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Iraq PM Warns Arab States Not to Join US Airstrikes

By , October 2, 2014 4:26 pm

Iraq PM Warns Arab States Not to Join US Airstrikes
By: Jason Ditz on: 02.10.2014 [07:41 ] (168 reads)

Iraq PM Warns Arab States Not to Join US Airstrikes
Also Says No Foreign Ground Troops Are Welcome
by Jason Ditz, October 01, 2014

In the escalating US airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, the Obama Administration has touted the international nature of the occupation, pointing out that multiple Gulf Nations, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are taking part.

Not so with the US airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, and Prime Minister Hayder Abadi today reiterated that the Arab states were not welcome to join in on the air war in his country.

The decision is not a minor one, as Shi’ite-dominated Iraq is not on good terms with the Sunni Arab Gulf nations. They are seen by many in the Shi’ite community as tacit backers of ISIS, or at the least other Sunni Islamist factions.

With respect to the US air war in Iraq, that leaves European nations as the only others involved, with a handful of British and French planes involved, and some Danish planes en route.

Abadi also reiterated his opposition to any foreign ground troops in the war, insisting that only Iraqi ground troops were needed to defeat ISIS with the provision of air support from the US and others. (en) RSS feed for articles and news

Who Buys Islamic State’s Illegal Oil?

By , October 1, 2014 8:15 pm

Who Buys Islamic State’s Illegal Oil?

By John Lee.

A report by Chris Dalby of finds that the 11 oil fields that IS controls in Iraq and Syria have made it a largely independent financial machine.

Its fields in Iraq alone are thought to produce between 25,000 and 40,000 barrels of oil per day, earning it an estimated $ 1.2 million [1.4 billion Iraqi dinars] daily, while adding the Syrian fields brings this to nearly $ 3 million.

The oil is sold at a discount of anything up to 75 percent.

Luay al-Khatteeb, the director of the Iraq Energy Institute, told CNN:

“The crude is transported by tankers to Jordan via Anbar province, to Iran via Kurdistan, to Turkey via Mosul, to Syria’s local market and to the Kurdistan region of Iraq, where most of it gets refined locally.

“Turkey has turned a blind eye to this and may continue to do so until they come under pressure from the West to close down oil black markets in the country’s south.”


(Oil image via Shutterstock)

Iraq Business News

Ex-CIA contractor: US aiding ex-Soviet states to attack Russia

By , September 4, 2014 10:53 am

Ex-CIA contractor: US aiding ex-Soviet states to attack Russia
By: Press TV on: 03.09.2014 [23:04 ] (50 reads)

Ex-CIA contractor: US aiding ex-Soviet states to attack Russia

Wed Sep 3, 2014 5:51PM GMT

US President Barack Obama’s efforts in Estonia to form a coalition against Russia is a “diversion” and illustrates the “height of hypocrisy,” an American author and former CIA and NSA contractor says.

Steven D. Kelley made the comments after he was asked by Press TV about Obama’s statement in Estonia on Wednesday that the United States will not be intimidated by ISIL militants after the beheading of a second American journalist and will build a coalition to “degrade and destroy” the group.

Obama flew to Estonia as part of a 4-day European trip to hold talks with leaders of the NATO military alliance as tensions escalate between the West and Russia over the crisis in Ukraine.

The US president also announced plans to send military units and aircraft to the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to reassure those countries of their security amid the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
“He (Obama) talks about forming a coalition to deal with the problem of ISIL while he is trying to form a coalition of former Soviet satellites to form a basis for the purpose of attacking Russia.”

Obama is using the ISIL beheading of US journalist Steven Sotloff “as a diversion from what he’s doing over there in the Baltics,” Kelley told Press TV on Wednesday. “This seems to be the height of hypocrisy.”

He argued that the US president is attempting to form a coalition against Russia for its activities in Ukraine while people of eastern Ukraine are “under attack” by the US, EU and NATO.

Some Western countries and the Kiev government accuse Moscow of having a hand in the crisis in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian forces are engaged in fierce battles with government forces.

Russia denies the allegations. (en) RSS feed for articles and news

Tortured and Raped by Israel, Persecuted by the United States

By , September 3, 2014 10:28 pm
Rasmea Odeh (Photo: Arab American Action Network)

Rasmea Odeh (Photo: Arab American Action Network)

Twenty-two-year-old Rasmea Odeh, along with 500 other Palestinians, was arrested in 1969 by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during a massive security sweep following the 1967 war and occupation of the West Bank.

At the time, as now, Palestinians who were detained by the IDF were later charged with crimes they did not commit in order to justify their detention.

Charged with bombing a supermarket, while in prison, Odeh was tortured with electrical shock and raped with batons. Her father was tortured in front of her.

IDF personnel even attempted to make her father rape her.

She was beaten regularly with metal rods, kicked, threatened, humiliated, denied medical care and access to a bathroom, and almost needless to say, was denied access to legal resources.

She was made to watch a Palestinian man literally tortured to death.

She eventually signed a confession to stop IDF personnel from continuing to torture her father.

In March 1979, Odeh was finally released with 60 other prisoners as part of a prisoner exchange for an Israeli soldier. Shortly thereafter she traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, where she gave testimony regarding the torture she suffered at the hands of the IDF.

At the end of the narrative of her torture and imprisonment by the Israelis, she said, “It may have been 10 years, but it felt like 100 years.”

Odeh lived in Lebanon after that, then Jordan, until in 1994 she was able to move to the United States to live, since her father was a US citizen.

Ten years later, she became active in the Arab-American community in Chicago, and became the deputy executive director of the Arab American Action Network (AAAN), a community-based nonprofit that provides social services and advocacy, campaigns against anti-Arab discrimination, and organizes for the Arab-American community in the greater Chicago area.

Then, in 2013, 19 years after arriving in the United States and nine years after receiving US citizenship, Odeh was indicted by the US government and charged with immigration fraud, stemming from other charges pulled from her 35-year-old IDF file.

Read the full story at Truthout

Dahr Jamail

Almost as Surprising as Islamic State’s Explosive Growth: Its Baath Military Leadership

By , August 28, 2014 9:53 am
Top members of the Islamic State met at the U.S. detention center Camp Bucca in Iraq. (Photo: demostene35 / Flickr)

Top members of the Islamic State met at the U.S. detention center Camp Bucca in Iraq. (Photo: demostene35 / Flickr)

At the New York Times, Ben Hubbard and Eric Schmitt report that Islamic State (which the Times still calls ISIS) chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi “handpicked many of his deputies from among the men he met while a prisoner in American custody at the Camp Bucca detention center a decade ago.” They continue:

He had a preference for military men, and so his leadership team includes many officers from Saddam Hussein’s long-disbanded army.

They include former Iraqi officers like Fadel al-Hayali, the top deputy for Iraq, who once served Mr. Hussein as a lieutenant colonel, and Adnan al-Sweidawi, a former lieutenant colonel who now heads the group’s military council.

The pedigree of its leadership … helps explain its battlefield successes: Its leaders augmented traditional military skill with terrorist techniques refined through years of fighting American troops, while also having deep local knowledge and contacts. ISIS is in effect a hybrid of terrorists and an army. … it fights more like an army than most insurgent groups, holding territory and coordinating operations across large areas.

Michael Knights of the conservative Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Hubbard and Schmitt that “it was no surprise that so many officers from Mr. Hussein’s era had joined ISIS. Discontent in the military was widespread near the end of his rule, and underground Islamist movements were gaining strength, even inside the military.

In other words, the Middle East is still suffering the effects of Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 2 issued by CPA administrator Paul Bremmer and the Defense Department, which ordered the Iraqi military Saddam Hussein disbanded.

Foreign Policy In Focus

Inside ISIS: The Islamic State’s War on Minorities

By , August 28, 2014 4:08 am

I was on Swedish Radio the other day, speaking about the importance of creating a safe haven in northern Iraq to protect Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs, Yazidis and the other minorities who are facing ethnic cleansing there. I told listeners stories of rape, murder, and pillage. I told them about women being kidnapped and sold into sex slavery, of children being abducted.

Suddenly, the host interjected: “Is this really true? Can we believe this?”

I told him I have been bearing witness to these atrocities for months now, and members of these communities had warning of the potential of such monstrous events taking place for a decade now. We saw this coming.

The next question most people have is: “Why is this happening?”

I thought I would try and provide some answers. I called a man — Abu Adil, who cannot be further identified because of his connection wtih ISIS — who I have been following for a couple of years. When I first came across Abu Adil, he was part of the Free Syrian Army, at that time the strongest of the groups fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

We got in touch after Abu Adil put a video on YouTube in which he boasted that his unit had an Assyrian Christian fighting with them. Around that time, persecution against Christians by rebel militias was becoming more widely known, and President Assad was trying to rally support among Christians and the international community by claiming that only he could protect Christians, and that the terrorist groups fighting him would slaughter them if his regime collapsed.

I wrote a report, Between the Barbed Wire, which revealed the atrocities being committed against Assyrians, Armenians and other non-Muslims going unreported within the broader narratives of the Syrian Civil War. In an interview about the kidnapping of two bishops in Aleppo in Syria, the former leader of the Syrian opposition George Sabra, a Christian, claimed that I was fabricating these atrocities, so I asked him to put me in touch with one of the leaders of the more Islamist elements of the opposition. I wanted to hear that I was wrong directly from them. A couple of weeks later I got in touch with Abu Adil who told me that I was being deceived by Bashar al-Assad’s propaganda machine: that the President was manipulating us into believing that groups like Abu Adil’s were persecuting Christians in order to win our support.

That was more than a year ago. At that time, Abu Adil referred to himself as a freedom fighter trying to bring down a dictator. I spoke to Abu Adil again last Sunday. He now tells a very different story.

“You have to understand, Mr. Kino, that if I or we don’t try to get you on the correct path — towards finding Allah (God) and following the right prophet — I will be charged, not you. I have to save my own soul, own life, in fact. My sole task is to open your eyes, to make you follow us and be part of the great Caliphate.”

This rhetoric reminded me of what an Imam in Mardin, Southeast Turkey, told me. I’m one of the coordinators of SineMardin, an international film festival that takes place every June, and during the 2013 festival, two producers, two directors and I were having lunch outdoors. After I got back from the bathroom, I saw all four sitting quietly while an elderly gentlemen with a beard and a hat was speaking. Our driver translated from Turkish to English.

“I’m here to save your souls. You must understand that soon a Caliphate will be born and the whole world will become Muslim. It is written. So follow us while you have the chance.”

We smiled. A Caliphate? I asked the Imam if he was threatening us. “On the contrary, I’m enlightening you, I’m saving you,” was his answer. He asked the filmmakers which religion they followed. One of them, a Belgian, said he is an atheist. The Imam had never heard of such a thing. I explained.

“So you don’t believe in anything? But you are European, and that means you are Christian.”

We tried to make him understand that not all Europeans are Christians but gave up after a while. He then warned us that a day would come when we would regret not having a God or worshipping the wrong God.

“To be Christian, for example, is to worship a piece of wood, a cross, and that’s against God’s wishes. For that, Christians will be punished.”

He went on to say that to pray in the language of Jesus — or to speak it — is a sin. There is only one prophet, he said, and we should pray in and speak his language, Arabic. My heart jumped.

This man was telling me these words in a part of what use to be the Ottoman Empire and where almost a century ago they tried to slaughter every Christian they could find, in the genocide against Armenians, Pontic Greeks, Assyrians and Yazidies. He was speaking to an Assyrian whose grandmother lived in this city, whose ancestors going back centuries had developed a culture, a language, and a history on this soil, and he was wantonly declaring his intention to decimate that heritage because of his bigotry. ??I wanted to rebuke the Imam, but before I got a chance to, my Muslim friend told him that he was a disgrace to Islam, going around threatening people in restaurants.

And now, speaking to Abu Adil, I thought of the Imam, and my heartbeat started to quicken.

“Mr. Kino, first I was with the Free Syrian Army, but in time I realised that I must follow Allah’s wishes. The only fight we need to fight is that of our prophet, Allah and our Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”

A Caliphate needs a Caliph, a successor to Muhammed, as the Imam would have known, and now they had him.

“You know, all the true Muslims will come here: it is written, it is meant to be. They are coming from all the infidel countries: America, Great Britain, all over Europe, and of course, all the Muslim countries. In our Caliphate, we live according to the Holy Quran. And we are free: in mind, soul and body. You should come and see how happy everyone is.”

Happy? I asked him about the kidnapped children.

“We have not kidnapped any children. We have saved them. Now they will grow in accordance with the right path — that of the Holy Quran — instead of living in sin with their parents who don’t know what’s best for themselves or their kids. Their parents should thank us.”

He called to mind a mother in Syria whose daughter had disappeared 24 hours earlier. She had only been able to reach her daughter’s mobile phone once, and a male voice answered.

“Your daughter is alive and well. Congratulations! Tomorrow she will be initiated into the True Faith. She will be honored by being wedded to one of our sons. Praise Allah.”

I asked Abu Adil what he thought about that conversation.

“He is correct. The daughter has been brought to the right way.”

So I asked about Niqah Jihad. Did he know what that is?

“Of course I do: women from all over the world come to join our holy war. They are doing their part by letting men relax. But they are not doing it in sin, they are getting married.”

Niqah Jihad is another new term that we have been forced to learn since ISIS invaded our consciousness. ‘Niqah’ means marriage. But in practice a woman ‘marries’ many men a day. An Imam weds the couple, then stands in front of a room while the man rapes his wife. He then divorces them. Now she is ready for another marriage, and another divorce.

I ask him before he goes to eat dinner. “What are your goals?”

“We have reached our aim: we don’t need funds from Turkey, America and Europe and Saudi Arabia anymore. We have our own resources now. We have only one goal left and that is to set the entire world onto the right path. We are going to free Jerusalem.”

He was about to hang up but I needed one more answer: “Is it true that they want to destroy Iran?”

“Of course we will take over Iran. We have followers all over the country. The Shi’a regime will be destroyed forever. We have already started to put our plans into effect.”

The prospect of a consolidated IS invading Iran raises the spectre of another World War. The whole region will quake, and with it, the rest of the planet.

I wanted to ask many more questions, but Abu Adil’s dinner was getting cold. My last question was about Abu Banat. What was the latest?

“Don’t worry about him. Turkey hasn’t released him yet.”

Abu Banat, born in Dagestan, became one of ISIS’s most renowned butchers. He was the leader of one of the terrorist cells in Aleppo, Syria. One day he needed to drive to Turkey to meet new recruiters, bringing with him some suicide belts and other “equipment.” A local policeman stopped and interrogated Abu Banat, asking what he was doing in this small Turkish city. There appeared to be no wrongdoing and Abu Banat was free to drive to Istanbul. The same night the local policemen realised where they recognised the man with the long beard and the funny clothes: YouTube clips of beheadings.

The policeman informed his colleagues in Istanbul and Abu Banat was arrested. The locations the Turkish police raided were loaded with terrorist gear.

Documents that I have demonstrate that during the course of the interrogation, Abu Banat was surprised at being arrested: he couldn’t understand why it had happened. He was established and supported by the Turkish intelligence: they are his friends, he said.

That folly of that support is now being shown by the increasingly autonomous nature of IS. IS now controls the main areas of Syrian oil and gas production and it has also looted large amounts of cash and gold from banks it has taken over. It has stolen weapons from the Iraqi Army, supplied by America, using them to fight the Syrian and Iraqi armies. This entity is organising itself into a state everyday, and the stronger it becomes, the more effectively it can advance its manifesto of global domination under principles of slavery, rape, and murder. A group established on such a mandate can only become more violent over time spent in constant combat and with increased means. Adil’s story of increasing extremism has become a pattern affecting the behaviour of the whole organisation, as the recent horrific mass murder and expulsion of Yazidis and the slaughter of 700 Sunni tribesmen in Syria shows.

The Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs is going to Erbil and Baghdad to see how Sweden and Europe can best help Iraq.

If a safe haven for minorities in northern Iraq is not created, the world will send a message to IS that they can get away with violently imposing their will, however they wish. Not only do we need to allow Assyrians, Yazidis, and other minorities to return safely to their homes, we must build a meaningful place for them in an Iraq that treats and protects its citizens equally, regardless of ethnicity, and promotes a civic and national identity.

But there is yet more work to do if the region is to be saved from total chaos.The policies of Turkey and the Gulf States — supposed allies of the West — must be publicly condemned.

For too long, these states have sponsored and encouraged the same terrorism that they wish to keep at bay from their own countries through authoritarian rule. We are reaping what they have sowed. They have created a chaotic force that has consolidated, is growing ever more self-sufficient, and is knocking on their borders. For too long the people of the Middle East — and the most vulnerable of us have suffered disproportionately for this — have been forced to choose between tyranny and chaos. We deserve security and freedom together.

Nuri Kino is a Swedish-Assyrian investigative journalist, author and founder of A Demand For Action — an initiative working in 15 countries for the protection of Assyrian Christians and other minorities in the Middle East.

Assyrian International News Agency

Seven European States Now Arming Kurds

By , August 27, 2014 10:52 am

Seven European States Now Arming Kurds

By John Lee.

The Pentagon–home to the US Department of Defence–has announced that there are now a total of 7 countries arming Kurdish forces in Iraq.

A spokesman said those nations were Britain, Canada, Albania, Croatia, Denmark, Italy and France. Germany may soon follow. In a sign of the sudden onset of the crisis, a source in the Kurdish Regional Government noted that there were now as many as 300,000 Kurdish “Peshmerga” forces.

If this is the case, it represents a 200% increase in men under arms in the Kurdish region, to confront the threat of the so called “Islamic State”.

The Pentagon statement comes as Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Iran has already supplied arms to the Kurds, in another sign of how desperate the situation is for embattled units confronting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). 

However, Kurdish and Iraqi forces have recently been making advances against ISIL, in some cases backed by US air strikes, such as in the re-taking of the Mosul dam, but in other cases unassisted by US air power.

(Source: Voice of America)

Iraq Business News

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