusra is the latter has so far done a far better job at integrating than IS ever did.

“But now Al-Nusra is starting to show its true face. Its goals are not freedom and democracy. It wants control and sectarianism. And that’s not what our revolution is about,” said the officer.

Assyrian International News Agency

Iraq May Break Into Three Separate States in Response to Islamic Attacks: Kurdish Official

By , July 18, 2014 1:20 pm

Iraq May Break Into Three Separate States in Response to Islamic Attacks: Kurdish Official

Distribution of items for refugees in Kurdistan, Iraq, in June 2014 (photo: World Compassion Terry Law Ministries).Iraq could break apart into three separate states in response to the extremist Islamic group ISIS, which declared an “Islamic state” in Iraq and Syria, a Kurdish government official predicts.

“Baghdad seems to be pushing us into that direction, and we’re closer than ever,” said Karim Sanjari, minister of Interior for the Kurdish region, according to Christian relief group World Compassion Terry Law Ministries.

Jason Law, vice president of Operations for World Compassion, told The Christian Post in a phone interview on Thursday that Iraq splitting up into Shia, Sunni and Kurdish states is very much a real possibility.

“In my personal opinion, I think that is the only solution. Out of the people I have spoken with, that seems to be kind of the consensus. Everyone believes this is the only solution,” Law told CP.

“There needs to be a Shia, Sunni and a Kurdish state. Kurdistan is already more developed along those lines than anybody, and I think they are definitely moving forward toward declaring independence,” he continued.

“I think that’s the answer, and I think we’re seeing those lines being drawn now. It’s unfortunate that it’s taking war to do that, but I do believe that’s the solution.”

Law said that thousands of refugees fleeing Mosul and other regions in Iraq being targeted by ISIS are now living in refugee camps in the autonomous region of Kurdistan. Along with refugees from the ongoing Syrian civil war, there are as many as 750,000 people who need help with all sorts of necessities in the camps.

World Compassion is providing assistance at the refugee camps, coming and finding the items that families need, such as toiletry items, kitchen supply items, baby formula, shoes, and various other things.

“It’s a very difficult, very tough situation, especially with the time of the year it is happening. The heat is tremendous. We were there at 10 a.m. in the morning — when we arrived at camp it was over 100 degrees, and they expected it to get up to 120-125 degrees that day. It’s literally right off the highway coming off Mosul up north, in the desert. So they really are just out in the field,” Law told CP about his trip to Kurdistan in June.

The heavy weight of taking care of so many refugees is falling on the shoulders of the Kurdistan government, which has greatly welcomed help from World Compassion and other humanitarian organizations.

“[Sanjari] is super appreciative, very honoring and inviting for organizations like ours. He really believes that it’s the smaller NGOs that make the bigger difference. Some of the bigger ones, they move really slow, they can respond to an immediate crisis, but then the ongoing support can be little bit difficult,” Law said.

“He knows that we are a Christian organization, and our agenda is that we want to share the love of Christ with people. He’s a Muslim man, but he’s open to that because I genuinely believe they want to see a place where there could be a true democracy, and hopefully one day freedom of religion.”

Law said that the impact on the Kurdish regional government has been “tremendous,” because even before the breakout of the ISIS militants, it had faced cuts in its funding from the central government in Baghdad.

With the influx of refugees, the need to provide infrastructure, electricity and water has put a strain on the people themselves.

The United Nations reported on Friday that at least 5,576 Iraqi civilians have been killed this year alone in violent attacks, while more than 1.2 million people have been displaced.

“ISIL and associated armed groups have … carried out many of these attacks in a systematic manner heedless of the impact on civilians, or have systematically targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure with the intention of killing and wounding as many civilians as possible,” the report, compiled by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq and the U.N. Human Rights office, stated.

“Targets have included markets, restaurants, shops, cafes, playgrounds, schools, places of worship and other public spaces where civilians gather in large numbers.”

The militants, which have also been active in Syria, have captured several cities in Iraq, including Mosul and much of the Nineveh province.

In June, the militant group declared that an “Islamic state” has been established in Iraq and Syria, and vowed to take control over Baghdad as well.

Law explained that while Kurdistan has remained united and has managed to secure its territory from such attacks, there is tension due to the looming militant threat.

“Everybody is afraid of them. They are afraid of them, because of their radical take on Islam. We’ve seen some of the stories on the news — they’ve crucified people, [they've carried out] beheadings, they’ve tried to enforce a very strict Sharia law. So there is an element of fear because of the unknown. Even in Kurdistan, though it was safe and secure, there is definitely a sense of tension in the air, just because of the unknown,” he said.

Law noted that it is difficult to predict what ISIS’ next move will be, and whether it will be satisfied with Iraq splitting apart and with the possible formation of a Sunni state.

World Compassion, which has written about the situation at the refugee camps on its website, is seeking donations that will help it increase its relief efforts, which already provide food to 4,000 refugees each month.

“We come in with the love of Christ. For us, it’s compassion ministry, but it’s also evangelism. So we have to be careful with that, and be respectful of the local church there that we partner heavily with,” Law said.

“Our aim is that we empower the local churches that we have been connected with there for many years now, and partner with them and train and equip them to conduct relief efforts in order to build relationships with these people. So it’s not just relief, it’s also mission-focused, but carefully and tactfully because of the nature of the environment.”

Law added that the church can bring stability, hope and peace in such situations where people face instability, fear and hopelessness.

“I don’t think we need to run from these situations as a church, I think we need to run to them, and my heart is to rally the church and rally the body of Christ, even along denominational lines,” he continued.

“So let’s respond and help meet the needs of these people, so they remember Jesus and they think of Christians when they think of the people who helped them when they were at their lowest place in life.”

The World Compassion website offers various ways people can get involved to help the refugees.

Assyrian International News Agency

Taliban Debate Merits of Islamic State’s Caliphate Announcement

By , July 12, 2014 2:49 pm

WAZIRISTAN Pakistan (Reuters) — The Afghan Taliban have urged Muslims to avoid extremism and remain united, a message apparently aimed at the Islamic State (ISIL), which recently declared an Islamic caliphate in territory it controls in Iraq and Syria.

The Arabic message, posted on the Afghan Taliban’s website on Thursday and translated by SITE intelligence group, addressed fighters in Iraq and Syria whose announcement of a caliphate last month poses a direct challenge to al Qaeda’s dominance of global Islamist militancy.

“It is worthy for a shurah (consultation) council to be formed from the leaders of all the jihadi factions and the distinguished people among the experts and the scholars in Sham (Syria) in order to solve their conflicts,” the message said.

“Muslims also should avoid extremism in religion, and judging others without evidence, and distrusting one another,” it said. “They should avoid conflict and dispute, and not think their opinions are better than others. Mercy and compassion should prevail.”

On June 29, an al Qaeda offshoot previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant announced that it had renamed itself Islamic State and proclaimed its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as “Caliph” – the head of the state.

The group had fallen out with al Qaeda over its expansion into Syria, where it has carried out beheadings, crucifixions, and mass executions.

In recent weeks, fighters from the Islamic State have overrun the Iraqi city of Mosul and advanced towards the capital of Baghdad. In Syria they have captured territory in the north and east, along the border with Iraq.

Taliban spokesmen in both Pakistan and Afghanistan declined to comment on al-Baghdadi’s claim to be the global leader of all Muslims. The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are separate but allied.

Privately, some commanders said that they did not want to anger al Qaeda, who they considered a long-time ally in the fight against NATO troops in the region.

Some Taliban, including some of the younger commanders, were enthusiastic about ISIS. In small mud homes in Pakistan’s Waziristan, men eagerly debated the new movement.

Pakistan’s own insurgency is on the back foot after the military launched an offensive against the Taliban’s key stronghold last month.

Most senior commanders are in hiding. Drone strikes have depleted many of the Taliban’s and al Qaeda’s most experienced and charismatic commanders.

“We are happy with the great efforts of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Dozens of my colleagues from here are with them. Soon Sham and Iraq will be Islamic states,” said one militant in his thirties who commanded 60 men.

“I like the way of fighting … it is a very effective,” he said, wearing a vest with ammunition and hand grenades. “We need that here in Pakistan. Many of our fighters have gone there,” he added.

Younger fighters sitting on the muddy carpet around him nodded and jostled to get closer. Many had video clips from ISIL burnt on to discs that they played on a computer.

“We like the modern way of there fighting, it is really a holy war, God send us there,” said one.

But another Pakistani commander interviewed by Reuters said he doubted that many fighters considered al-Baghdadi to be their global leader.

“No militants see (al-Baghdadi) as their leader,” he said, speaking to Reuters on the phone. “But no one will talk against him.”

In the northwestern region of Bannu, where hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis displaced by the military’s latest offensive have fled, graffiti praising ISIL has appeared.

“Congratulations to the chief of Syrian organization Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” said one message on a hospital wall in front of the military’s heavily guarded cantonment area.

Two previously unknown Pakistani militant groups have also sent out messages pledging allegiance to the Islamic State, but their strength and existence could not be verified.

Editing by Nick Macfie.

Assyrian International News Agency

Beware of Isil, Rouhani warns ‘petrodollar’ states

By , June 22, 2014 3:26 pm

Beware of Isil, Rouhani warns ‘petrodollar’ states
By: afp on: 22.06.2014 [11:44 ] (224 reads)

Beware of Isil, Rouhani warns ‘petrodollar’ states

President says those nations will become their next target
Published: 15:24 June 22, 2014

Tehran: Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani warned on Sunday that Muslim states which funnel petrodollars to jihadist Sunni fighters wreaking havoc in Iraq will become their next target.

Rouhani did not name any country, but officials and media in mainly Shiite Iran have hinted that insurgents from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil) are being financially and militarily supported by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

“I advise Muslim countries that support the terrorists with their petrodollars to stop,” Rouhani said in remarks reported by the website of Iran’s state broadcaster.

“Tomorrow you will be targeted… by these savage terrorists. Wash your hands of killing and the killing of Muslims,” he added.

Isil militants have seized a swathe of Iraqi territory in a lightning offensive, with the Baghdad government’s security forces hard-pressed to prevent the advance.

Riyadh has warned that Iran-ally Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki is steering Iraq towards civil war through policies that exclude the country’s Sunni minority.

Iran says it will support Al Maliki against Isil, which is also battling the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, another Tehran ally.

Rouhani called for unity between “Shiites and Sunnis who are brothers”.

For centuries, Shiites and Sunnis have lived alongside each other in Iran, Iraq, the Levant, Lebanon, the Arabian Gulf and North Africa, in peaceful coexistence, he said.

Since Isil began its Iraq offensive, Tehran has urged Iraqis to unite against the jihadists.

“The Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds are our friends,” parliament speaker Ali Larijani said in remarks reported on the Majlis website.

“We have always insisted that all ethnic groups must have active and constructive participation in Iraq’s power structure.” (en) RSS feed for articles and news

ISIS: Common Enemy of Iran and the United States

By , June 16, 2014 6:06 am
 The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps

The advance of ISIS into Baghdad is on hold at the moment in part due to resistance from the Iraqi military and Shia militias. On Sunday, the Washington Post reported:

An Iraqi general told reporters in Baghdad that the armed forces have “regained the initiative” in recent days and are confident that Baghdad is secure. As part of the effort to protect the capital, soldiers headed into the desert to dig a trench, according to footage broadcast on local television stations.

Sure, that oughta do it. More to the point, at the Daily Beast, Eli Lake and Tim Mak think the United States can make quick work of ISIS.

President Obama has so far turned down Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s request for U.S. air strikes against the Islamic extremists taking over his country. But if Obama changes his mind, U.S. jets could be flying over Iraq in less than a day.

U.S. air bases, housing dozens of American fighters and bombers, are well within striking distance of Iraq. High-flying spy drones like the Global Hawk can just as easily fly over Iraq as Afghanistan or any other conflict zone in the region. The aircraft carrier U.S.S. George H.W. Bush is a few days’ sail away, in the North Arabian Sea. And it boasts dozens more fighters on board.

That’s why a number of retired high-ranking U.S. Air Force officers, including Lt. Gen. David Deptula, who served as the Air Force’s first deputy chief of staff for intelligence, say any strikes, if ordered, could begin almost immediately.

“If you can provide me with the appropriate intelligence we can start doing (air strikes) within 24 hours,” he told The Daily Beast.

Down, boy. Meanwhile, on Thursday, in an article that garnered widespread attention, the Wall Street Journal reported that, with ISIS gaining territory

… Iran deployed Revolutionary Guards units to Iraq, according to Iranian security officials. … Two Guards’ units, dispatched from Iran’s western border provinces on Wednesday, were tasked with protecting Baghdad and the holy Shiite cities of Karbala and Najaf, these security sources said.

Great! Let Iran handle it. Again, not so fast. The Wall Street Journal again:

The involvement of Iran would pose yet another security challenge for the White House, and raises the prospect of the U.S. and Iran fighting on the same side. The U.S. opposes Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but with Tehran is jointly supporting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

But, wrote Juan Cole at Informed Comment on Friday:

The specter of Iranian troops on Iraqi soil can only recall the first Iran-Iraq War.

Cole also reminded us:

In the looming second Iran-Iraq War, the US will be de facto allied with Iran against the would-be al-Qaeda affiliate (ISIS was rejected by core al-Qaeda for viciously attacking other militant vigilante Sunni fundamentalists in turf wars in Syria). The position of the US is therefore 180 degrees away from what it was under Reagan.

In the end, as the New York Times reports, ISIS

… has exploited widespread disenchantment among the country’s Sunnis with the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, to align with other Sunni militant groups, such as one organization that is led by former officers of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.

Still, it would provide the United States and Iran another area of nascent cooperation, along with the nuclear talks.

Postscript: In the post cited above, Juan Cole gave us the best description ever of the difference between Shias and Sunnis.

Shiites are more like traditional Catholics in venerating members of the holy family and attending at their shrines. Contemporary Salafi Sunni Islam is more like the militant brand of Protestantism of the late 1500s that denounced intermediaries between God and the individual and actually attacked and destroyed shrines to saints and other holy figures, where pleas for intercession were made.

Foreign Policy In Focus

New Chaldean Bishop for Eastern United States

By , May 9, 2014 5:59 am

Bishop Frank Kalabat.Chaldeans in Michigan and the eastern half of the U.S. will soon have a new religious leader, as their population grows in metro Detroit while declining in Iraq.

Based in Southfield, the founder of the American branch of the Chaldean (Iraqi Catholic) Church, Bishop Ibrahim Ibrahim, is stepping down after 32 years and will be replaced next month by a West Bloomfield priest.

Rooted in Iraq, Chaldeans are one of the oldest Christian groups in the world and speak a version of Aramaic, the language that Jesus Christ spoke. Pope Francis announced Saturday that Ibrahim, 76, will be replaced by Father Frank Kalabat, born in Kuwait in 1970 and ordained a priest in 1995, according to a news release from the Vatican’s news agency.

Kalabat, 43, has been deputy priest of Mother of God Chaldean Church in Southfield and is currently pastor of St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church in West Bloomfield.

“The whole Chaldean community is joyful for this appointment,” said Joseph Kassab, president of the Iraqi Christians Advocacy and Empowerment Institute in West Bloomfield. “Father Kalabat is very well known for his humbleness, simplicity, transparency and strong spirituality. I really see in his personality some resemblance with Pope Francis’ character and spirit.”

Born in Iraq, Bishop Ibrahim was named by Pope John Paul II in 1982 to head the American eparchy (diocese) for Chaldeans. It is separate from the Archdiocese of Detroit but still has allegiance to the pope. Known as the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle, it once covered the entire U.S.

In 2002, the diocese was split into two, for the Western and Eastern halves of the U.S. There are 105,000 Catholics who are members of the Eastern diocese, said the Vatican news release. Many of them are in metro Detroit, which has the highest concentration of Chaldeans in the U.S.

Ibrahim has been critical of the Iraq war’s effects on Chaldeans and other minorities in Iraq, saying the U.S. failed to protect them. Hundreds of thousands of Chaldeans have fled Iraq amid growing violence and religious persecution, say Chaldean leaders.

“No one is defending us,” Ibrahim told Catholic News Service in 2008 after a Chaldean archbishop was killed in Iraq. “They are killing Christians because they are Christians.”

“We know that before the invasion of the Americans in Iraq, (terrorism) was no such a thing,” Ibrahim added. “Christians and Muslims were living together, exactly like brothers and sisters, and that’s it. But since the invasion, everything changes.”

Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, praised Ibrahim for “building a diocese with 10 parishes, a re-evangelization center, Chaldean camp and most importantly a community dedicated to its faith and serving the less fortunate.”

Manna said that the incoming bishop “is one of the most humble and spiritual people I have ever known. He’s done a wonderful job connecting with the youth and always puts others first.”

Kalabat will be formally installed as the new bishop on June 14 at Mother of God church. Archbishop Allen Vigneron, head of the Archdiocese of Detroit, is to take part.

Assyrian International News Agency

Iraqi funds in the United States will not go to creditors after the lifting of immunity

By , April 23, 2014 2:23 pm