Sunday, June 29, 2014

Maliki: Iraq Deluded in Relying on US

Herewith a few excerpts from a BBC interview with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, his first with the international press since ISIS' seizure of Mosul and other parts of the Sunni heartland in Iraq. In the interview, on June 26, he announced the purchase of jets from Russia and Belarus. There have also been press reports of Iraq negotiating for the return of some 100 military jets moved to Iran during the 1991 Gulf War. Maliki insists that a proper air force would have prevented the victories of ISIS, and confesses that his government was deluded in signing a contract with the US for (yet to be delivered) F-16s.

"God willing within one week this force will be effective and will destroy the terrorists' dens," he said.

He said that the process of buying US jets had been "long-winded" and that the militants' advance could have been avoided if air cover had been in place.

Isis and its Sunni Muslim allies seized large parts of Iraq this month.

Mr Maliki was speaking to the BBC's Arabic service in his first interview for an international broadcaster since Isis - the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant - began its major offensive.

"I'll be frank and say that we were deluded when we signed the contract [with the US]," Mr Maliki said.

"We should have sought to buy other jet fighters like British, French and Russian to secure the air cover for our forces; if we had air cover we would have averted what had happened," he went on.

He said Iraq was acquiring second-hand jet fighters from Russia and Belarus "that should arrive in Iraq in two or three days". . . .

Mr Maliki also confirmed that Syrian forces had carried out air strikes against Islamist militants at a border crossing between Iraq and Syria.

He said Iraq had not requested the strikes but that it "welcomed" them.

"They carry out their strikes and we carry out ours and the final winners are our two countries," he said.

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Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki: Russian jets will turn tide, June 26, 2014, BBC. I think it's journalistic malpractice to get an important interview (such as this was trumpeted to be and in fact was) and then not publish the transcript. 

Lavrov: Kiev Should Negotiate with East

The following colloquy occurred at a press conference in Moscow with Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, on June 25. 

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Question: How do you see the process of settlement of the situation in the South-East of Ukraine?

Sergey Lavrov: It is necessary that Kiev understands the South-Eastern regions, hears their interests and then starts to agree on how to satisfy them, so that the population of the South-East lives in country named Ukraine as nationals having full rights, feeling that they have the right to do so. For this, we need to put some propositions on the table. They made their propositions.

We appeal to the Kiev authorities to stop using militants, battalions formed by Ihor Kolomoyskyi, – they are just extremists. You know that Ihor Kolomoyskyi simply refused to keep the cease fire. They control a significant part of the territory with its units. There are battalions of the National Guard made up of the Right Sector, as well as some minor units, which are not subordinate to anyone. The cessation of violence is a task not only for those who represent the Kiev regime and proclaimed a republic, but also for everyone, so that we attempt to remove from the equation some radical elements who do not answer to anyone. All of this has sense, only if the negotiations start. Read the plan of 15 items – none of them considers an equal negotiation process. There is a phrase there, that decentralisation will continue only after the implementation of all the 15 items, the majority of which envisages disarmament of the South-East without any guarantees. The plan of the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko proposes an amnesty. In this case, Kiev and the South-East must stop discussions of what will happen after disarmament: amnesty or they will be brought to another house of trade unions and burned.

In this situation, we should not talk using slogans, making up the largest part of the plan. This has probably been done expecting that the world community will say: “Yes, there is a peace plan having a beautiful name “peace plan of Petro Poroshenko””. At the same time, there is little interest in its content, and they appeal to us to implement it. Firstly, we cannot do this, because this plan should be implemented through negotiations with the South-East. Secondly, the content of the negotiation process should be “on the table”. Then people will react.

There was a meeting in Donetsk three days ago, which ended in a sufficiently constructive way despite its complicated beginning. There is an understanding that the cease fire will not be violated. However, the President of Ukraine announced that after the incident with the damaged helicopter, he can stop this regime earlier. Of course, this is a tragedy and it should be avoided. However, a military helicopter was flying in the place, where people outraged by many months of fighting hold positions around cities with peaceful civilians. If it was necessary to deliver medications, food or something else, relevant communication channels should have been used – it was necessary to inform them that a helicopter would come, would follow a certain route to land in a specific point and its cargo would be subjected to an inspection.

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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Stimson: Caution on Drones

The following are excerpts from the executive summary of the Task Force on US Drone Policy. The study was sponsored by the Stimson Institute and co-chaired by General John P. Abizaid (U.S. Army, Ret.) and Rosa Brooks.

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Strategic Questions

We are concerned that the Obama administration's heavy reliance on targeted killings as a pillar of US counterterrorism strategy rests on questionable assumptions, and risks increasing instability and escalating conflicts. While tactical strikes may have helped keep the homeland free of major terrorist attacks, existing evidence indicates that both Sunni and Shia Islamic extremist groups have grown in scope, lethality and influence in the broader area of operations in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. Furthermore, US targeted strikes also create new strategic risks. These include possible erosion of sovereignty norms, blowback and risks of a slippery slope into continual conflict.

Erosion of sovereignty norms: The US government takes the view that it has a legal right to use force in the territories of foreign sovereign states when those states are unwilling or unable" to take what the United States considers appropriate action to eliminate what it sees as imminent threats. But inevitably, assessments of what constitutes an imminent threat to the United States and what would constitute appropriate action are somewhat subjective in nature; the United States may view the use of force as justified even when US allies and partners do not. The US use of force in sovereign nations whose consent is questionable or nonexistent may encourage other states to follow suit with their own military platforms or commercial entities.

Blowback: Civilian casualties, even if relatively few, can anger whole communities, increase anti-US sentiment and become a potent recruiting tool for terrorist organizations. Even strikes that kill only terrorist operatives can cause great resentment, particularly in contexts in which terrorist recruiting efforts rely on tribal loyalties or on an economically desperate population. UAV strikes by the United States have also generated a backlash in states not directly affected by the strikes, in part due to the perception that such strikes cause excessive civilian deaths, and in part due to concerns about sovereignty, transparency, accountability and other human rights and rule of law issues.

Slippery Slope: The increasing use of lethal UAVs may create a slippery slope leading to continual or wider wars. The seemingly low-risk and low-cost missions enabled by UAV to may encourage the United States to fly such missions more often, pursuing targets with UAVs that would be deemed not worth pursuing if manned aircraft or special operation forces had to be put at risk. For similar reasons, however, adversarial states may be quicker to use force against American UAVs than against US manned aircraft or military personnel. UAVs also create an escalation risk inso-far as they may lower the bar to enter a conflict, without increasing the likelihood of a satisfactory outcome.
The US use of lethal UAVs for targeted strikes outside of hot battlefields is likely to be imitated by other states. Such potential future increase in the use of lethal UAV strikes by foreign states may cause or increase instability, and further increase the risk of wid¬ening conflicts in regions around the globe.

Lack of Strategic Analysis: In recent years, US targeted strikes involving UAVs have gone from a relative rarity to a relatively common practice in Pakistan and Yemen. As the number of strikes increases, so, too, does the strategic risk. To the best of our knowledge, however, the US executive branch has yet to engage in a serious cost-benefit analysis of targeted UAV strikes as a routine counterterrorism tool.

There are numerous non-kinetic means of combatting terrorism; some of these — e.g., efforts to disrupt terrorist communications and finances — can easily be combined with targeted strikes, while others — e.g., efforts to build friendly relationships with local communities and inspire cooperation — may be less easily combined. A serious counterterrorism strategy needs to consider carefully, and constantly reassess, the balance between kinetic action and other counterterrorism to and the potential unintended consequences of increased reliance on lethal UAVs.

Legal and Ethical Issues

Transparency: The administration has disclosed details relating to only a handful of targeted strikes against American citizens: for the most part, the identities of those targeted and the basis for their targeting have not been disclosed. Details relating to incidents that may have involved civilian casualties also have not been disclosed_ In formal court filings, the administration continues to state that it will neither confirm nor deny particular strikes, or even the existence of such strikes as a general matter.

We recognize that US officials frequently have compelling reasons to refrain from providing some of this information to the public, and we believe that US government decision-makers make targeting decisions in good faith and with genuine care. Nonetheless, we are concerned by the continuing lack of transparency relating to US targeted killings.

Law versus the Rule of Law: From a US government perspective, the United States is in an armed conflict with al-Qaida and its 'associated forces." As an international law matter, the existence of an armed conflict triggers the applicability of the law of armed conflict, which permits the United States to target al-aids operatives as enemy combatants. By extension, members of organizations that fight alongside al-Qaida are also targetable as co-belligerents — and unlike ordinary domestic law or international human rights law, the law of armed conflict does not require the United States to provide "due process" to enemy combatants before targeting them. International law also recognizes that states have the right to use armed force outside their own borders when doing so is necessary to prevent an imminent attack, and US officials have therefore argued that targeted strikes against terror suspects are permitted both under the law of armed conflict and under the international law of self-defense.

These are plausible interpretations of the law, and we disagree with those critics who have declared that US targeted killings are "illegal." But changing technologies and events have made it increasingly difficult to apply the law of armed conflict and the international law relating to the use of force in a consistent and principled manner, leading to increasing divergence between "the law" and core rule of law principles that traditionally have animated US policy.

The rise of transnational non-state terrorist organizations confounds preexisting legal categories. In a conflict so sporadic and protean, the process of determining where and when the law of armed conflict applies, who should be considered a combatant and what count as 'hostilities" is inevitably fraught with difficulty. While our military and intelligence communities have grown increasingly adept both at identifying and confirming the identities of al-Qaida affiliates and at precise and careful targeting, the criteria used to determine who might be considered targetable remain unknown to the public. Similarly, it is difficult to understand how the US government determines the imminence of unknown types of future attacks being planned by unknown individuals.

These enormous uncertainties are multiplied further when the United States relies on intelligence and other targeting information provided by a host nation government: how can we be sure we are not being drawn into a civil war or being used to target the domestic political enemies of the host state leadership?

The legal norms governing armed conflicts and the use of force look clear on paper, but the changing nature of modern conflicts and security threats has rendered them almost incoherent in practice, Basic categories such as "battlefield: "combatant" and "hostilities" no longer have clear or stable meaning. When this happens, the rule of law is threatened. The United States was founded upon rule of law principles, and historically has sought to ensure that its own actions, international law and the actions of foreign states are consistent with these principles. Today, however, despite the undoubted good faith of US decision-makers, it would be difficult to conclude that US targeted strikes are consistent with core rule of law norms.

International Precedents: From the perspective of many around the world, the United States currently appears to claim, in effect, the legal right to kill any person it determines is a member of al-Qaida or its as forces, in any state on Earth, at any time, based on secret criteria and secret evidence, evaluated in a secret process by unknown and largely anonymous individuals — with no public disclosure of which organizations are considered "associated forces" (or how combatant status is determined or how the United States defines 'participation in hostilities"), no means for anyone outside that secret process to raise questions about the criteria or validity of the evidence, and no means for anyone outside that process to identify or remedy mistakes or abuses. US practices set a dangerous precedent that may be seized upon by other states — not all of which are likely to behave as scrupulously as US officials.

Democratic Accountability: Increased US reliance on lethal UAVs in cross-border targeted strikes also poses challenges to democracy and the American system of checks and balances. While we understand the administration's reasons for considering additional transparency difficult, the effect of the lack of transparency is that the United States has been fighting what amounts to a covert, multi-year killing program. Without additional information, the citizenry cannot evaluate US targeted strikes.

Unmanned aerial vehicle strikes also raise questions about the continued efficacy of traditional congressional oversight mechanisms. The Obama administration continues to rely on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) as the primary domestic legal basis for US targeted strikes outside of "hot" battlefields, but the administration's interpretation of the AUMF is extraordinarily broad — and even many former executive branch officials question whether Congress intended to authorize such an unbounded conflict when the AUMF was passed in 2001.

The covert or unacknowledged nature of most UAV targeted strikes also makes it difficult for Congress to perform its vital oversight functions. CIA UAV strikes constitute “covert action" under US law, which means that the CIA need not give prior notice of particular covert operations to any members of Congress except the so-called 'Gang of Eight." After a covert action, the executive branch is required to notify the full intelligence committees, but not the full Congress.

By law, the US military is prohibited from engaging in covert action. It is important to emphasize, however, that the military is not prohibited from engaging in secret, unacknowledged activities that are intended to remain unacknowledged, as long as these activities constitute "traditional military activities" under US law.

From the perspective of laypersons, both the CIA and the military can thus engage in covert strikes in the colloquial sense of the term. But while covert action undertaken by the CIA requires a presidential finding and notification — even if after the fact — of the congressional intelligence committees, secret, unacknowledged strikes carried out by the US military need not be reported to the intelligence committees, as the military reports instead to the House and Senate Armed Services committees.

At best, this fragmented oversight system creates confusion and a danger that critical issues may slip through the cracks. This fragmented oversight system is particularly problematic given that in practice, the military and CIA generally work together quite closely when planning and executing targeted UAV strikes: few strikes are "all military" or "all CIA." The differing CIA and military reporting requirements create a risk of executive branch "forum shopping,' tempting the executive branch to place a given targeted strike under the direction and control of whichever entity is deemed to have the most accommodating committee members. Even when the appropriate congressional committees are fully briefed, the classified nature of targeted strikes, whether CIA or military, makes oversight a challenge.

Future Technological Developments

UAV technologies will continue to evolve rapidly. Looking into the near future, it seems likely that an increasing number of weapons will be adapted for use on UAV platforms such that any weapon developed for a manned aircraft will soon be launch-able from an unmanned aircraft. UAVs will become more interoperable, and system software likely will evolve to integrate multiple UAVs across an entire "combat cloud." Autonomous UAV capabilities will also likely be developed.

These likely future technological developments have the potential to be used both for good and for ill, and the time to discuss their potential implications is now Among other things, we will need to reevaluate existing UAV-related Federal Aviation Administration rules and export control rules; at the moment, US export control rules for UAVs do not appear well-suited to advancing US national security objectives.

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Recommendations and Report of the Task Force on US Drone Policy (pdf), The Stimson Center, June 2014, pp. 10-14

Kerry: Strategy for Iraq and Syria

John Kerry’s visit to the Middle East featured trips to Cairo, Baghdad, Erbil (in Kurdistan), Paris (to meet with Saudi, Emirati, and Jordian foreign ministers), and Jidda, Saudi Arabia (to meet with King Abdullah). There follows selections from a variety of interviews and statements regarding US policy in Iraq and Syria. The most important highlights are, first, that the United States finds the current Iraqi government unacceptable in a whole variety of ways and, second, that it wouldn't think of interfering in domestic Iraqi politics to force a solution upon them. Also, Kerry calls strenuously for a unity government in Iraq but claims not to have raised or discussed with Prime Minister Maliki the question of a salvation government. 

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Kerry’s Statement at the US Embassy in Baghdad, June 23:

So this is a critical moment for Iraq’s future. It is a moment of decision for Iraq’s leaders, and it’s a moment of great urgency. Iraq faces an existential threat, and Iraq’s leaders have to meet that threat with the incredible urgency that it demands. The very future of Iraq depends on choices that will be made in the next days and weeks. And the future of Iraq depends primarily on the ability of Iraq’s leaders to come together and take a stand united against ISIL – not next week, not next month, but now.

In each of my meetings today, I stressed that urgency and I stressed the responsibility of Iraq’s leaders to act, whether the meeting with Prime Minister Maliki, with speaker Nujaifi, with ISCI leader Hakim, or Foreign Minister Zebari, I emphasize that defending Iraq against ISIL depends largely on their ability – all of them – to form a new government and to do it quickly. It is essential that Iraq’s leaders form a genuinely inclusive government as rapidly as possible within their own constitutional framework. . . .

The President understands very clearly that supporting Iraq in the struggle at this time is part of meeting our most important responsibility: The security of the American people, fighting terrorism, and standing by our allies. Iraq is a strategic partner of the United States, with shared interests in countering the scourge of terrorism, maintaining stability of the global energy markets, and easing the sectarian polarization that plagues this region. That’s how we have to understand the stakes here in Iraq, and that’s why we have to understand the serious threat that ISIL poses to Iraq and the urgent need for Iraq’s security forces to therefore be well-supplied, well-equipped, and well-trained. That is why President Obama has prepared a range of options for Iraq, including enhanced intelligence, joint operation centers, steady supplies of munitions, and advisors to work with and support some of Iraq’s best units.

With this support, we are living up to our Strategic Framework Agreement. The support will be intense, sustained, and if Iraq’s leaders take the necessary steps to bring the country together, it will be effective. It will allow Iraqi security forces to confront ISIL more effectively and in a way that respects Iraq’s sovereignty while also respecting America’s and the region’s vital interests. The Strategic Framework Agreement also commits the United States to support Iraq’s constitutional process. That is specifically stated, and that is part of why I stressed in today’s meetings the importance of keeping the constitutional timeline and of forming a new government as soon as possible, because forming a new government is critical to the ability of Iraq to be able to make progress and be successful. . . .

The United States is not choosing any leader; we are not making any preconditions with respect to who can or can’t take part. That is up to Iraq. It’s up to the people of Iraq to make that decision. And what we asked for today is also very much in line with the message that Grand Ayatollah Sistani offered just a few days ago. As I told Iraqi leaders today, and as I’ve made clear to my counterparts in the region, neither the United States nor any other country has the right to pick who leads Iraq. That is up to the people of Iraq. So it is when all of Iraq’s people can shape Iraq’s future, when the legitimate concerns and aspirations of all of Iraq’s communities – Sunni, Shia, Kurd – are all respected, that is when Iraq is strongest. And that is when Iraq will be the most secure. . . .

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With Margaret Brennan of CBS News, June 24:

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, both you and the President have said that a safe haven for ISIS is a national security threat for the United States. But that safe haven already exists, and it’s in Syria. Now it’s in Iraq. So how do you actually reverse those gains?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, first of all, it’s not a safe haven at this point in time.

QUESTION: Syria’s not?

SECRETARY KERRY: I would say it’s not particularly safe. They’ve been kicked around and attacked by the moderate opposition and by others there, including Assad, so they’re moving around, and may be one of the reasons that they chose to move into this other territory. But look, the bottom line is the President and I stand by that, absolutely. And the President is carefully putting together an appropriate counterterrorism strategy to deal with this, but you have to deal with it thoughtfully. And that is exactly what we’re doing.

If the President were to just make some decision to strike here or there, there’s no backup, there’s no “there” there in the Iraqi Government, it could be completely wasted. It’s not a pathway to victory. So what you need to do first is get the government formation done here in Iraq. You need to have leadership that can unify Iraq, reconstitute the military, the army itself here in Iraq, and help them to be able to push back.

There will also be a need to – and President Barzani talked to me about this here today. He said there’s no pure military victory here; you’ve got to have a political solution. And a political solution will involve empowering the people in the communities where they are now to push back against them. That’s what happened originally in Anbar Province, in Fallujah way back a number of years ago, and so you’ve got to sort of put together an appropriate strategy, which is precisely what the President is doing. . . .

SECRETARY KERRY: . . . I’m sure he’d like to have the United States have – become his air force. But the question is: Is he prepared to become a legitimate government? Is the government here prepared to do what’s necessary?

QUESTION: Maliki, you’re talking about?

SECRETARY KERRY: Not just Maliki. Will they all come together in a unified government that has the ability to make whatever the President decides to do a success? It would be a complete and total act of irresponsibility for the President just to order a few strikes, but there’s no government, there’s no backup, there’s no military, there’s nothing there that provides the capacity for success.

So what we are doing is a deliberate, careful, thoughtful approach, listening to the people here, listening to the allies, listening to the partner countries in the region, and putting together something that can work. And the President always reserves the right, as he does anywhere in the world in any crisis, to use force if it’s going to be to the advantage of a particular strategy. And he reserves that right. But he and I and our government are insisting that the constitutional process needs to be respected in Iraq, there needs to be a unity government that is prepared to stand up to ISIL, prepared to reconstitute the military, prepared to make the decisions that actually can turn the present . . .

SECRETARY KERRY: What I’ve learned is – on this trip – that there’s a great dissatisfaction here in Iraq with the current government. And I ran into a universal sense of a commitment, a desire by Iraqis to make up for the mistakes that have been made in the past. Now, what that means in terms of personalities or individuals who might fill one role or another, I can’t tell you. That’s up to Iraqis.

What we did impress on people – what I did impress on people – was the urgency of their making this decision, of following the constitutional process, and providing a framework within which the friends of Iraq have an ability to be able to be helpful. Without a government that is confident and prepared to move forward and bring the unity that is necessary, it’s very difficult to see how you can be successful in taking on ISIL, at least in its current format.

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Interview with Kim Ghattas of BBC, June 24, 2014

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s exactly what a government formation process is about. It’s not up to the United States of America or some other country to come prancing in and tell Iraqis who their leaders ought to be or what they need to do. What we’re trying to do is honor a process. They have chosen to have democracy. They have a constitution. They have a constitutional process by which they now will choose a new government after they have elections. I mean, 14 million Iraqis came out, they voted. They’ve participated in the democratic process. That’s, frankly, a huge affirmation of the constitution itself and of this democratic moment. So now it’s up to Iraqis to decide who can unify Iraq, who will they all come together and join with in an effort to seize this moment. . . .

QUESTION: So no military airstrikes before a government formation?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I mean, barring some exigent emergency or something that predicates that the President makes a decision which he always has available to him with respect to any country or any crisis in the world. But basically, there must be a government here so that there can be a strategy going forward, because just a strike alone is not going to change the outcome. You need to have a full-fledged strategy that is being implemented which is principally a political strategy.

And as even President Barzani and his folks today said, there has to be – they concur there’s no military solution. There may be military action, but there has to be a political solution that deals with empowering the people in the communities where ISIL is today to be prepared to take them on. That takes a certain amount of preparation, strategy, implementation. And what President Obama is trying to do is encourage that process to come together as rapidly as possible, because without it everything else would be wasted.

QUESTION: We’re running out of time. I want to try to squeeze in two very quick questions. You’re fighting ISIS. You’re calling on your allies to fight ISIS. President Assad of Syria says he’s fighting ISIS. How long until the U.S. is going to turn around and work with President Assad again?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, President Assad is one of the principal reasons – the principal reason – that ISIS exists. President Assad is a magnet for jihadists and foreign fighters from around the world, and that’s why they’ve been conglomerating in Syria and spreading their tentacles out. So if President Assad really wants to fight terrorists, he would declare that he is not going to continue to serve, he will work for a transition government, and he will end the crisis of Syria. That’s the way you deal with it.

QUESTION: And a final question, Mr. Secretary, about the verdict, the sentences handed out yesterday to Al Jazeera journalists in Cairo. You were just in Cairo. You described yesterday the sentences as chilling. And yet the U.S. continues to provide Egypt with various forms of aid, including military. What is the U.S. really prepared to do at this stage to pressure Egypt to show clemency?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’ve actually reduced our aid. We are not providing aid directly to the government. We provide aid to the military because there’s a military-to-military relationship which is critical to security in the Sinai, to the truce with Hamas in Gaza, to counterterrorism. And we’ve had a longstanding relationship, and the military, frankly, played a very key role in helping to bring about the elections and the transition on two occasions.

QUESTION: What about pressure now?

SECRETARY KERRY: Let me – I will come to that. And in addition to that, we are only providing assistance that goes directly to the people.

Now, we have made it clear that our – in my conversations in Egypt while I was there, I made it very, very clear that if this road towards democracy, if there isn’t a change in these, whether it’s the Al Jazeera journalists or whether it’s activists who’ve been imprisoned or others who are demonstrators who were simply caught up and still, if that doesn’t begin to change, it’s going to have a profound impact on the ability and willingness of the United States to engage. And I communicated that very directly yesterday to the foreign minister.

I do not view this, as their ministry of foreign affairs issued a statement, as somehow interference from outside. I view this as a universal standard that most countries attempt to apply to journalists or to their own citizens. That sentencing is indeed chilling and it’s a terrible message, and it will, unfortunately, have an impact, a negative impact, on Egypt’s ability to attract investment, to have stability, to begin to move in the direction it wants to go.

* * *

Press Availability at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium, June 25:

QUESTION [from James Rosen of Fox News]: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I wanted to ask about two different facets of the Iraq crisis, if I may. First, I presume you saw the comments that Prime Minister al-Maliki made in his weekly address, in which he spoke of a “national salvation government,” quote unquote, as a coup against constitutional processes in Iraq and one in which he declared his refusal to participate. I wonder what you make of those comments, whether you regard them as helpful or not to the task of government formation in Iraq, and whether it is still the professed position of the United States Government that the Obama Administration is utterly disinterested in the question of whether al-Maliki stays or goes.

And the second facet of the crisis I’d like to ask you about is this: I wonder if the disclosure that Iran has been secretly flying drones over Iraq – from an airfield in Baghdad, no less – and has been secretly shipping literally tons of military equipment to the central government in Baghdad serves effectively to complicate the United States’ own evolving military operations and diplomatic mission in Iraq, and whether in fact it represents a widening of the war there.

SECRETARY KERRY: So let me take each question. With respect to the prime minister’s remarks about a so-called salvation government, that is not something that I discussed with him. That is not something that was on the table in the context of our meetings while we were there. In fact, there was no discussion that I had with any of the leaders there regarding a so-called salvation government. And I’ve heard reports about it, but I’m not sure exactly what it is that he rejected or spoke to.

What I do know is that in the prime minister’s remarks today he did follow through on the commitments that he made in our discussions. He clearly committed to completing the electoral process, he committed to meeting on the 1st of July and having the Council of Representatives come together, and he committed to moving forward with the constitutional processes of government formation. And that is precisely what the United States was encouraging. He also called on all Iraqis to put aside their differences to unite in their efforts against terrorism. That is also what we had discussions about.

So what he said today with respect to the things we talked about was entirely in line with the conversations that I had with him when I was there. And the constitutional process that we’ve urged all Iraqis to commit to at this time, we believe is critical to the ability to form a government.

Now, Iraqis will decide that. And the United States is not disinterested in what happens in a future leadership, but the United States is not going to engage in the process of suggesting to Iraqis who that ought to be. It’s up to Iraqis to make those decisions. And we have stated clearly that we have an interest in a government that can unite Iraqis that, like Grand Ayatollah Sistani said, will not repeat the mistakes of the past and go backwards but can actually bring people together. It’s up to Iraqis to decide who has the ability to do that and who represents that future.

With respect to Iran and its intentions and role in Iraq, frankly, you should best direct that question to Iran and to the Government of Iraq. But from our point of view, we’ve made it clear to everyone in the region that we don’t need anything to take place that might exacerbate the sectarian divisions that are already at a heightened level of tension. And so it’s very important that nothing take place that contributes to the extremism or could act as a flash point with respect to the sectarian divide.

Remarks by Secretary Kerry, June 2014 (various dates), US Department of State

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From Michael R. Gordon, Saudi King Promises Help in Delicate Effort to Unite Factions in Iraq, New York Times, June 27, 2014:
“Both the secretary and the king believe that the security challenges that Iraq faces require a new government,” said the State Department official, referring to the government formation process underway in Baghdad. 
 “The two shared a view that all of Iraq’s communities should be participating on an urgent basis in the political process to allow it to move forward, and that both the secretary and King Abdullah in their conversations with Iraqi leaders would convey that message directly to them,” added the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under State Department protocol.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Kerry in Cairo: Not Our Fault

The following are excerpts from remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry in Cairo on Sunday, June 22, 2014, after a meeting with the Egyptian Foreign Minister. On Monday, after Kerry had departed, an Egyptian court sentenced three journalists from Al Jazeera to prison terms of 7-10 years.

* * *

I came here today to reaffirm the strength of the important partnership, the historic partnership between the United States and Egypt, and also to consult on the critical situations that we face in the region – obviously, particularly Iraq, Syria and Libya. After three difficult years of transition, the United States remains deeply committed to seeing Egypt succeed. We want to see the people of Egypt succeed, and we want to contribute to the success of the region.

As President Obama told President al-Sisi after his inauguration, we are committed to working together to fulfill the full promise of Egypt’s 2011 revolution, and to support the political and economic and social aspirations of the Egyptian people as well as their universal human rights. I reiterated that message in each of my meetings today as part of a broad and a very constructive discussion of the issues, including Israeli-Palestinian relations, Egypt’s return to the African Union, and confronting the shared threats of terrorism and extremism.

I want to thank President al-Sisi for a very candid and comprehensive discussion in which we both expressed our deep concerns about a number of issues, but most importantly our mutual determination for our countries to work together in partnership in order to deal with the challenges that we face.

I emphasized also our strong support for upholding the universal rights and freedoms of all Egyptians, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. We also discussed the essential role of a vibrant civil society, a free press, and rule of law, and due process in a democracy. There is no question that Egyptian society is stronger when all of its citizens have a say and a stake in its success. And I welcome the recent statements from President al-Sisi and his call for review of human rights legislation.

We discussed the economic challenges of Egypt and I made clear President Obama’s and the United States’s commitment to be helpful in that regard.

We also discussed, as I said earlier, the grave security situation in Iraq. Over the next week, I will make the same case with other leaders that I made to President al-Sisi today. ISIL, or DASH as many people call it here, its ideology of violence and repression is a threat not only to Iraq but to the entire region. This is a critical moment where together we must urge Iraq’s leaders to rise above sectarian motivations and form a government that is united in its determination to meet the needs and speak to the demands of all of their people.

For Egypt, this is also a moment of high stakes as well as a moment of great opportunity. Perhaps the greatest challenge that the new government faces is providing economic opportunity for Egyptians who seek and deserve a better life, including the millions of young people who have played an instrumental role in their country’s historic political change. Together with our international partners, including friends in the region like the Saudis, the Emiratis, the United States will contribute and work towards the economic support and transformation of Egypt, and work to help provide stability and an economic transformation for all Egyptians.

Egypt and its people have made clear their demands for dignity, justice and for political and economic opportunity. They just had a historic election for president, and there will be further elections for the parliament. And the United States fully supports these aspirations and the efforts of the government to help fulfill its obligations in that regard. And we will stand with the Egyptian people as they fight for the future that they want and that they deserve.

So we have a lot of work to do together. We know that. We talked about that today. And I think we really found ourselves on a similar page of changes that have yet to be made, promises that have yet to be fulfilled, but of a serious sense of purpose and commitment by both of us to try to help achieve those goals.

All of the things that are happening here are happening at a moment of extraordinary change in many parts of this region, and it is imperative for all of us to work cooperatively to try to address these concerns. Likewise, we talked about the challenges of Libya and the challenge that many countries face in this region of the spillover effect of terrorism, extremism that is playing out in various countries. That is true in Libya and that is true in Iraq. And both Egypt and the United States share deep concerns and a deep opposition to the challenge that these threats of radical ideology and extremism and what they present to everybody.

So we will continue to work. We will work hard to augment what is a longstanding and deep partnership between the United States and Egypt, recognizing that we both have things to do that we can do better and that we both will work to do so. But we will do so with a common understanding of the mutual interests that we share in standing up to the greatest threat of all to this region, which is the threat of these terrorists who want to tear apart rule of law and tear away an existing governance. And neither of us have an interest in allowing that to happen. . . .

Toward the end of the session, a question was posed by Mohamed Wadie from October Weekly Magazine:

Mr. Secretary, I’d like to ask you about what’s your comment on the disastrous situation in Iraq and Libya that have led many people to accuse the American administration of being responsible for this situation through its role in exchanging old regimes in the region. People think that led to division of the Arab armies, terrorism, and sectarian disputes and may lead to division of the Arab countries on sectarian basis.

Secretary Kerry:

Let me make this as clear as I know how to make this clear. The United States of America was not responsible for what happened in Libya and nor is it responsible for what is happening in Iraq today.

What happened in Libya was that a dictator was attacking his own people and was threatening to go door to door to kill them like dogs. And the United Nations joined together in a resolution that they would have a mission to try to protect those people. And the people rose up and the people marched all the way from Benghazi, all the way to Tripoli, and they, in their own voices, in their own actions, decided they wanted a different life. And today, the United States is working with Egypt, with Tunisia, with Algeria, with Morocco, with Europe, with other countries in order to try to help Libya to be able to pushback against extremists who don’t want them to have that rule of law and that kind of life.

Let me be also clear about Iraq. What’s happening in Iraq is not happening because of the United States, in terms of this current crisis. The United States shed blood and worked hard for years to provide Iraqis the opportunity to have their own governance and have their own government. And they chose a government in several elections, and they just had another election recently. But ISIL – DASH – crossed the line from Syria, began plotting internally, and they have attacked communities and they’re the ones who are marching through to disturb this ability of the people of Iraq to continue to form their government and have the future that they want. This is about ISIL’s terrorist designs on the state of Iraq. And no one should mistake what is happening or why.

And the United States is prepared, as we have been in the past, to help Iraq be able to stand up against that. The President has made the determination, which is an accurate reflection of the American people who feel that we’ve shed our blood and we’ve done what we can to provide that opportunity, so we’re not going to put additional combat soldiers there. But we will help Iraqis to complete this transition if they choose it. If they want, they have an opportunity to choose leadership that could represent all of Iraq, a unity government that brings people together, and focus on ISIL. And I am convinced that they will do so, not just with our help, but with the help of almost every country in the region as well as others in the world who will always stand up against the tyranny of this kind of terrorist activity. That’s what’s happening in Iraq, and nobody should lose sight of it.

* * *

John Kerry, Remarks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry After Their Meeting, June 22, 2014, U.S. Department of State Mobile

Iran Leaders on Iraq Crisis

The valuable Iran Primer site maintained by the United States Institute of Peace has collected the observations of Iranian officials on the crisis in Iraq. 

* * *

President Hassan Rouhani:

“The Islamic Republic will not tolerate violence and terror as foreign-backed takfiri militants wreak havoc in northern Iraq.

“As the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, we will not tolerate the [acts of] violence and terror and we fight violence and terrorism in the region and in the world.

 “We all should practically and verbally confront terrorist groups. We can think about it [cooperation with the United States] if we see America starts confronting the terrorist groups in Iraq or elsewhere.

 “Iran has never dispatched any forces to Iraq and it is very unlikely it will ever happen.”
 -- June 14, 2014 during a press conference

“Regarding the holy Shia shines in Karbala, Najaf, Khadhimiya and Samarra, we announce to the killers and terrorists that the big Iranian nation will not hesitate to protect holy shrines.

“These terrorist groups, and those that fund them, both in the region and in the international arena, are nothing, and hopefully they will be put in their own place.”
--June 18, 2014 in a speech to a crowd in Lorestan province

“I advise Muslim countries that support the terrorists with their petrodollars to stop.

“Tomorrow you will be targeted... by these savage terrorists. Wash your hands of killing and the killing of Muslims.

“For centuries, Shiites and Sunnis have lived alongside each other in Iran, Iraq, the Levant, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf and North peaceful coexistence.”
-- June 22, 2014, according to press

“If the Iraqi government wants help, we will study it; of course no demand has yet been raised until today but we are ready for help within the framework of the international laws and at the request of the Iraqi nation.

“Of course, we should know that help and assistance is one issue, and interference and entrance [into the battlefield] is another. If the Iraqi government demands us we will help them, but the entrance of the Iranian troops [onto the scene of battles in Iraq] has never been considered.

“Since the onset of its establishment, the Islamic Republic has never taken such measures and we have never sent our troops to another country for operations. Of course, we will provide countries with our consultative views.”
--June 24, 2014, according to press

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

“We are strongly against the interference of the US and others in Iraq’s internal affairs and do not approve of it, because we believe that the Iraqi government, nation and religious authority are capable of ending this sedition and will end it, God willing.

“The United States is dissatisfied with the result of elections in Iraq and they want to deprive the Iraqi people of their achievement of a democratic system, which they achieved without U.S. interference.”

“What is happening in Iraq is not a war between Shiites and Sunnis. Arrogant powers want to use the remnants of Saddam’s regime and takfiri [ISIS] extremists to deprive Iraq of stability and tranquility.”
-- June 22, 2014 at a meeting with judiciary officials

“The current crisis in Iraq is the result of the meddling and collaboration of the western and regional enemies of the Iraqi nation, who are seeking to prevent the Iraqi people’s will and determination from coming into action.”
-- June 16, 2014 in a meeting with Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani

 “Reports in Western media about possible Iran-U.S. cooperation are part of the West’s “psychological warfare” and are “completely unreal.”

 “As we have announced, we will examine the issue of helping (Iraq) within the framework of international regulations in case of an official request by the Iraqi government and this will be completely a bilateral process and has nothing to do with a third country.”
 --June 16, 2014 according to Fars News Agency

* * *

The Iran Primer, “Iran’s Leaders on Iraq Crisis and ISIS,” June 26, 2014. The article contains utterances from several other Iranian leaders. 

Iraqi Ambassador: Help Us or We'll Turn to Iran

The following interview with Iraq's ambassador to the United States, Lukman Fally, was conducted June 26 by Andrew Parasiliti, editor in chief of AI-Monitor. 

* * *

Al-Monitor: The New York Times reports today that Iran is flying drones in Iraq and supplying military equipment to Iraq. Does the Iraqi government expect further military support from Iran? What is the nature of the Iraqi request for assistance to Iran?

Faily: As you know, we have a major challenge facing our military capabilities to deal with the ongoing offensive from ISIS, which does mean that we need to revamp our military capabilities, and in that aspect of it, Iraq is relying on the US to provide that capability. If that capability is unable to be fulfilled in dealing with the urgency we have on the ground, unfortunately that means that we will not be in a position to choose our partners and whoever is available to help us in our survival war then we will take that.

Al-Monitor: Do you expect Iran to provide more support? Would they provide troops at any point?

Faily: We know that the Iranians are anxious; they are worried themselves, because ISIS were for a while on their borders in the Diyala province, so to them that is an immediate threat to their national security. We also appreciate that the common fight against terrorism has to be a regional and a global one. The United States and Iraq can work together, we welcome that, we would like to work with all three in our combat against terrorism.

Al-Monitor: Nickolay Mladenov, the (UN) secretary-general’s special representative in Iraq, yesterday called for a military complement to a political solution in Iraq. Al-Monitor broke the news Wednesday that Iraq has submitted a letter to the UN secretary-general requesting military equipment and logistical assistance. Could you please explain in more detail the nature of your request, and your expectations for support from the international community?

Faily: The threat we face is a regional threat. It will destabilize the region if not the globe in relation to geopolitics and in relation to, for example, the supply of petrol for the world economy. That is because of the richness of Iraq and the geographical position of Iraq. In a way we feel like it has to be an international response; we have provided the letter, highlighting that we are under an aggression from ISIS and that we seek international support. The US and other have asked us to approach the UN as part of their better understanding of the scale and for Iraq to say that we are seeking international support. Not to make the support only bilateral, but to make it a multilateral situation. And this is more or less the core of it.

The UN understands the urgency of the situation they have their representative on the ground, so he has a good understanding of that and we are more or less providing an opportunity for the international community to support Iraq.

Al-Monitor: Syrian planes attacked ISIS positions in or around the Iraqi border town of Al Qaim this week. Does Iraq welcome this action as assistance from Syria against ISIS? Does Iraq consider itself allies with Syria against ISIS?

Faily: The situation as you know is crucial and any air supremacy support provided to Iraq will surely have a significant effect. That to us is a key game changer. That is why we have been asking the US for over a year now for Apache helicopters to provide us with air supremacy. Unfortunately, at that time, if we had that capability, ISIS would not have provided a threat. They had camps, they were in deserts, they were outside residential areas and there would not have been any collateral damage and so on. Because that was not provided, unfortunately now we are in the position where we are saying that anybody’s support would be welcome here with the immediate threat to our survival.

We have had offers from the Syrians before and we declined them. But it seems that the support that we sought from the US is not coming in a timely manner to deal with our urgency, which is more or less putting us in an uncomfortable position in seeking support from whoever is available on the ground.

Al-Monitor: In these strikes, did Syria offer or did you request its assistance?

Faily: Whatever offer we get in dealing with ISIS we will certainly look at it in a favorable way.

Al-Monitor: You mentioned that this war is a regional security challenge. Would Iraq support a regional security arrangement, among neighbors of Syria and Iraq? How would that fit with President Obama’s call for ramping up counterterrorism cooperation?

Faily: Terrorism is a theme in the region now. Sectarianism is becoming a theme in the region and they are complementing each other. ISIS are not Sunnis but they are wearing the clothes of the Sunnis, projecting to the world that they represent Sunnis but we know for a fact that they don't. In addition to that, the geopolitical importance of the Middle East in Syria and Iraq and elsewhere is too important to be dealt with internally in itself and it is too crucial, for example, (that) the Europeans, who are just on the other side of the shore, for them to be a standby for NATO or for the US and even the UN, so this is why we see that it is a regional problem, as much as Syria has been a regional problem for the last three years which hasn’t been addressed. Iraq is becoming that problem as well, unfortunately.

To the Americans, every day they are looking at both as one theater because of that urgency. We have an immediate challenge ourselves and we think that regional powers have to discuss the threat because of more or less the zero-sum theme in the region that is not helping anybody. We expect to have more cooperation in this. Regional powers could provide a win-win approach to the situation. So we don’t see why shouldn’t the Iranians and the Turks and the Saudis and the Iraqis and the Jordanians and others, and the Lebanese and others have a serious discussion as to how we can carve off this tumor in our body. That is what we are talking about. It can engulf the whole region, nobody is immune — all countries in the region are fragile to this situation. I would say even European countries are fragile from jihadists going back to their homeland or going back to the United States. That’s why we are saying this is a regional issue.

Al-Monitor: You were in Baghdad this week when Secretary of State John Kerry met with Prime Minister Maliki and other Iraqi leaders. Are you pleased with the extent of US political and military support for Iraq at this stage? What messages are you carrying in your meetings with US policy makers?

Faily: Iraq is a democratic country. We recently had a democratic, fair election. The US is our strategic partner of choice. We have a strategic framework agreement with the US. Our current situation is an important acid test to the strength of that relationship between the two countries. Serious questions are being asked back home as to how much support will the US provide to a democratic government who is under an aggression from an international terrorist organization. That question is still pending. Sec. Kerry and other officials have highlighted and have specifically said that they will provide help and support. However the serious questions are related to the sense of urgency in providing us support. We understand that there are processes in the US that have to be followed. We welcome that but we also know that the situation on the ground may not allow for a long protracted methodological process of decision making in the US because of the urgency on the ground.

That is the key question. A lot of people in different positions in government in addition to the people of Iraq are asking us, would the US support a democratically elected government in this war of aggression by an international terrorist organization? That is a serious question for the US to answer.

Al-Monitor: What is Iraq’s position on Turkey’s role in the current crisis? Has it done enough to close its borders to ISIS infiltration?

Faily: We think that as I said before, no one is immune from the tumor of terrorism in that region. We have suffered from it before, Turkey has suffered from it. We hope that they feel the need for strong collaboration in addressing that common threat. At this moment, we think that there is an opportunity for Turkey to work closely with us, as much as there is an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to work closely with us. To repel, to put an end to this sense of injustice in Iraq that we feel that our neighbors do not appreciate that situation. We are not under normal circumstances. We certainly need to be supported in an unusual way, rather than in just a normal way of saying well this is an internal Iraqi situation, this is not an internal Iraqi situation, this is a regional threat.

Al-Monitor: You mentioned Saudi Arabia. Prime Minister Maliki last week lashed out at Saudi Arabia saying the kingdom was “responsible for supporting these groups financially and morally, and for the outcome of that which includes crimes that may qualify as genocide.” This was a very strong statement. Based on what you said, is this being modified a bit to encourage cooperation?

Faily: What we are saying is that we thought for a length of time that we should approach the UN. We have asked that [because of] the terrorist attacks on Iraq. This recent one and for the last few years should be considered as genocide, because of the viciousness of 30-60 car bombs a month in populated areas. So that is what we are talking about when we talk about genocide.

That is one area which we think regional players, both who have borders and can secure their side of the border, can significantly help us. So we know for a fact that there are jihadists from all walks of life from different countries in Iraq, so we know that there hasn’t been enough done from our neighbors to try to help us in our fight against terrorism. And let me repeat that no one is immune from it. If our neighbors think that this can be contained in Iraq, then unfortunately they need to relook at the history and relook at the core ideology of these terrorist organizations; they are transnational. And they will not be confined within Iraq.

Al-Monitor: In his meeting with Secretary Kerry this week, Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani referred to “new realities” in Iraq. Those new realities include the Kurdistan region exporting oil via Turkey, which is opposed by the Iraqi government, and seizing Kirkuk this month after ISIS moved into Iraq. What is the state of the negotiations and politics between Baghdad and Erbil at this point? How do you expect these issues to be resolved?

Faily: At this moment there is a pause in the negotiations because of the immediate threat on the ground. So we have a common enemy and we are trying to work together to address that common enemy. Other issues such as oil, or others, are put on the side for now. These issues will be addressed as part of the negotiation for the government formation and following that. So we will look at those issues at that time as to the oil and other issues.

The Kirkuk situation is part of the constitution, so that has to be addressed. What we say in central government is that the KRG and others are under an important juncture in their relationship with the central government. We, all Iraqis, have voted for a constitution which talks about Iraq as one. The constitution, we think, should be applied for all; until that constitution is changed, everybody, including the KRG, should play their part based on the constitution which they have signed. That is the current status.

Al-Monitor: When you say the current crisis now is focused on the terrorist threat and there topics are differed, is Baghdad pleased with the extent of Kurdish cooperation at this point?

Faily: We think that there are areas for further cooperation. There is certainly a sense of urgency; we highlight that no one is immune from it and we have also said that we need to work together to repel this tumor in our body. For example, areas where sensitive minorities live — such as in Ninevah valley — these are Christians and other type of minorities who are immediately, and to be honest, they are already being adversely impacted by this aggression such as by ethnic cleansing and other displacements; abuses to minorities are taking place by ISIS. And we think that the KRG government should work closely with our central government in trying to minimize the impact and to bring some normality to the lives of those minorities, because they do feel that they are under immediate threat of survival and not just to their identity.

* * *

Andrew Parasiliti, Iraq's ambassador to US: War with ISIS 'acid test' of US-Iraq ties, AI -Monitor, June 26, 2014. 

Israel to US: Kurdish Independence Inevitable

From Reuters:

Israel told the United States on Thursday [June 26] Kurdish independence in northern Iraq was a "foregone conclusion" and Israeli experts predicted the Jewish state would be quick to recognise a Kurdish state, should it emerge.

Israel has maintained discreet military, intelligence and business ties with the Kurds since the 1960s, seeing in the minority ethnic group a buffer against shared Arab adversaries.

The Kurds have seized on recent sectarian chaos in Iraq to expand their autonomous northern territory to include Kirkuk, which sits on vast oil deposits that could make the independent state many dream of economically viable.

Washington wants Iraq's crumbling unity restored. On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Iraqi Kurdish leaders and urged them to seek political integration with Baghdad.

Kerry discussed the Iraqi crisis with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Paris on Thursday.

"Iraq is breaking up before our eyes and it would appear that the creation of an independent Kurdish state is a foregone conclusion," Lieberman's spokesman quoted him as telling Kerry.

A day earlier, Israeli President Shimon Peres had a similar message for U.S. President Barack Obama, who hosted the dovish elder statesman at the White House.

Briefing reporters, Peres said he had told Obama he did not see unifying Iraq as possible without "massive" foreign military intervention and that this underscored Kurdish separation from the Shi'ite Muslim majority and Sunni Arab minority.

"The Kurds have, de facto, created their own state, which is democratic. One of the signs of a democracy is the granting of equality to women," Peres said.

He added that neighbouring Turkey appeared to accept the Kurds' status as it was helping them pump out oil for sale. 


Israel last Friday took its first delivery of the disputed crude from Iraqi Kurdistan's new pipeline. The United States disapproves of such go-it-alone Kurdish exports. 

There are some 30 million Kurds on a swathe of land running through eastern Turkey, northern Syria, northern Iraq and western Iran. They have hesitated to declare independence in Iraq, mindful of opposition from neighbouring states with Kurdish populations.

Israel's Foreign Ministry said there were currently no formal diplomatic relations with the Kurds. Israeli officials declined to comment, however, on the more clandestine ties.

"Our silence - in public, at least – is best. Any unnecessary utterance on our part can only harm them (Kurds),” senior Israeli defence official Amos Gilad said on Tuesday.

Asked on Israel's Army Radio whether Kurdish independence was desirable, Gilad noted the strength of the Israeli-Kurdish partnership in the past and said: "One can look at history and draw conclusions about the future."

Israeli intelligence veterans say that cooperation took the form of military training for Kurds in northern Iraq, in return for their help in smuggling out Jews as well as in spying on Saddam Hussein’s regime in Baghdad and, more recently, on Iran.

Eliezer Tsafrir, a former Mossad station chief in Kurdish northern Iraq who is now retired from Israeli government service, said the secrecy around the ties had been maintained at the request of the Kurds.

"We'd love it to be out in the open, to have an embassy there, to have normal relations. But we keep it clandestine because that’s what they want,” he told Reuters.

Ofra Bengio, an Iraq expert at Tel Aviv University and the author of two books on the Kurds, said last week's oil delivery and other commercial ties between Israel and Kurdistan were “obviously” part of wider statecraft.

"I certainly think that the moment (Kurdish President Masoud) Barzani declares independence, these ties would be upgraded into open relations,” she said. “It depends on the Kurds.”

The Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq has denied selling oil to Israel, whether directly or indirectly. The Israeli government declined to comment on Friday's oil delivery.

* * *

* * *

Update, July 1, 2014: The relationship of the Kurds to the Israelis entails difficulties for the former, as the foregoing story intimated. Here's another indication: according to the Financial Times, reports that Israel had bought oil from Kurdistan brought forth a confrontation in the Iraqi parliament:

In parliament on Tuesday a Shia lawmaker in Mr Maliki’s bloc insulted a female Kurdish parliamentarian asking about the government’s refusal to handover the Kurdistan Regional Government’s budget allocation. 

“Go sell your oil to Israel, you collaborator,” the lawmaker shouted as some in the chamber applauded. 

[The Kurdish and Sunni parties subsequently left the chamber] Muthana Ameen, a Kurdish MP, said the walkout was not prompted by the insult but “because there was no point staying – there were no candidates agreed on”

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Rousseff at UN: Evils of US Surveillance

The following are excerpts from a speech at the opening of the 68th United Nations General Assembly by Dilma Rousseff, President of the Federative Republic of Brazil, September 24, 2013. The speech garnered little attention in the US domestic debate over NSA surveillance. It deserves a wide audience. 

* * *

. . . I would like to bring to the consideration of delegations a matter of great importance and gravity.

Recent revelations concerning the activities of a global network of electronic espionage have caused indignation and repudiation in public opinion around the world.

In Brazil, the situation was even more serious, as it emerged that we were targeted by this intrusion. Personal data of citizens was intercepted indiscriminately. Corporate information--often of high economic and even strategic value--was at the center of espionage activity. Also, Brazilian diplomatic missions, among them the Permanent Mission to the United Nations and the Office of the President of the Republic itself, had their communications intercepted.

Tampering in such a manner in the affairs of other countries is a breach of International Law and is an affront to the principles that must guide the relations among them, especially among friendly nations. A sovereign nation can never establish itself to the detriment of another sovereign nation. The right to safety of citizens of one country can never be guaranteed by violating fundamental human rights of citizens of another country.

The arguments that the illegal interception of information and data aims at protecting nations against terrorism cannot be sustained.

Brazil, Mr. President, knows how to protect itself. We reject, fight and do not harbor terrorist groups.

We are a democratic country surrounded by nations that are democratic, pacific and respectful of International Law. We have lived in peace with our neighbors for more than 140 years.

As many other Latin Americans, I fought against authoritarianism and censorship, and I cannot but defend, in an uncompromising fashion, the right to privacy of individuals and the sovereignty of my country. In the absence of the right to privacy, there can be no true freedom of expression and opinion, and therefore no effective democracy. In the absence of the respect for sovereignty, there is no basis for the relationship among Nations.

We face, Mr. President, a situation of grave violation of human rights and of civil liberties; of invasion and capture of confidential information concerning corporate activities, and especially of disrespect to national sovereignty.

We expressed to the Government of the United States our disapproval, and demanded explanations, apologies and guarantees that such procedures will never be repeated.

Friendly governments and societies that seek to build a true strategic partnership, as in our case, cannot allow recurring illegal actions to take place as if they were normal. They are unacceptable.

Brazil, Mr. President, will redouble its efforts to adopt legislation, technologies and mechanisms to protect us from the illegal interception of communications and data.

My Government will do everything within its reach to defend the human rights of all Brazilians and to protect the fruits borne from the ingenuity of our workers and our companies.

The problem, however, goes beyond a bilateral relationship. It affects the international community itself and demands a response from it. Information and telecommunication technologies cannot be the new battlefield between States. Time is ripe to create the conditions to prevent cyberspace from being used as a weapon of war, through espionage, sabotage, and attacks against systems and infrastructure of other countries.

The United Nations must play a leading role in the effort to regulate the conduct of States with regard to these technologies. 

For this reason, Brazil will present proposals for the establishment of a civilian multilateral framework for the governance and use of the Internet and to ensure the effective protection of data that travels through the web. 

We need to create multilateral mechanisms for the worldwide network that are capable of ensuring principles such as:

1 - Freedom of expression, privacy of the individual and respect for human rights.

2 - Open, multilateral and democratic governance, carried out with transparency by stimulating collective creativity and the participation of society, Governments and the private sector.

3 - Universality that ensures the social and human development and the construction of inclusive and non-discriminatory societies.

4 - Cultural diversity, without the imposition of beliefs, customs and values.

5 - Neutrality of the network, guided only by technical and ethical criteria, rendering it inadmissible to restrict it for political, commercial, religious or any other purposes.

Harnessing the full potential of the Internet requires, therefore, responsible regulation, which ensures at the same time freedom of expression, security and respect for human rights. . . .

* * *

Official Transcript, September 24, 2013

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Saudi Editor: Detach Oil Province from Iran

A blast from the past comes from Jamil Al-Dhiyabi, deputy editor of the Saudi daily Al-Hayat, published in London. He calls in an editorial for detaching Al-Ahwaz from Iran. Ahwaz, which includes the Iranian province of Khuzestan, figured greatly in the news some thirty-five years ago. It was the principal object of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran in 1980, which hoped to rouse the native Arabs (about half the province's population) into rebellion. As Al-Dhiyabi notes, it has lots of oil and other good stuff. I suppose we can mark this down as another episode in Saudi Arabia's contribution to a "rule-based" international system. 

* * *

"Though I support [the decision of] Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait to grant some $20 billion to Egypt [for the sake of its] stability and rehabilitation, I wish to ask a legitimate question in light of the current situation: What would happen if Arab Gulf states like the ones mentioned above spent these billions on supporting [the cause of] an independent Arab emirate in Al-Ahwaz, so that it becomes a thorn in the side of Iran? Do the Gulf states realize the benefits they could reap in terms of the future of the coming generations and [ensuring] their security and stability? How long would the Iranian 'demon' be occupied with its own affairs if it lost a strategic region so rich in resources? What would happen if the Arab Gulf states supported the Ahwazi plan? Would this not weaken Iran's [expansionist] ambitions and thwart its plans?
"... The residents of Al-Ahwaz (both Sunni and Shi'ite) are pure Arabs, who await help from their brethren, having suffered disasters, oppression, poverty, and discrimination at the hands of the Persian regime and its racist policy. Al-Ahwaz is a rich Arab emirate that occupies fertile land with plenty of water, large rivers, minerals, oil, and natural gas. Despite these plentiful natural resources, the Arabs there live under the yoke of oppression and in degrading poverty. The population of Al-Ahwaz is 9-11 million, out of 70 million Iranians. According to statistics, this province has some 183 billion barrels of [crude] oil, which are more than 85% of Iran's oil deposits. Furthermore, statistics show that Al-Ahwaz has the world's second-largest natural gas deposits after Russia.
"Just imagine what the map would look like if this Arab emirate was independent from Iran, with [its own] regime, army and resources, and was an ally of the Arab Gulf states and the seventh member of the GCC. What would have been the state of the 'crazed' Iran in terms of [its ambition to] establish a Persian empire at the expense of Arab states?
"So long as Iran continues on its deviant path and continues interfering in the affairs of Arab countries, we need a similar brave program, as a counterweight to [Iran's] expansionist plan, which will allow this Arab emirate [of Al-Ahwaz] to stand on its feet and confront the Persian plan. [This can be achieved by means of]  material and moral support for its people.
"An independent Al-Ahwaz emirate will strengthen the Arab Gulf, especially when most of its people are members of Arab tribes who yearn to confront the Iranian [expansionist] plans... This way, the Gulf states can confront the Iranian advance, instead of groveling before Iran, reconciling with it and rushing into its arms in order to force it to recant and abandon its dream of establishing Greater Persia and end its growing influence in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Iraq...
"Therefore, the Gulf states should formulate a unified and comprehensive strategy, in order to deal with Iranian policy and plans in the region... and convey a uniform message that would force Iran to consider its steps and restrain its devilish behavior. The first thing to do is to support the intifada of the Arab Al-Ahwaz [province], openly and fearlessly, in order to confront Iran's shameless actions in Arab countries."
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Gauck at Munich: Germany's Role

German President Joachim Gauck gave the opening address to the 50th Munich Security Conference, held January 31, 2014.  His remarks were recently hailed by one observer as "a momentous speech that went to the very core of Germany's deeply engrained reluctance to embrace military power as a means to engage in international affairs." 

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. . . This milestone anniversary provides an opportunity to look back and, above all, to look ahead. I’d therefore like to talk today about the path Germany has taken and where it could lead in future. For we Germans are advancing towards a form of responsibility that has not yet become routine for us.

In a nutshell, I’d like to talk about Germany’s role in the world.

Let me start by saying that this is a good Germany, the best we’ve ever known. And that’s not mere rhetoric. When I was born, the National Socialists – who brought war and suffering to the world – were in power. When the Second World War ended, I was a young boy, only five years old. Our country was in ruins, both materially and morally. Just look at where Germany stands today: it’s a stable democracy, free and peace-loving, prosperous and open. It champions human rights. It’s a reliable partner in Europe and the world: an equal partner with equal responsibilities. All of that fills me with gratitude and joy.

However, it’s precisely because these are good times for Germany that we have to consider what we have to change today to protect what is important to us. Some people in Germany are asking what there is to think about. They say that our country is surrounded by friends and that no country is seeking to become our enemy. They believe that Germany’s foreign policy has long since found the right formula. That there is not much to adjust, never mind change. Why fix something if it isn’t broken?

It’s undoubtedly true that Germany’s foreign policy has solid roots. Its most important achievement is that Germany, with the help of its partners, has turned a past blighted by war and dominance into a present marked by peace and cooperation. This includes the reconciliation with our neighbours, our commitment to European integration as a national goal, as well as our partnership with the United States as the cornerstone of the North Atlantic Alliance. Germany advocates a security concept which is based on values and encompasses respect for human rights. In Germany’s foreign policy vocabulary, free trade and peace go hand in hand. As do the exchange of goods and prosperity.

Germany is globalised more than most countries and thus benefits more than most from an open world order. A world order which allows Germany to reconcile interests with fundamental values. Germany derives its most important foreign policy goal in the 21st century from all of this: preserving this order and system and making them fit for the future.

Pursuing this core interest while the world around us is undergoing sweeping changes is one of the major challenges of our age. If there has been one constant factor during the last few years, then it’s the fact that we always underestimate the speed of change. Futurologists are amazed time and again that changes in the world become reality much more quickly than they had forecast. That also has an impact on our security: at a faster pace than we had ever imagined, we are entering a world in which individuals can buy a quantity of destructive power which was the preserve of states in earlier times. A world in which economic and political power is shifting and entire regions are arming themselves. In the Middle East, there is a danger that individual crises will converge and engulf the whole region. At this very moment, the world’s only superpower is reconsidering the scale and form of its global engagement. Europe, its partner, is busy navel-gazing. I don’t believe that Germany can simply carry on as before in the face of these developments.

For some time now, it’s been impossible to ignore the fact that this change is gradually gnawing away at German certainties. We’re committed to the European idea. However, Europe’s crisis has made us feel uncertain. We’re also committed to NATO. However, we’ve been debating for years about the direction the Alliance should take, and we’ve done nothing to stop the depletion of its financial resources. We’re not calling the alliance with the United States into question, but we have observed symptoms of stress and uncertainty about the future. We have great respect for the rules-based world of the United Nations. However, we can’t ignore the crisis in multilateralism. We’d like to see the new players on the world stage participate in the global order. However, some of them are seeking a place on the margins rather than at the heart of the system. We feel surrounded by friends, but hardly know how to deal with diffuse security threats such as the privatisation of power by terrorists and cyber criminals. We rightly complain when allies overstep the mark when they use electronic surveillance to detect threats. And yet, we prefer to remain reliant on them and hesitate to improve our own surveillance capacities.

This means that simply repeating familiar mantras won’t be enough in future! For the key question is: has Germany already adequately recognised the new threats and the changes in the structure of the international order? Has is reacted commensurate with its weight? Has Germany shown enough initiative to ensure the future viability of the network of norms, friends and alliances which has brought us peace in freedom and democracy in prosperity?

Some – both at home and abroad – have a quick and simplistic answer: they regard Germany as the shirker in the international community. They say that Germany is all too ready to duck difficult issues. 
First of all, this criticism can be countered with facts and a pinch of historical perspective.

After the Second World War, initially no-one – neither abroad nor within Germany – wanted our country to play a strong international role. Furthermore, there were two German states which were both, to differing extents, only partially sovereign. Since reunification, Germany has embarked upon a new course. Step by step, our country has transformed itself from a beneficiary to a guarantor of international security and order. First of all, I want to mention development cooperation. Germany is investing large sums in this sphere because it wants to help build stable and secure societies. Second, Germany is doing much to lead the world into a resource-efficient future. And third, few other countries are doing more to promote international institutions. Fourth, Germany has on occasion participated in military missions. Fifth, what the Federal Republic has done to help Europe grow together and overcome the recent crisis is truly impressive.

These are the facts. And yet not all critics of German policy are quite simply unfair. Some differentiate and highlight subtle nuances, and such criticism has a core of truth. Germany has already been travelling along the road towards becoming a guarantor of the international order and security for 24 years now. It’s a difficult walk along a winding road. However, those who believe that very small steps are the best will find it difficult to keep up with the rapid change in threats and the dramatic shifts in the strategic environment.

Let me ask a few leading questions. Are we doing what we can to stabilise our neighbourhood, both in the East and in Africa? Are we doing what we have to in order to counter the threat of terrorism? And, in cases where we have found convincing reasons to join our allies in taking even military action, are we willing to bear our fair share of the risks? Are we doing what we should to attract new and reinvigorated major powers to the cause of creating a just world order for tomorrow? Do we even evince the interest in some parts of the world which is their due, given their importance? What role do we want to play in the crises afflicting distant parts of the globe? Are we playing an active enough role in that field in which the Federal Republic of Germany has developed such expertise? I am speaking, of course, of conflict prevention. In my opinion, Germany should make a more substantial contribution, and it should make it earlier and more decisively if it is to be a good partner.

Germany has long since demonstrated that it acts in an internationally responsible way. But it could – building on its experience in safeguarding human rights and the rule of law – take more resolute steps to preserve and help shape the order based on the European Union, NATO and the United Nations. At the same time, Germany must also be ready to do more to guarantee the security that others have provided it with for decades.

Now, some people in my country consider "international responsibility" to be a euphemism, veiling what’s really at stake. Some think that in reality Germany would have to pay more. Others think that Germany would have to send in more soldiers. And they are all convinced that "more responsibility" primarily means more trouble. You will not be surprised to hear that I see things differently.
Politicians always have to take responsibility for their actions. But they also have to live with the consequences of their omissions. He who fails to act bears responsibility, too. We would be deceiving ourselves if we were to believe that Germany was an island and thus protected from the vicissitudes of our age. For few other countries have such close links with the rest of the world as Germany does. Germany has thus benefited especially from the open global order. And it’s vulnerable to any disruptions to the system. For this reason, the consequences of inaction can be just as serious, if not worse than the consequences of taking action.

In this context, I would like to repeat what I said on 3 October, the Day of German Unity. We cannot hope to be spared from the conflicts of this world. But if we contribute to solving them, we can take a hand at least in shaping the future. It is thus worth Germany’s while to invest properly in European cooperation and the global order.

Of course, it’s true that solving problems can cost money. But we have shown, in the European crisis and elsewhere, that we are willing to go to great lengths to fulfil Alliance commitments and provide support, because doing so is ultimately in our own interest.

Sometimes it can even be necessary to send in the troops. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Afghanistan, it’s that the Bundeswehr mission was necessary, but it could never have been more than a single element in the overall strategy. Germany will never support any purely military solution, but will approach issues with political judiciousness and explore all possible diplomatic options. However, when the last resort – sending in the Bundeswehr – comes to be discussed, Germany should not say "no" on principle. Nor should it say "yes" unthinkingly.

I have to admit that while there are genuine pacifists in Germany, there are also people who use Germany’s guilt for its past as a shield for laziness or a desire to disengage from the world. In the words of the historian Heinrich August Winkler, this is an attitude that grants Germany a questionable "right to look the other way, which other Western democracies" cannot claim for themselves. Restraint can thus be taken too far if people start making special rules for themselves. Whenever that happens, I will criticise it. For it is crystal clear to me that we need NATO. And it is precisely at times when the United States cannot keep on providing more and more that Germany and its European partners must themselves assume greater responsibility for their security.

Furthermore, it should today be natural for Germany and its allies to not simply refuse to help others when human rights violations multiply and result in genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity. Not only do all Western democracies consider respect for human rights to be one of their defining features, it is also a cornerstone of any guarantee of security, of a peaceful and cooperative world order.

Brutal regimes must not be allowed to hide behind the principles of state sovereignty and non-intervention. This is where the concept of "responsibility to protect" comes to bear. This concept transfers to the international community the responsibility to protect the people of a given country from such atrocities when their own government fails to do so. In the very last resort, military means can be used, after careful consideration and a weighing up of the consequences, upon authorisation by the UN Security Council.

I know, and like human rights defenders around the world I am pained by the fact that action is not taken everywhere where such intervention would be morally justified and necessary to protect the life and limb of people in danger. This dilemma has recently been highlighted again by events in Syria. And I know that the relationship between legality and legitimacy will continue to be awkward as long as the Security Council is so often divided on these issues.

There will be many reasons why the concept of responsibility to protect rarely results in an intervention. The consequences of such action are frequently difficult or even impossible to calculate, and there is no way of determining accurately enough whether the situation in the crisis area will be better after military intervention. Sometimes domestic policy considerations will also militate against action. Whatever the precise circumstances, the decision whether to intervene or not will always be a morally difficult one.

The UN General Assembly has in principle recognised the concept of responsibility to protect. However, the concept remains contentious; the international debate continues. That’s a good thing, since potential abuse of the concept for expansionist or imperialist purposes has to be ruled out. I therefore welcome the fact that the German Government is helping to further develop the concept, with a focus on prevention, international cooperation and the development of early warning systems.

So, will Germany reap "more trouble" if it plays a more active role? There are indeed commentators who think that a Germany that shows initiative will inevitably experience friction with its friends and neighbours. This assumption is, in my opinion, based on a misconception. "More responsibility" does not mean "more throwing our weight around". Nor does it mean "more going it alone"! On the contrary, by cooperating with other countries, particularly within the European Union, Germany gains influence. 

Germany would in fact benefit from even more cooperation. Perhaps this could even lead to the establishment of a common European defence. In our interconnected world, there are problems that no country can solve on its own, however powerful it may be. The ability and willingness to cooperate are becoming the defining trademark of international politics. In line with this, responsibility is always shared responsibility.

As a globally plugged-in economy, Germany has no alternative but to find partners, be considerate and make compromises. Germany has long known that it must guard against going its own special way. A democracy must, of course, have the right to remain on the sidelines on occasion. But such a step should be well considered and should remain the exception. Going it alone has its price.
Of course, if you act, you are open to criticism. We saw that during the European crisis when Germany took the initiative. Old resentments were quick to surface, both within and outside Germany. I dread to think of the wave of outrage that would have been sparked had Germany not taken action at that time of European need.

I am most firmly convinced that a Germany which reaches out more to the world will be an even better friend and ally. It will also be a yet better partner within Europe.

To find its proper course in these difficult times, Germany needs resources, above all intellectual resources. It needs minds, institutions and forums. A Security Conference once a year in Munich – that’s to be welcomed, but it’s not enough. I wonder if it isn’t time for all the universities to mobilise more than a handful of chairs where German foreign policy can be analysed. Doesn’t research on security issues need to be invigorated, to boost work on matters such as defence against cyber attacks by criminals or intelligence services?

It’s not a good sign that younger members of the German Bundestag feel that focusing on foreign and security policy is not beneficial to their careers. By the way, the German Bundestag has held some 240 debates on overseas deployments of the Bundeswehr since 1994. These debates have been conducted in an exemplary manner. However, in the same period, parliament has held fewer than ten fundamental debates on German foreign and security policy. But we need such debates – in the Bundestag and everywhere: in the churches and trade unions, in the Bundeswehr, in the political parties and in all kinds of associations.

For foreign and security policy is not just a matter for the elite. Basic existential issues should be a matter for reflection in the heart of society. Matters that affect everyone should be discussed by everyone. International events keep pushing us towards such a debate – the latest examples being the events in Mali and the Central African Republic. The fact that Germany’s new Foreign Minister wants to re-examine his Ministry’s policies – and put them up for discussion – squares nicely with the aspiration to open this debate. Frank-Walter Steinmeier wants to seek dialogue with academia and with civil society. This would be a step towards a new understanding of society by society. Talking about how, where and when we should seek to defend our values and our security will gradually give us greater clarity about the extent and aims of Germany’s international involvement.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the foreign guests at the Munich Security Conference for the trust their countries placed in West Germany at a time when many of their contemporaries still considered it a gamble.

However, to conclude, I would like to request something of us Germans. I would like to request that, as a basic rule, we too place our trust in this fundamentally reformed country of ours.

The post-war generations had reasons to be distrustful – of the German state and of German society. But the time for such categorical distrust is past. Let me come back now to my initial remarks. The Federal Republic of Germany has lived in peace with all its neighbours for more than six decades. Civil and human rights have been upheld for six decades. The rule of law has prevailed for six decades. Prosperity and internal security are among the country’s defining features. Germany is home to a vibrant civil society which identifies errors and can help to correct them.

There has never been an era like this in the history of our nation. This is also why we are now permitted to have confidence in our abilities and should trust in ourselves. For we know that people who trust in themselves gain the strength to reach out to the world. People who trust in themselves can be relied on by their partners.

In the past, when the Germans put their country above everything, "über alles", as the national anthem proclaimed, a form of nationalism evolved that progressed through all the phases of an unenlightened sense of national identity, from forced self-assurance to self-delusion to hubris. Our affirmation of our nation today is based on all the things that make this country credible and trustworthy – including its commitment to cooperation with our European and North Atlantic friends. We should not trust in ourselves because we are the German nation, but because we are this German nation.

Let us thus not turn a blind eye, not run from threats, but instead stand firm, not forget, neglect or betray universal values, but instead uphold these values together with our friends and partners. Let us be seen to be living by them, let us defend them.

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Speech to open 50th Munich Security conference, January 31, 2014,  Website of Federal President Joachin Gauck.