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Thursday, October 16, 2014

CRUDIFICATION: Art works document the curse of oil

Oil barrels are transformed into sculptures and unique works of art in the CRUDIFICATION
exhibition which documents the curse of oil.  

The following article comes to us from Karen Dabrowski:
The exhibition at London’s P21 Gallery brings together a collective of artists: nine from Iraq and two from the United Kingdom (Ala Bashir, Andrew Smith, Bassim Mehdi, Hani Mazhar, Jalal Alwan, Mariwan Jalal, Mohammed Ali Dawood, Raid Houby, Richard Janes, Soodad Al-Naib and Zina Al-Jauari) to creatively explore some of the ways in which oil has ruined our humanity.

This is especially the case for those living in nations with an abundance of oil, like the peoples of the Middle East, who have been subjected to foreign wars, invasion, occupation, authoritarianism, sanctions, shock and awe – the list goes on.

Apart from one of the installations with a pink balloon which represents the dreams of a child standing up to announce hope, all the works portray pain, suffering, crushed human beings, and human beings portrayed as the victims and slaves of oil. The oil barrels evoke the immense power of energy and the mannequins symbolise what this deadly force has done to human beings, not to mention the environment.

The first installation Slaves outside the entrance to the gallery by Andrew Smith was inspired by Michaelangelo’s slave works. The figure is crafted from polystyrene, a product of the oil industry embodying our enslavement to the power of oil. “The figure is large, larger than the barrel. However despite out obvious strength, we are still mere slaves to the power of oil,” Smith, a monumental mason turned sculptor explains.

Mohammed Ali Dawood’s installation Double Standards expresses his frustration about how some individuals are abusing oil and natural resources to gain power, using the media to achieve their goals and objectives. He wants to communicate how :”they tend to use different faces other than their true face to hide the reality which is why poor people are becoming poorer and the rich are becoming richer.”

Richard Janes real size oil barrel in an untitled work, shows three bronze figures bound by the barrel sections supporting it but trapped, representing three world: first, second and third. “While this classification and definition of development and political division is contentious, in my work it is meant to be inclusive. All the world is reliant, beggared and trapped by oil,” Janes said.

The final installation Descend Into the Abyss is on the steps leading out of the gallery. Raid Houby explains that in an ideal world, because humans are precious the environment should serve our needs. But while energy is one of those assets that supposedly serve human needs, humans have become the cheapest assets, assaulted for the sake of energy.

“In my vision energy becomes a burden on humans instead of lighting our path for a dignified life. In my artwork I want to highlight the heavy burden of energy that is threatening the existence of nations. Focusing on the relations between energy and humans, I envision the human stripped of all worth, while only oil is valued.”

The video art and mixed media installation by Hani Mazhar explores how nature, history, physics and chemistry all coalesce to create this strange and cruel machine that he has named with three letters O.I.L. He points out that it is no coincidence that the machine’s name starts with the “O” as its wheels spin and grind our bones; nor is it a coincidence that humans wrote the first line of human history and yet leave it to this machine to write the final line with its black ink.”

Curator Sarah Marusek described her time in Iran another country plundered by imperial powers. “I remember seeing a sign that read, ‘This earth is borrowed from our children’. I was later told that there is a similar saying in Native American cultures, as there is in many other ageless cultures, which is why these cultures are still alive today – still resisting against the colonial-imperial project. So when are we going to finally stop and ask, what kind of future will our children be inheriting as a result of the world we have created today?”

The P21 Gallery is an independent London-based charitable organisation established to promote contemporary Middle Eastern and Arab art and culture. The two-story venue in central London has been recently designed by the award winning Egyptian architect, Professor Abdul Halim Ibrahim, as a place where contemporary artistic statements are experienced and appreciated by a global artistic community. The facilities at P21 are planned to maximise the potential of contemporary art as a discourse, through multimedia exhibition spaces on two levels with supporting facilities for public functions and workshops for training and education. In addition, the P21 Gallery hosts a reference library, meeting rooms, a lecture hall as well as a specialised café and provides for a much-needed meeting place in the heart of London.

Exhibition continues until 2nd November
P21 Gallery, 21 Charlton Street, London NW1 1JD Tues – Fri 12pm – 6pm

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Qatar’s Support of Islamists Alienates Allies Near and Far

A senior member of the NCF writes: Accusations that Qatar has helped support a spectrum of Islamist groups by providing safe haven, diplomatic mediation, financial aid and, in certain instances, weapons keep growing. This issue escalated during a recent visit to Doha by three of Saudi Arabia's most senior princes -- the ministers of foreign affairs, interior, and general intelligence. 

With the U.S. now committing itself -- along with a still not fully confirmed list of allied powers -- to limit and ultimately destroy the Islamic State (IS) 'proclaimed' on 29 June, the pressure on Qatar to put more 'actions' behind its 'words' abhoring the activities of the IS and its extremist supporters will increase accordingly.


DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK writes in the THE NEW YORK TIMES:

Standing at the front of a conference hall in Doha, the visiting sheikh told his audience of wealthy Qataris that to help the battered residents of Syria, they should not bother with donations to humanitarian programs or the Western-backed Free Syrian Army.

“Give your money to the ones who will spend it on jihad, not aid,” implored the sheikh, Hajaj al-Ajmi, recently identified by the United States government as a fund-raiser for Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate.

Qatar is a tiny, petroleum-rich Persian Gulf monarchy where the United States has its largest military base in the Middle East. But for years it has tacitly consented to open fund-raising by Sheikh Ajmi and others like him. After his pitch, which he recorded in 2012 and which still circulates on the Internet, a sportscaster from the government-owned network, Al Jazeera, lauded him. “Sheikh Ajmi knows best” about helping Syrians, the sportscaster, Mohamed Sadoun El-Kawary, declared from the same stage.

Sheikh Ajmi’s career as fund-raiser is one example of how Qatar has for many years helped support a spectrum of Islamist groups around the region by providing safe haven, diplomatic mediation, financial aid and, in certain instances, weapons.

Sheikh Ajmi and at least a half-dozen others identified by the United States as private fund-raisers for Al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise operate freely in Doha, often speaking at state-owned mosques and even occasionally appearing on Al Jazeera.

The state itself has provided at least some form of assistance — whether sanctuary, media, money or weapons — to the Taliban of Afghanistan, Hamas of Gaza, rebels from Syria, militias in Libya and allies of the Muslim Brotherhood across the region.

Now, however, Qatar is finding itself under withering attack by an unlikely alignment of interests, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel, which have all sought to portray it as a godfather to terrorists everywhere. Some in Washington have accused it of directly supporting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria — an extremist group so bloodthirsty that Al Qaeda has condemned it — a charge that Western officials, independent analysts and Arab diplomats critical of Qatar all call implausible and unsubstantiated.

“That is just disinformation,” said Michael Stephens, a researcher based in Doha for the Royal United Services Institute, a British research center. “I am not going to excuse what Qatar has done: It has been grossly irresponsible when it comes to the Syrian conflict, like many other countries,” he said. “But to say that Qatar is behind ISIS is just rhetoric; it is politics getting in the way of things, and it blinds people to real solutions.”

Propelling the barrage of accusations against Qatar is a regional contest for power in which competing Persian Gulf monarchies have backed opposing proxies in contested places like Gaza, Libya and especially Egypt. In Egypt, Qatar and its Al Jazeera network backed the former government led by politicians of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Other gulf monarchies long despised the Brotherhood because they saw it as a well-organized force that could threaten their power at home, and they backed the military takeover that removed the Islamist president.


Qatar is hardly the only gulf monarchy to allow open fund-raising by sheikhs that the United States government has linked to Al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, the Nusra Front: Sheikh Ajmi and most of the others are based in Kuwait and readily tap donors in Saudi Arabia, sometimes even making their pitches on Saudi- and Kuwaiti-owned television networks. United States Treasury officials have singled out both Qatar and Kuwait as “permissive jurisdictions” for terrorist fund-raising.

In many cases, several analysts said, Qatar has sought to balance a wager on the future of political Islam as a force in the region with a simultaneous desire not to alienate the West. It has turned a blind eye to private fund-raising for Qaeda-linked groups to buy weapons in Syria, for example, but it has not provided direct government funding or weapons. At times, Mr. Stephens and other analysts said, Western pressure has moved Qatar to at least partly suppress some of the overt fund-raising.

Qatar openly provides a base for leaders of the Palestinian militant group Hamas — deemed a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel — as well as money to help prop up its government in Gaza. But American and Israeli officials say Qatar has stopped short of providing the group with weapons, as Iran does.

Qatar has allowed members of the Taliban to open an office and make their homes in Doha, but as part of deals approved by Washington.

In Libya, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are now backing rival sides in Libya’s escalating domestic unrest, each with unsavory ties: The U.A.E. is backing former fighters for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and members of his ruling elite, while Qatar is backing a coalition that includes militant Islamist groups.

During the 2011 uprising in Libya, Qatar supported an Islamist militia in Benghazi known as Rafallah al-Sehati that had relatively Western-friendly leaders but extremists in its ranks. The extremists later broke away to form Ansar al-Shariah, the militant group that played a role in the death of the American ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens.

Now Qatar is still backing militias at least loosely allied with the group in their fight against an anti-Islamist faction backed by the United Arab Emirates.

But Qatar has also tried to draw lines, according to Western diplomats and Islamists who have worked with Doha. Since the military ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood’s government in Egypt, for example, Islamists in exile say that Qatar has given them sanctuary but has pointedly refused to provide money to the Brotherhood for fear of further alienating its gulf neighbors who backed the takeover.

“They try to calibrate,” said one Brotherhood leader, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid alienating the Qataris.

Many analysts say it is Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood that has drawn accusations from other gulf states that have charged that Qatar is funding terrorism in Syria and elsewhere.

“The big falling-out is over Egypt, not Syria,” said Paul Salem, a scholar at the Middle East Institute. Now, he said, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the other gulf states “are putting the squeeze on Qatar.”

Since the military takeover in Cairo, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have all withdrawn their ambassadors from Doha. And Israel, which once praised Qatar as the only gulf state to open bilateral relations, appears to be capitalizing on the split to pressure Qatar over its support for Hamas. Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, recently called Doha “Club Med for terrorists” in an opinion article in The New York Times.

The United Arab Emirates have retained an American consulting firm, Camstoll Group, staffed by several former United States Treasury Department officials. Its public disclosure forms, filed as a registered foreign agent, showed a pattern of conversations with journalists who subsequently wrote articles critical of Qatar’s role in terrorist fund-raising.

“All the gulf intelligence agencies are competing in Syria and everyone is trying to get the lion’s share of the Syrian revolution,” Sheikh Shafi al-Ajmi, also recently identified by the United States as a fund-raiser for Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, said in an interview on the Saudi-owned Rotana television network last summer.

He openly acknowledged his role buying weapons from the Western-backed military councils, who sometimes received arms from Qatar. “When the military councils sell the weapons they receive, guess who buys them? It’s me,” he said.

He defended the Nusra Front despite its ties to Al Qaeda. “We should not stop supplying them with weapons, because they are still fighting Assad,” he said. And he shared a joke with the host about Kuwait’s well-known role as the hub for Syrian rebel fund-raising. (Both Shafi al-Ajmi and Hajaj al-Ajmi are Kuwaitis; lawyers for both have said they raise money only for legitimate Syrian causes.)

Qatar says it opposes all “extremist groups,” including ISIS. “We are repelled by their views, their violent methods and their ambitions,” Khalid al-Attiyah, the Qatari foreign minister, said in a recent statement about the allegations.

In early 2013, when the West stepped up pressure on Persian Gulf states to crack down on Qaeda-linked fund-raisers, some complained that Qatar was turning against them. Other sheikhs “were welcomed as heroes at a conference in Doha and given lots of gifts, all to cut the support for the Nusra Front and to support the military councils, the pagan coalition,” Hamid Hamad Hamid Al-Ali, another Kuwaiti-born preacher designated last month as a terrorist fund-raiser, protested in an Internet posting in March 2013.

But social media posts and television appearances show that at least a half-dozen United States-designated terrorist fund-raisers, some designated years earlier, continued to frequent Doha.

In 2010, an arm of the Qatari government made a donation to help build a $1.2 million mosque in Yemen for a sheikh, Abdel Wahab al-Humayqani, designated as a fund-raiser for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. (Qatari Embassy officials and Yemeni government officials both attended the opening.)

In 2011, Harith al-Dari, an Iraqi sheikh and tribal leader designated as a terrorist fund-raiser in 2008, appeared on Al Jazeera praying at the opening of a state-owned mosque in Doha just steps from the crown prince of Qatar.

“Arab countries won’t let us in to discuss things with them and complain to them — except one or two,” Sheikh Dari said in a television interview in January. He spoke on Al Jazeera from Qatar, which was evidently among the “one or two.” 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Iraq Report 16

Developments in Iraq 14 August 2014

Following mounting pressure on Nuri al-Maliki from various sources including Iran, U.S., Ayatollah Sistani and his own party, Hezb al-Dawa, he has today stepped down as Iraq's Prime Minister, making way for Prime Minister-designate Haider al-Abadi to become the leader.

Al-Maliki had previously refused to step down after al-Abadi was nominated, saying in a televised address Wednesday that the appointment was a constitutional violation.

Nothing was said as to his terms.

Heitham  al-Jabouri, the speaker of the Alliance for Legal Government, revealed that al-Maliki and al-Abadi had agreed on the transfer of power in Iraq. Ali al-Mousavi, Maliki’s advisor, also announced that Maliki has given up his legal case against Foaud Masoum, the President of Iraq, in the Iraq Federal Court. Ayatollah Sistani had very specifically asked for a new prime minister. Losing the backing of Iran, Sistani and the United States seems finally to have convinced Maliki that he had to give up his hold on power. And even Asa’ib Ahl Al Haq (de-facto Malaki’s militia) now back Abadi (though individual fighters may not do so in some instances). Al-Abadi has the support of Iran, U.S.A. and Saudi Arabia.

We live in hope that this is not just a milestone, but a pivotal moment in broader regional peace.

The situation on the ground:

Things remain as dangerous as ever in Iraq. Part of the problem is the flexibility of IS. When IS is attacked in a counter-insurgency move in one place, they fight back somewhere else.

We must correct an item in our last report. We implied that the government held Jurf Al-Sakhar fifty miles south of Baghdad in Babil Province. This is of course incorrect. IS still holds Jurf Al-Sakhar. We do not use press reports as sources but regrettably some of the sources we use are themselves influenced by reports that minimise the strength of IS and inflate the strength of the Iraq Army. Sometimes the Iraq Government itself does not know what is going on as spokespersons fall into the trap of believing their own PR.

Certainly Baghdad itself is quieter. Though there have been a lot of bombings, including one near Haider al Abadi’s home in Karada. People are angry at the Iraq Security Forces for their failure to keep things under control.

Another correction, some of the population figures we have given you, particularly for the Yezidis, may have been incorrect. This from one of our most reliable sources within Iraq:

“The numbers being thrown around are being questioned. Numbers from Kurdistan sources are too often highly exaggerated.  While initial estimates may make some sense under the circumstances, later updated figures often do not lead to revisions in initial figures. A rule of thumb is to cut them in half and go down from there.

“For example, the number of Yazidis in Iraq is often said to be 500,000.  Vian Dakhil, the Yezidi MP who made such an effective impassioned plea, said in an interview with Dutch media there are 300,000.    There aren't many Yezidi population centers.  500,000 suggests 10 cities with 50,000 Yezidis each or 100 villages of 5,000 each.  Neither makes sense."

The broader picture

For an interesting perspective on the wider picture see Patrick Cokburn’s article on this link

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Iraq report 15

Latest developments in Iraq
INTRODUCTION

The following information has been provided largely through Kurdish sources. The situation is fluid and intense, to say the least.  

One problem facing the Kurdistan Regional Government is a shortage of money to address its mounting responsibilities. There is a real concern being expressed in Arbil that -- despite the will -- available foreign exchange might soon dry up in the local banking centre if new infusions of cash are not received. This would affect the ability of the Kurdish Regional Government to pay the salaries of civil servants and even the vaunted Pershmerga militia fighters. 

One reason for this problem is that a dispute over oil has caused the central government to stop all payments to the KRG. That Baghdad would devote time and money to preventing the KRG from independently recovering even a small fraction of what it is owed is inexplicable, especially as the federal government fights a massive insurgency by IS and struggles to maintain its own institutions. 

Hopefully, the incoming administration of prime minister-designate, Haidar al-Abadi, will reverse this situation and seek to address Kurdish (as well as Sunni) grievances. 

The NCF met al-Abadi a few weeks ago and was impressed. He takes a no-nonsense view of Kurdish efforts to extract money from the central government while seeking an independent source of income abroad. However, he is far more flexible than his predecessor, Nuri al-Maliki, who continues to resist his replacement at the time of this writing, despite his rapidly diminishing support.

Diyala Province
Peshmerga forces have been forced to retreat from Jalawla by IS having failed in their counter offensive. An indeterminate number of Peshmerga were killed in the fighting and the area is now under complete IS control
Arbil Province
Refugees - those the UN disingenuously calls internally displaced persons (IDPs) - continue to flood into the Kurdistan Region, with estimates at well over one million people in need of critical humanitarian aid. This number will only rise as Yezidis from Sinjar continue to be rescued and brought to the Kurdistan Region for medical attention. Immediate humanitarian aid, in terms of food, water, housing, medical supplies, and funds, is desperately needed. Prior to the Islamic State's (IS) offensive in Sinjar (Singal) and theNinevah (Ninawa) Governorate, the Kurdistan Region hosted nearly one million refugees and IDPs. 
Makhmour town and the surrounding villages are back under Peshmerga control after four days of fighting (Makhmour District is in the extreme South of Arbil Province and is technically part of the disputed territories)The town Gwer, also in Makhmour District, located about 25 miles southwest of Arbil, is also under Kurdish Peshmerga control again. These efforts have been aided by US airstrikes, although continuous air support is necessary in order to hold these towns.

Lufthansa have cancelled flights to Arbil leaving MEA, Turkish Airlines, and Royal Jordanian as the only three major carriers operating to Arbil. The US Consulate in Erbil remains open and operational, although some non-essential staff have been relocated.
Ninevah Province
Bashika district in the Ninevah Plane (Eastern Ninevah) is now partially under IS control
Fighting between Peshmerga and IS continues in the Al-Shallalat district to the North of Mosul

The town of Zummar, near the Syrian border, remains largely under IS control, though the Peshmerga forces are making headway

IS remains in control of Christian towns and villages including Qaraqosh. IS fighters still control Tel Afar, Tel Keyf, and other towns in Ninevah Governorate. 

Sinjar district, still under IS control, is the scene of fierce clashes with Peshmerga. Limited airstrikes by the US military are taking place in and around Sinjar, in support of Kurdish Peshmerga operations to maintain a corridor to evacuate civilians, and a limited number have been escorted to safety. A massive air search and rescue is also underway to locate civilians stranded on Mount Sinjar. The Sinjar mountain range stretches almost 50 miles along the Iraq-Syrian border and is 3,000 foot high at its highest point, with extremely rugged terrain. Between 30,000 and 40,000 refugees (predominantly but by no means exclusively Yezidis) are estimated to still be on the mountain (some press estimates of numbers approaching 100,000 are not credible). Hospitals and clinics in the Duhok area have received thousands of rescued Yezidis, with over 100 doctors volunteering for the relief efforts. Unimaginable atrocities continue to be committed against Christian and Yezidi minority populations throughout Ninevah Governorate. In Sinjar, An indeterminate number of Sinjar women captured by IS have been relocated to Mosul and are being forcefully married off to IS militants. The US military has been conducting airdrops of food and supplies on Mount Sinjar since Thursday. It has been reported that these were dropped from a great height which would seem to negate or seriously reduce its actual effectiveness.  France, Canada, Italy, Germany, and the UK have also pledged to support humanitarian relief efforts. On Sunday August 10, the United Kingdom began with an initial airdrop of food and supplies over Mount Sinjar from two British C130s. The UK has pledged to contribute a total of £13 million for refugees and IDPs in Iraq.

The most immediate direct threat facing the area is IS control over Mosul Dam, putting the group in control of the most substantial water and electricity asset in the region. The dam is poorly constructed and aging, and requires regular maintenance to prevent catastrophic failure; a 2006 assessment by the US Army Corps of Engineers called it "the most dangerous dam in the world". IS has claimed that they will destroy the dam if they lose control of the area. Such an event would send a wave 63 feet high through the city of Mosul, and cause widespread flooding along the Tigris, one of the most densely populated regions of Iraq
Baghdad would also experience serious flooding. Analysts estimate over half a million people would be killed.


Babil Province

An IS attack on the town of Jurf Al-Sakhar fifty miles south of Baghdad has been repelled

Developments in Iraq

In an exciting development, Haider al-Abadi, who is a senior member of the Islamic Dawa Party, has been asked to form a government by the Iraqpresident, Fouad Massoum. Mr. Abadi now has 30 days in which to form a government. During that time, Mr. Nouri Al-Maliki will remain as a caretaker leader, and as commander-in-chief of Iraq’s security forces.

There have been fears expressed that Maliki may attempt a coup d'état to retain power, but in the unlikely event that should happen, that seems impossible to succeed. Maliki sped up his demise by an ill thought through show of force last night, which galvanised many against him this morning, including much of his own bloc. Maliki tonight gave a speech assuring the security forces that he'll reverse this “error” calling it unconstitutional. The army twitter account, however, tweeted earlier that it's “Iraq's army not Maliki's...” There was a pro-Maliki demo in Baghdad today, with an embarrassingly small number of people who had all been bussed in from the provinces, paid and given free food. The situation in Baghdad is tense, with army troops on high alert.

The choice of the shrewd Dr Haider Al Abadi, is about the best thing that has happened to Iraq this year. He is chairman of the parliamentary finance committee. Dr Haider has strong views though. The NCF talked to him in Baghdad recently:
1.       On Kirkuk: Al Abadi favoured giving special status to the province.
2.       Electorally he favours the ‘top-up’ system promoted by the UN back in 2010 that strongly favoured the largest parties. Rather than the present system of PR that gives a distinct advantage to the mid-weight parties.
3.       He regards corruption and bureaucracy as two of Iraq’s key problems.
His views are none the less considered and he is open to discussion. He is intelligent with a phenomenal memory for figures and statistics, affable and approachable. He is a remarkable man. He is not proud and there is indeed no element of hubris about him. It will be remarkably good news if he manages to form a government – and with a little good will on all sides there is no reason he should not. He is considered one of the “old leadership” of the Dawa Party in which he has had a leading role since the late 70s. He spent quite a lot of time in London in his exile years. He has good relationships with most of the political groups. He was Minister of Communications in Alawi’s government, the first government of post liberation Iraq. Amr al-Hakim’s ISCI party, the “conservative party” of ShiiteIraq, is supporting him strongly. One of their most senior men told NCF tonight, “We hope that the choice is right. It won’t be an easy job for him. He has made it clear that he is ready to make agreements with the other political forces.”

Meanwhile our sources indicate that Nouri Al-Maliki has agreed to step down as Prime Minister subject to certain conditions. Some of his terms are:

1.    That he is made either Vice President or Minister of Interior.
2.    Nouri Al-Maliki also asks for a personal guard of at least 2,500 soldiers under his direct command drawn from the Baghdad Brigade of the Iraq Army.

However, other members of the Shiite alliance say such demands “Can’t be taken seriously”. The new Premier has only one month in which to form a government. But members of the Shiite Alliance point out that 130 Shiite Alliance MPs agreed to the nomination of Haider Al Ibadi “without preconditions”.

President Barack Obama called to offer his support to Haider Al Abadi, and urged him to form an inclusive government, he said Monday afternoon.

"Today Iraq took a promising step forward" in the effort to create a new government "that can unite Iraq's different communities," Obama said from Martha's Vineyard, Mass.


On other developments – we have been reliably made aware of the fact that casualty claims from various parties with regard to air strikes made by US / Iraq Army forces in Northern Iraq have been grossly incorrect in most instances – we therefore advise all journalists associated with the NCF not to report casualty figures unless they have their own credible sources independent of any government. UN casualty figures for Iraq have also now been utterly discredited. They are far too low. Our own sources indicate almost 4,000 dead in the past week alone.


As regards the on the ground position – there is now fighting on so very many fronts that we can no longer list all the battlefronts – at least not at the moment. President Masoud Barzani of Kurdistan wrote an editorial in today’s Washington Post begging for more military aid to help the Kurds fight IS.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Iraq Conflict Update: 30th July, 2014


The Kurdish politician, Faoud Massoum, was appointed to the Iraqi presidency by the Iraqi parliament on 24th July. The appointment of both speaker Salim Abdullah al-Jabouri, elected on July 15th, and president (see below for biographies of both men) shows that the Iraq parliament has begun taking important steps towards choosing a stable government and putting an end to the parliamentary deadlock. However, a deal has yet to be brokered for the appointment of the powerful position of prime minister. Under Iraq’s constitution the President now has to ask a premier to attempt to form a government (presumably not before 5th August when parliament reconvenes). However it seems increasingly difficult for caretaker premier Nouri al Maliki to retain power. Grand Ayatollah Sistani gave his clearest indication yet that he does not support a further term for Nouri al Maliki when he said in a sermon on Friday that politicians should not cling to power. Sistani said it is time for politicians to think of Iraq’s interests, not their own: “The sensitivity of this phase necessitates that all the parties concerned should have a spirit of national responsibility that requires the practice of the principle of sacrifice and self-denial and not to cling to positions and posts.”

Baghdad
Following the election of Faoud Massoum, two car bombs exploded in Baghdad’s central area Karradeh, killing 21 people and injuring many more. 

Salah ad-Din Province
Many dead and injured following an Iraqi Army airstrike targeting insurgents in the region between Suleiman Beg and the Turkman village of Amerli.

Rebels still hold the Baiji oil refinery despite claims that 300 insurgents have been killed in the fighting.

A building in the Al-Qadisiya region of Tikrit functioning as an HQ for IS, was hit by an airstrike by the Iraq air force. However an offensive by the Iraq Army has thus far failed to retake the city.
                                                                                      
Dozens were wounded and killed in an airstrike on insurgents in Al Dhuluiya.

Anbar Province
Syrian fighter aircraft targeted IS fighters in Rawah.

Between Al-Karmah and Abu Ghraib, there have been clashes between insurgents and the army. A number were killed by an airstrike targeting insurgents in Al-Shorta.

A number were killed in clashes between insurgents and the Iraq security forces in Al-Saqlaqiya and Al-Karmah near Fallujah. Clashes were also reported west of Ramadi.
  
Diyala Province
Clashes in the Tajneed district of Jalawla; Nofal village near al-Muqdadiya; East of Baquba; and West of Baquba in the Katoon district. A number killed (though Baquba, the capital of Diyala province, remains firmly in government hands, many of the surrounding Sunni villages change hands frequently). 

Controversially, Iraq security forces shelled orchards adjacent to the Diyala River near Buhriz. Airstrikes in the area also targeted insurgents in an attempt to halt their advance further towards Baghdad.

Ninevah Province
An air strike of the Iraq Army on the airbases of Tal Afar and Qayyara.

On the outskirts of Sinjar dozens of Kurdish Yezidi families were forced to flee their homes following an insurgent attack. IS continues to target the Yazidi, Shabak and Christian communities of the Ninevah region.

Biographies of Faoud Massoum and Salim Abdullah al-Jabouri

Faoud Massoum, President of Iraq
Faoud Massoum (76 years old) is dignified, mature, well respected throughout Kurdistan, and is head of the Kurdistan bloc in the Iraqi parliament.  Self-effacing and quietly mild mannered, he was born Muhammad Fouad Massoum Hawrami in Koye in the Erbil governorate in Northern Iraq in 1938. His parents came from the Hawraman area and his father was a notable cleric. He is a close confident of Jalal Talabani and the both of them are from prominent religious families and grew up in the same town. He and Talabani would go on to establish the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in 1975.

Massoum studied at Kurdish religious schools and in 1958 he began studies at Egypt’s prestigious Al-Azhar University, where he earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in Islamic studies, and later his PhD.

Massoum was a member of the Iraqi Communist Party, which he left early in his career to join the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in 1964. He also taught at the University of Basra and was in charge of the KDP's military operations in Iraqi Kurdistan in the late 60s.

Massoum was a representative of the KDP and Mustafa Barzani in Cairo between 1973-75 before helping to found the new PUK. In the 1980s, he used his connections to help the KDP and PUK reconcile. In 1992, he became the first prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), replaced by the aggressive Kosrat Rasul who went on to attack the Islamists (Dec 1993) and fight the KDP during the mid 1990s, now vice president next to Masoud. During the mid-1990's KDP-PUK conflict he was captured by the KDP (the PUK forgot him when Iraqi forces entered Erbil in August 1996), taken very good care of and offered the opportunity to stay or return to the PUK.  He returned.

He was strongly opposed to Saddam Hussein and was involved in the drafting of the new Iraqi constitution following the invasion in 2003.

In 2004, he became the first speaker of the interim Iraqi parliament, and the year after he became an Iraqi MP. Apart from his other duties, Massoum has supervised the current Iraqi prime minister’s graduate dissertation at Salahaddin University in Erbil.

Massoum retains the respect of both the KDP and PUK. He is married and has five daughters.

Salim Abdullah al-Jabouri, Speaker of Parliament
On July 15th, Salim Abdullah al-Jabouri was elected speaker of the Iraq Parliament. The Sunni Arab is a professor of law at Nahrain University in Baghdad but was born and raised in Mugdadiya, Diyala province.

43 year old Salim Abdullah al-Jabouri is the youngest speaker in Iraq’s history. In 2010, al-Jubouri was nominated to parliament and headed the Human Rights Committee. He accused the government of Nouri al Maliki of torturing detainees. Salim Abdullah al-Jabouri is on record as saying he does not support a third term for Premier Nouri al Maliki.

Al-Jabouri has “serious crime cases” pending. In 2014, he was targeted by a roadside bomb, which killed two of his bodyguards.

In the general election of 2014, he was elected in the predominantly Sunni Arab list ‘Diyala Is Our Identity Coalition’ which is part of the wider Muttahidoon party. When al-Jabouri got elected speaker he expressed his belief in dialogue and mutual understanding, when stating in a press release, “that many political powers feel of the urgent need to this dialogue and hopes to reach a solution satisfactory to all parties to achieve the interest of Iraq at the end.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Iraq Conflict Update: 22 July, 2014

In Iraq pressure remains high for the political authorities to form a unity government. General developments in Iraq indicate a stalemate with IS showing both its depth of resources and its limited ability to hold on to further military gains. The failed joint assault by the ISF and Shiite militias on Tikrit underscores their inability to defeat the insurgents.

Salah ad-Din Province
Renewed fighting erupted around the university buildings in Tikrit. IS insurgents were forced to withdraw from Contingency Operating Base Speicher by ISF.

In Al-Dhuluiya clashes continue between IS insurgents and ISF, which are being supported by local tribesmen and air support from the Iraqi Airforce.

The NGO ShiaRightsWatch published a report on the lack of access to water and food in Tuz Khormotu. For more information, click here.

Anbar Province
In Anbar the ISF continues attacks on the northern outskirts of Fallujah. Clashes in Ramadi are ongoing.

Kirkuk Province
IS insurgent attacks on Peshmerga positions at Tal Al-Warid and Mala Abdulla.

Diyala Province
Following shelling and airstrikes targeting their positions, IS has withdrawn from the Al-Adhim area of northern Diyala. Clashes broke out between Peshmerga and insurgents south of Jalawla.

Fighting in Al-Hawuraniya, north of Al-Muqdadiya.

Ninevah Province
Mosul’s Christians are increasingly being targeted by IS who force them to convert and pay taxes as a condition for not being expelled from the city.

An airstrike took place.

The Turkish Consulate building is function as an HQ for IS.

IS withdrew some of its forces from  East Mosul a week ago. IS’s main fighting strength was needed in areas south of Tikrit to fight the IA.

Naqshbandi tribes (loyal to the insurgency) are taking down IS flags and replacing them with their own.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria


The NCF's Religious Affairs Advisor has drawn our attention to a remarkable display of solidarity against the allure of ISIS (IS). UK based Imams (Shi'ite and Sunni) have made a public video warning young men not to become drawn into the fantasy of a puritan, Islamic utopia as advocated by ISIS (IS). They are clear that the 10 conditions for a Caliphate are not met by (IS) and therefore the proclamation of a Caliphate in Syria/Iraq is null and void.

Their message can be seen on the below link.

Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq


We have decided to issue a short report on each of the three major Shiite political parties in today’s Iraq, ISCI, Dawa, and the Sadrists. ISCI first:
The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), formerly known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and sometimes just called “Majlis” (meaning “The Council”) is headed by Sayyed Amr al-Hakim. Founded in 1982, it depends upon the support of the country’s Shia community. Despite a strong showing in Iraq’s earlier elections; ISCI did poorly in the 2010 parliamentary election at a time when Nouri Al-Maliki and his Dawa Party were in the ascendancy. ISCI bounced back however and the coalition of which ISCI forms the principal part, the Iraq National Alliance, fared well in the 2014 elections. Today, ISCI remains one of the three major Shiite political parties; the others being the State of Law coalition (of which the Premier’s Dawa Party is the main element), and the Sadrist group. ISCI are paternalist in nature and are the conservative (or if you prefer Republican) party of Iraq Shiite politics. Their preferred candidate for Premier has been Bayan Jabr but he is unlikely to gain cross Shiite political support so they are currently promoting Adel Abdul Mahdi.
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Maliki’s premiership
Maliki does not have ISCI’s backing as the man to deal with the ISIS threat. Spokesman for the Sadrist bloc (currently allied with ISCI), Jawad Al-Jubouri, declared Adel Abdul Mahdi, ISCI member and former Iraq Vice-President, was among the favourites to represent the Shia alliance instead of Maliki, the other name in the frame being Ahmed Chalabi (though no Sadrist himself Chalabi has long been the darling of the Sadrist movement).
Amr al-Hakim says that finding a new Prime Minister “acceptable to the other partners” and “representing the majority” is essential as this is “how we create the rhythm”.
One very senior member of ISCI told the NCF, “Our problem is that Premier Maliki issues statements without consulting any of us. To be honest this actually weakens his position in the Shiite alliance. Though thus far only ISCI and the Sadrists have stood up to Maliki. And time is sensitive. Those close to Maliki are suggesting we can take a couple of months to decide on the premiership but that we should decide who is to be President and Speaker immediately. We don’t want any such postponement because that would be the road to dictatorship.”
International Influence
ISCI does not support Iranian intervention in Iraq. Senior member of ISCI, Ali Al-Moayyed, has declared that Iraq’s citizens are still capable of dealing with the current crisis without outside help. He stated that "given the fatwa issued by the religious authority [Ayatollah Ali Sistani] and presence of millions of Iraqi people on the scene, I don't think there will be any need to the presence of noble Iranians in Iraq's war fronts."
On the ISIS issue, ISCI President Amr al-Hakim said there was a “need to face the severe terrorist attack through unity”, stressing the importance of harmonising domestic, regional and international efforts to fight terrorism so as to deliver a coherent and coordinated response to current threats to the country, the region and the world.
Political Unity and Terrorism
Amr al-Hakim reiterated his belief that Iraq has the “ability to overcome all problems and crises” through the establishment of “partnerships among the key political actors of the country”. He stressed how urgent it was to avoid “mutual accusation of disloyalty” and accused Iraq’s television channels of strengthening sectarian divisions and called on his followers to respect the call for reconciliation delivered by the Iraq’s religious leaders.
He further announced that Iraqis must be ready to make sacrifices if they wish to achieve democracy; “everything has a price that everyone must pay”. He went on to say that those “igniting the flame of terrorism” would eventually be consumed by its fire. He further added that the “impure, intellectually trivial and criminal Takfiri Daesh terrorists (i.e. ISIS)” will soon be forced to retreat.
“Iraqis believe it is their destiny to defend the country, the region, and the world” he continued. He declared that “the conflict today is a conflict of wills, not of politics” and that victory would go to those who were in the right. He further added that those who remain silent about current injustices committed by the terrorists are just as guilty as they are.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Jaysh al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia


The Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia (JRTN), which is rendered in English as the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order, is a large and prominent Sunni insurgent group in Iraq. JRTN endorses violent strategies and is a nationalist/Ba’athist group rather than a quasi-religious group.

JRTN was established in December 2006 following the execution of Saddam Hussein ostensibly as a reactionary force to protect Naqshbandis from extremists such as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (the predecessor to ISIS from which ISIS evolved). It works closely with and is part of the Baathist “Majlis al Askeri” or General Military Council which meets in Mosul. JRTN is the lead Baathist command and is the second largest military force in the uprising after ISIS (indeed it almost certainly is actually numerically superior to ISIS but ISIS is far better equipped and has far greater financial resources).

The Naqshbandia (i.e. the religious movement rather than the JRTN military force) is a major spiritual order of Sunni Sufism which traces its spiritual lineage to the prophet Muhammad through Abu Bakr, the first Caliph and Muhammad’s companion. There are other Naqshbandia orders that trace their lineage through Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law and the fourth Caliph. Izzat al-Douri has been a Naqshbandi sheikh since the late 70s.

The JRTN military force has Ba’athist colouring and is also led by Saddam’s former deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the last surviving plotter of those who brought the Ba’ath party to power in the 1968 Iraq coup (and the man elected to the leadership of the Iraqi Ba’ath after the execution of Saddam). It is unclear as to what extent al-Douri has a role in the day-to-day running of the group. He has rarely been seen since the 2003 invasion though a video surfaced in 2012 showing him to be alive. There are reports that he requires regular dialysis and if these reports are true, as is likely, al-Douri is more of an insurgent figurehead than an operational leader.

Al-Douri’s authority and history as a member of the Ba’ath party leadership has been important in driving up recruitment numbers among Sunnis. He is a regarded as a veteran networker and coalition builder, with extensive contacts. Izzat al-Douri has up till recently been outside Iraq fundraising for the insurgency and for its monthly magazine publicising the group’s operations and promoting its ideology through which it solicits donations. He is in Iraq now. According to local sources, al-Douri visited the Mosul governorate headquarters of JRTN on 12th June in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Mosul prior to which he was hiding in a “country in the region” (presumed by many to be Qatar).

The group operates in Baghdad, al-Anbar, Ninaweh, Diyala and Salah al-Din provinces. JRTN utilises guerrilla tactics that include attacking soft targets first to minimise its own casualties. The group uses a two-pronged strategy which has a so called “defensive phase” which involves attacks from a distance, typically with missiles, followed by an assault phase.

Role played in the 2014 Iraq Conflict
The JRTN played a significant role in the capture of Mosul earlier this month. The JRTN took responsibility for “liberating” the five bridges that connect the western and eastern parts of Mosul. They have assumed an increasingly commanding role in the administration of the insurgent occupied cities. Some of their generals have been proclaimed “governors” of captured cities. For instance Ahmed Abdul Rashid has been appointed the governor to Tikrit.

JRTN has been increasingly prominent in this anti-government insurgency taking an active part in what are known as the Tribal Military Councils since the commencement of the Anbar crisis in January 2014.

There are three or four strands to the insurgency:

1.      The smaller Islamist groups like Jaish Ansar al Sunnah
2.      The neo-Baathists of the General Military Council, foremost among which are the JRTN. Sunnis who want to restore a Saddam-style dictatorship but don’t share ISIS’s hard-line interpretation of Islam.
3.      The tribal groups.
4.      ISIS, the strike force spearheading much of the combat.

JRTN is very well organised, but they’re not as large as ISIS and they don’t have the financial resources that ISIS do.

It might seem that ISIS and the JRTN will sooner or later have a fall out. At a local level there was a minor squabble that resulted in some infighting over the spoils of war but by and large the two theoretically diametrically opposed forces have coexisted on the age old formula of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”. Ever since 2003, when the Ansar al-Islam group, the Kurdish Islamists thrown out of Halabja by US Special Forces, took refuge in Mosul, Islamist and Baathist groups have coexisted.

The story of how ISIS evolved is convoluted and perhaps appropriate for a separate report; but sufficient to say that after 9/11 2001 these Islamist groups gradually grew stronger and they ended up headquartered in Mosul from 2003 on - along with the former Baathists – and these groups have a history of working closely, very closely, together, despite their totally incompatible ideologies. Having said which, ISIS holds a very specific and particular view of Islam, which is not compatible with the views of the JRTN (a group which only has a nominal quasi-Sufi affiliation). In any case, both Sufism and Baathism stand in stark contrast with Salafism (Islamic Puritanism) and Takfirism (the rejection of those who do not share your beliefs as heretics). Both groups currently push their religious differences aside to unite against their common enemy. However, any such Sufi-Salafi alliance is unlikely to survive in the absence of a common enemy, and in time may provoke a new and bitter conflict in strife-torn Iraq. ISIS wants to create an Islamic Caliphate whilst JRTN want to restore Baathist rule. These differences are not going to go away anytime soon.

Furthermore, JRTN was opposed to AQI (led by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi who leads ISIS today) when the group was first founded in 2006. This past conflict between JRTN and AQI suggests that there would be tensions between the JRTN and ISIS leadership. In May 31, there were clashes between the JRTN and ISIS, which took place in Salah ad-Din (admittedly between local militia men over who would take home captured oil tankers) and recently there have been clashes in Hawija, near Kirkuk, between the two groups. Other clashes have taken place, including in Mosul itself, which are often reported as having been over ideology, but the sordid truth is that these are invariably squabbles over money at a local level.

The Naqshbandi Sufi movement from which JRTN takes its name has a formulaic spiritual code which involves watchfulness, solitude, contemplation and restraint.