Archive | June 22nd, 2014

WikiLeaked Doc Reveals Wall Street Plan for Global Financial Deregulation


WikiLeaks releases draft text of trade deal exposing efforts to increase stranglehold over global economy

– Jon Queally

The ‘WikiLeaks Mobile Information Collection Unit’ created by artist and activist Clark Stoeckley (cc/flickr).WikiLeaks published a previously tightly-held and secretive draft of a trade document on Thursday that, if enacted, would give the world’s financial powers an even more dominant position to control the global economy by avoiding regulations and public accountability.

Known as a Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), the draft represents the negotiating positions of the U.S. and E.U. and lays out the deregulatory strategies championed by some of the world’s largest banks and investment firms.

According to WikiLeaks:

Despite the failures in financial regulation evident during the 2007-2008 Global Financial Crisis and calls for improvement of relevant regulatory structures, proponents of TISA aim to further deregulate global financial services markets. The draft Financial Services Annex sets rules which would assist the expansion of financial multi-nationals – mainly headquartered in New York, London, Paris and Frankfurt – into other nations by preventing regulatory barriers. The leaked draft also shows that the US is particularly keen on boosting cross-border data flow, which would allow uninhibited exchange of personal and financial data.

TISA negotiations are currently taking place outside of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) framework. However, the Agreement is being crafted to be compatible with GATS so that a critical mass of participants will be able to pressure remaining WTO members to sign on in the future. Conspicuously absent from the 50 countries covered by the negotiations are the BRICS countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China. The exclusive nature of TISA will weaken their position in future services negotiations.

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said the deal described in the draft, if approved by national governments, would be a disaster for any regulatory efforts designed to put a check on global finance.

In a statement responding to the TISA draft released by WikiLeaks on Thursday, Wallach said:

“If the text that was leaked today went into force, it would roll back the improvements made after the global financial crisis to safeguard consumers and financial stability and cement us into the extreme deregulatory model of the 1990s that led to the crisis in the first place and the billions in losses to consumers and governments.

“This is a text that big banks and financial speculators may love but that could do real damage to the rest of us. It includes a provision that is literally called ‘standstill’ that would forbid countries from improving financial regulation and would lock them into whatever policies they had on the books in the past.”

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Attack on Iraq Would Violate US Law, Experts Warn


An attack on Iraq would violate the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution,” warns Paul Findley, author of War Powers Resolution

– Sarah Lazare

President Barack Obama convenes an Oval Office meeting with his national security team to discuss the situation in Iraq, June 13, 2014. (Photo: White House / Creative Commons)Prominent legal scholars and the key author of the War Powers Resolution—which checks the president’s power to launch military attacks—warned Thursday that an attack on Iraq would violate U.S. law.

Paul Findley, 22 year veteran of the U.S. House of Representatives, who was a key author of the War Powers Resolution, warned in a statement, “Just as with threats to attack Syria last year, an attack on Iraq would violate the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution. As with any president, he [President Obama] commits an impeachable offense if he does not follow the Constitution.”

Marjorie Cohn, Professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, agrees:

Under the War Powers Resolution, the President can introduce U.S. troops into hostilities, or into situations ‘where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances,’ only after (1) a Congressional declaration of war, (2) ‘specific statutory authorization,’ or (3) in ‘a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.’

This is the current situation: First, Congress has not declared war. Second, neither the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) (which Bush used to invade Iraq), nor the 2001 AUMF (which Bush used to invade Afghanistan), would provide a legal basis for an attack on Iraq at the present time. Third, there has been no attack on the United States or U.S. armed forces. Moreover, the UN Charter only allows a military attack on another country in the case of self-defense or when the UN Security Council authorizes it; neither is the case at the present time.

Passed in 1973, despite former President Nixon’s veto, the War Powers Resolution followed public outrage at the brutality of the Vietnam War.

The warnings followed a speech by President Obama’s delivered Thursday in which he announced he is sending 300 military advisers and “preparing to take targeted and precise military action if and when we determine situation on ground requires it.”

Francis Boyle, professor at the University of Illinois College of Law, warns, “This could escalate in any number of ways — exactly what the War Powers Resolution was supposed to stop. It’s not legitimate for the president — or members of Congress — to make arrangements that violate the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution.”

He added, “Obama just stated that the 300 U.S. troops would be doing training, but CNN reports his spokesperson Jay Carney stated they would also ‘provide airfield management security and logistic support.’ Does this mean that they will become the required forward air controllers for the targeted and precise military action that Obama says he is preparing? If the U.S. is going to target ISIS, will it be limited to Iraq or will it eventually go into Syria?”

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Best Case Against Attacking Iraq? The Last Attack on Iraq

As Obama continues to “weigh” airstrikes, anti-war critics demand honest accounting of previous fiasco
– Jon Queally

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has indicated he won’t step down as a pre-condition for U.S. airstrikes. (Credit: flick / cc /United States Forces Iraq)As the latest reporting from both Baghdad and Washington, D.C. reveal diplomatic machinations paving the way for possible U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, increasing numbers of peopleare asking President Obama—and the American people—to look at the repeated and failed policy of military intervention in the region as the best argument against making the same mistake yet again.

Following members of the Iraqi government on Wednesday making official requests for U.S. airstrikes to combat the military advances of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL),rumblings in Washington suggest that one of the pre-conditions for such support would be the resignation of Iraq’s current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

As the Guardian reports:

Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate intelligence committee, told a hearing on Wednesday that Maliki’s government “has got to go if you want any reconciliation”, and Republican John McCain called for the use of US air power but also urged Obama to “make very clear to Maliki that his time is up”.

The White House has not called for Maliki to go but spokesman Jay Carney said that whether Iraq was led by Maliki or a successor, “We will aggressively attempt to impress upon that leader the absolute necessity of rejecting sectarian governance.” The US secretary of state, John Kerry, said Washington was focused on the Iraqi people, not Maliki.

So far, Maliki has reportedly rebuffed criticisms that his sectarian-style of rule has contributed to the marginalization of Sunni community members, from which ISIL is now drawing most of its support and legitimacy. A spokesman for Maliki on Thursday said he would not stand aside.

At the beginning of the week, President Obama moved an aircraft carrier battle group into the Persian Gulf and on Tuesday ordered nearly 300 combat-ready troops to the country. But even as events on the ground and within high-level political arenas move rapidly, the chorus of those urging against further U.S. military action continues to raise its strong objections.

In a previewed segment of an interview with Bill Moyers, combat veteran and military historian Andrew Bacevich rejects the idea that additional armed intervention in the Middle East can actually help solve the current crisis.

“If you think back to 1980,” Bavevich tells Moyers, “and just sort of tick off the number of military enterprises that we have been engaged with in that part of the world, larger and small—Beirut, Afghanistan, Iraq, and on and on—and ask yourself, ‘Is the region becoming more stable? Is it becoming more democratic?'”

The answer to those key questions, says Bacevich: “No and no.’

Writing for the Guardian, columnist Seamus Milne takes on the argument made by people like Sen. John McCain, other war hawks and the neoconservatives who led the country to war in 2003 that what caused the current crisis in Iraq was the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops. In a piece that argues “more US bombs and drones will only escalate Iraq’s horror,” Milnewrites:

The idea that this horror story can be disconnected from the US-led military occupation of Iraq that preceded it, as the war’s apologists still try to maintain, is an absurdity. It’s not just that there was no al-Qaida or Isis in the country before the invasion, or that the occupiers deliberately dismantled the Iraqi state and army and destroyed the country’s infrastructure in the process. It’s that colonial divide-and-rule sectarianism was deliberately fostered from the first day of the occupation.

Not only was a religious and ethnic carve-up enforced across public life, but US commanders were directly involved in sponsoring an El Salvador-style dirty war of sectarian death squads to undermine the armed resistance.

Maliki was himself selected by the US as a suitable strongman to protect its interests. That’s not to suggest that any transition from Saddam’s dictatorship wouldn’t have been painful, or that Iraqis have had no agency in what took place. But much of the western debate of the past week has glossed over the scale of the human and social catastrophe unleashed by the US-led war.

Looking at the financial and social costs of the last U.S. war in Iraq, Doug Hall, executive director of the National Priorities Project, presents numbers that estimate the combat costs of the invasion in 2003 and subsequent occupation at more than $800 billion and other economists have put the total long-term costs in the trillions.

“With our domestic economy still struggling, our veterans in dire need of care and support, and millions of people struggling to make ends meet at home, we can’t afford to sink more taxpayer dollars into renewed combat operations,” said Hall on Thursday. “The President and Congress must look for ways to be helpful in the Iraq crisis that don’t involve combat operations and the cost to our nation that goes along with them.”

Meanwhile, the editors at the The Nation made their case against U.S. airstrikes on Wednesday by rejecting much of the current mainstream debate and, like Bacevich, asking readers to look at the history of U.S. involvement in Iraq stretching back more than three decades. They write:

The stunning military advance into cities in northern and central Iraq by an Al Qaeda offshoot, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—backed by some of Iraq’s Sunni tribal paramilitary forces and a militia tied to remnants of the deposed Baath party—compounds Iraq’s long-running tragedy. For thirty-four years—through the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88), the Gulf War (1990–91), the brutal US-led sanctions against Iraq (1990–2003) and the devastation that followed the US invasion in 2003—Iraq’s people have suffered unspeakably. Now the ISIS-led offensive is adding to that suffering. In seizing Falluja, Mosul and a string of other cities, ISIS has left devastation and mass executions in its wake, and it is aggressively provoking a revival of the Sunni-versus-Shiite civil war that left thousands dead between 2005 and 2008.

But American military involvement in the latest eruption in Iraq, reportedly under consideration by President Obama, would be the wrong response to that suffering, morally and strategically. Even if limited to airstrikes, whether from F-16s, cruise missiles or drones, military action by Washington would almost certainly kill civilians, especially since ISIS is concentrated in heavily populated cities. Worse, such action would inflame, not ease, Iraq’s sectarian divisions, allying Washington more closely with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s monumentally corrupt and sectarian regime and against a seething Sunni population, and would send recruits streaming into ISIS’s camp.

As Milne concludes, “The entire Arab world is living with the fallout from a century of attempts to control their region and resources. More intervention will only deepen the crisis.”

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Who Won Iraq?


Lost dreams, lost armies, jihadi states, and the arc of Instability

(Credit: U.S. Army/cc/flickr)As Iraq was unraveling last week and the possible outlines of the first jihadist state in modern history were coming into view, I remembered this nugget from the summer of 2002.  At the time, journalist Ron Suskind had a meeting with “a senior advisor” to President George W. Bush (later identified as Karl Rove).  Here’s how he described part of their conversation:

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off.  ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued.  ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’”

As events unfold increasingly chaotically across the region that officials of the Bush years liked to call the Greater Middle East, consider the eerie accuracy of that statement.  The president, his vice president Dick Cheney, his defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and his national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, among others, were indeed “history’s actors.”  They did create “new realities” and, just as Rove suggested, the rest of us are now left to “study” what they did.

And oh, what they did!  Their geopolitical dreams couldn’t have been grander or more global.  (Let’s avoid the word “megalomaniacal.”)  They expected to pacify the Greater Middle East,garrison Iraq for generations, make Syria and Iran bow down before American power, “drain” the global “swamp” of terrorists, and create a global Pax Americana based on a military so dominant that no other country or bloc of countries would ever challenge it.

It was quite a dream and none of it, not one smidgen, came true.  Just as Rove suggested they would — just as in the summer of 2002, he already knew they would — they acted to create a world in their image, a world they imagined controlling like no imperial power in history.  Using that unchallengeable military, they launched an invasion that blew a hole through the oil heartlands of the Middle East.  They took a major capital, Baghdad, while “decapitating” (as the phrase then went) the regime that was running Iraq and had, in a particularly brutal fashion, kept the lid on internecine tensions.

They lacked nothing when it came to confidence.  Among the first moves of L. Paul Bremer III, the proconsul they appointed to run their occupation, was an order demobilizing Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein’s 350,000-man army and the rest of his military as well.  Their plan: to replace it with a lightly armed border protection force — initially of 12,000 troops and in the end perhaps 40,000 — armed and trained by Washington.  Given their vision of the world, it made total sense.  Why would Iraq need more than that with the U.S. military hanging around for, well, ever, on a series of permanent bases the Pentagon’s contractors were building?  What dangers could there be in the neighborhood with that kind of force on hand?  Soon enough, it became clear that what they had really done was turn the Iraqi officer corps and most of the country’s troops out onto unemployment lines, creating the basis for a militarily skilled Sunni insurgency.  A brilliant start!

Note that these days the news is filled with commentary on the lack of a functional Iraqi air force.  That’s why, in recent months, Prime Minister Maliki has been calling on the Obama administration to send American air power back into the breach.  Saddam Hussein did have an air force.  Once it had been one of the biggest in the Middle East.  The Bush administration, however, came to the conclusion that the new Iraqi military would have no need for fighter planes, helicopters, or much of anything else, not when the U.S. Air Force would be in the neighborhood on bases like Balad in Central Iraq.  Who needed two air forces?

Be Careful What You Wish For

It was all to be a kind of war-fighting miracle. The American invaders would be greeted as liberators, the mission quickly accomplished, and “major combat operations” ended in a flash — as George Bush so infamously announced on May 1, 2003, after his Top Gun landing on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.  No less miraculous was the fact that it would essentially be a freebie.  After all, as undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz pointed out at the time, Iraq “floats on a sea of oil,” which meant that a “liberated” country could cover all “reconstruction” costs without blinking.

The Busheviks entered Iraq with a powerful sense that they were building an American protectorate.  So why wouldn’t it be a snap to carry out their ambitious plans to privatize the Iraqi economy, dismantle the country’s vast public sector (throwing another army of employees out of work), and bring in crony corporations to help run the country and giant oil companies to rev up the energy economy, lagging from years of sanctions and ill-repair?  In the end, Washington’s Iraq would — so they believed — pump enough crude out of one of the greatest fossil fuel reserves on the planet to sink OPEC, leaving American power free to float to ever greater heights on that sea of oil.  As the occupying authority, with a hubris stunning to behold, they issued “orders” that read as if they had been written by officials from some nineteenth-century imperial power.

In short, this was one for the history books. And not a thing — nothing — worked out as planned.  You could almost say that whatever it was they dreamed, the opposite invariably occurred.  For those of us in the reality-based community, for instance, it’s long been apparent that their war and occupation would cost the U.S., literally and figuratively, an arm and a leg (and that the costs to Iraqis would prove beyond calculating).  More than two trillion dollars later — without figuring in astronomical post-war costs still to come — Iraq is a catastrophe.

And $25 billion later, the last vestige of American Iraq, the security forces that, in the end, Washington built up to massive proportions, seem to be in a state of dissolution.  Just over a week ago, faced with the advance of a reported 8001,300 militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the opposition of tribal militias and local populations, close to 50,000army officers and troops abandoned their American weaponry to Sunni insurgents and foreign jihadis, shed their uniforms by various roadsides, and fled.  As a result, significant parts of Iraq, including Mosul, its second largest city, fell into the hands of Sunni insurgents, some of a Saddamist coloration, and a small army of jihadis evidently funded by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, both U.S. allies.

The arrogance of those occupation years should still take anyone’s breath away. Bush and his top officials remade reality on an almost unimaginable scale and, as we study the region today, the results bear no relation to the world they imagined creating.  None whatsoever.  On the other hand, there were two dreams they had that, after a fashion, did come into existence.

Many Americans still remember the Bush administration’s bogus pre-invasion claims — complete with visions of mushroom clouds rising over American cities — that Saddam Hussein had a thriving nuclear program in Iraq.  But who remembers that, as part of the justification for the invasion it had decided would be its destiny, the administration alsoclaimed a “mature and symbiotic” relationship between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and al-Qaeda?  In other words, the invasion was to be justified in some fashion as a response to the attacks of 9/11 (which Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with).  Who remembers that, the year after American troops took Baghdad, evidence of the nuclear program having gone down the toilet, Vice President Dick Cheney, backed by George W. Bush, doubled down on the al-Qaeda claim?

“There clearly was a relationship. It’s been testified to,” said the vice president on CNBC in June 2004. “The evidence is overwhelming.  It goes back to the early ’90s. It involves a whole series of contacts, high-level contacts with Osama bin Laden and Iraqi intelligence officials.” Based on cherry-picked intelligence, such claims proved fraudulent, too, or as David Kay, the man assigned by the administration to hunt down that missing weaponry of mass destruction and those al-Qaeda links, put it politely, “evidence free.”  By then, however, 57% of Americans had been convinced that there was indeed some significant relationship between Saddam’s Iraq and al-Qaeda, and 20% believed that Saddam was linked directly to the 9/11 attacks.

Be careful, as they say, what you wish for.  More than a decade after its invasion and occupation, after Cheney made those fervent claims, no administration would have the slightest problem linking al-Qaeda to Iraq (or Syria, Yemen, or a number of other countries).  A decade later, the evidence is in.  Sunni Iraq, along with areas of neighboring Syria, one of the countries that was supposed to bow down before American might, now houses a rudimentary jihadist state, a creature birthed into the world in significant part thanks to the dreams and fantasies of the visionaries of the Bush administration.  Across the Greater Middle East, jihadism and al-Qaeda wannabes of every sort are on the rise, while terror groups are destabilizing regions from Pakistan to northern Africa.

Creating an Arc of Instability

In the period before and after the invasion of Iraq, top Bush officials and their neocon supporters spoke with relish about taming an area stretching from northern Africa through the Middle East and deep into Central Asia that they termed an “arc of instability.”  In a February 2006 address to the American Legion focused on his Global War on Terror, for instance, President Bush typically said, “Slowly but surely, we’re helping to transform the broader Middle East from an arc of instability into an arc of freedom. And as freedom reaches more people in this vital region, we’ll have new allies in the war on terror, and new partners in the cause of moderation in the Muslim world and in the cause of peace.”

By then that “arc,” which in the period before 9/11 had been reasonably stable, was alreadyaflame.  Today, it is ablaze.  Almost 13 years after the launching of the Global War on Terror and the first bombing runs in Afghanistan, 11 years after a global antiwar protest went unheard and the invasion of Iraq was launched, and three years after Americans gathered in front of the White House to cheer the death of Osama bin Laden, that arc has been destabilized in a stunning way.

As things recently went from bad to worse in Iraq, jihadist militants in Pakistan attackedKarachi International Airport, an assault that stunned the country and suggested that the reach of the Pakistani Taliban was growing.  At the same time, after a six-month pause, the Obama administration resumed its CIA drone assassination campaign in the Pakistani tribal borderlands, a deeply unpopular program that has been a significant destabilizing factor in its own right.  Meanwhile, in Yemen, where the U.S. has for years been conducting a special operations and drone war against a growing al-Qaeda wannabe outfit, unknown militantsknocked out the electricity in Sanaa, the capital, for days.  The Syrian bloodbath, of course, continues with estimates of 160,000 or more deaths in that multi-sided conflict, while in Libya, now an essentially ungovernable and chaotic land of jihadist and other militias and ambitious generals, tensions and fighting increased.

Think of this as George W. Bush’s nightmare and Osama bin Laden’s wet dream.  On September 11, 2001, a relatively small, modestly funded organization with a knack for planning terror surprises every couple of years had a remarkable stroke of televised luck.  From those falling towers, everything followed, thanks in large part to the acts of the fundamentalists of the Bush administration, whose top officials thought they had spotted their main chance, geopolitically speaking, in the carnage of the moment.

Almost 13 years later, there is a jihadist proto-state, a fantasy caliphate, in the heart of the Middle East.  Now a dime a dozen in the region, jihadists of an al-Qaedan bent are armed to the teeth with cast-off American weaponry.  In northern Africa, other jihadists are using weaponry from the former arsenals of Libyan autocrat Muammar Gaddafi, looted in the aftermath of President Obama’s can’t-miss 2011 intervention in that country.  The jihadists of ISIS now have hundreds of millions of dollars stolen from the Mosul branch of the Iraqi central bank for funding and have advanced toward Baghdad.  Even Osama bin Laden might not have assumed things would go quite so swimmingly.

The Guns of Folly

In the wake of Mosul’s fall, ISIS advanced even more rapidly than the American army heading for Baghdad in the spring of 2003.  In some Sunni-dominated cities and towns, the takeovers were remarkably bloodless.  In Baiji, with a power plant that supplies electricity to Baghdad and Iraq’s largest oil refinery (now under attack), the insurgents reportedly called the police and asked them to leave town — and they complied.  In Kirkuk, a city in northern Iraq that the Kurds have long claimed as the natural capital for an independent Kurdistan, Iraqi troops quietly abandoned their weaponry and uniforms and left town, while armed Kurdish forces moved in, undoubtedly permanently.

All in all, it’s been a debacle the likes of which we’ve seen only twice in our history.  In China, when in 1949 Chiang Kai-shek’s largely American armed and trained military disintegrated before the insurgent forces of Communist leader Mao Zedong and a quarter-century later, when a purely American military creation, the South Vietnamese army, collapsed in the face of an offensive by North Vietnamese troops and local rebel forces.  In each case, the resulting defeat was psychologically unnerving in the United States and led to bitter, exceedingly strange, and long-lasting debates about who “lost” China and who “lost” Vietnam.

Early signs of an equally bizarre debate over the “loss” of Iraq are already appearing here.  This should surprise no one, as the only thing left to pass around is blame.  Senator John McCain, a fervent supporter of the 2003 invasion and occupation, launched the most recent round of the blame game. He pinned fault for the onrushing events on the Obama administration’s decision to pull U.S. forces out of Iraq in 2011 (thanks to an agreement negotiated by the Bush administration) without leaving a significant presence behind.  Citing himself as if he were someone else, he said, “Lindsey Graham and John McCain were right.  Our failure to leave forces in Iraq is why Senator Graham and I predicted this would happen.”

Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri was typical of the Republican politicians who began promoting this line.  “It’s a desperate situation,” he said. “It’s moving quickly. It appears to me that the chickens are coming home to roost for our policy of not leaving anybody there to be a stabilizing force.”  In a similar blast, the Wall Street Journal editorial page wrote, “In withdrawing from Iraq in toto, Mr. Obama put his desire to have a talking point for his re-election campaign above America’s strategic interests. Now we and the world are facing this reality: A civil war in Iraq and the birth of a terrorist haven that has the confidence, and is fast acquiring the means, to raise a banner for a new generation of jihadists, both in Iraq and beyond.”

And so it goes.  In this case, however, none of it may matter much.  In a country visibly sick of our wars of this century in which even many elite figures find further intervention in Iraq distasteful, “Who lost Iraq?” may never gain the sort of traction the other two “lost” debates did.

In the meantime, however, the world of the Middle East is being turned upside down.  Take the example of Iran.  Once upon a time, Iraq was thought to be just a way station.  As neocons of that moment liked to quip, “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad.  Real men want to go to Tehran.”  As it happened, the neighborhood around Baghdad quickly grew so ugly and the Bush administration soon found itself so bogged down in unwinnable minority insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan that it never put the U.S. military on that road to Tehran.

Today, the Iranians, it seems, are riding to Washington’s rescue in Iraq.  It’s already rumoredthat they may be sending, or considering sending, elements of the Republican Guard in to protect Baghdad.  As a result, the U.S. finds itself in a tacit alliance with Iran in Iraq, while still in opposition to it in Syria.  At the same time, it’s still allied with Saudi Arabia in Syria against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, while facing the disastrous fruits of Saudi funding of the brutal newborn jihadi state at least temporarily coming into existence in the Sunni borderlands of Iraq and Syria.

The Middle Eastern system as once known has, with the singular exception of Israel, largely evaporated and where it was, there is now increasingly chaos.  In all likelihood, it will only get worse.  “We” may not have “lost” Iraq, but can there be any question that Washington lost in Iraq?  American goals in the region went down in flames in a fashion so spectacular, so ignominious, that today nothing is left of them.  To the question, “Who won Iraq?” there may be no answer at all, or perhaps just the grim response: no one.  In the end, Iraqis will surely be the losers, big time, as Syrians are just across the now nonexistent border between what until recently were two countries.

As for the future Washington has on offer, the Obama administration is, it seems, consideringresponding to the crisis in Iraq in the only way it knows how: with bombs, cruise missiles, and drones.  The geopolitical dreams of the Bush era are buried somewhere deep in the rubble of Iraq, while the present White House has neither visionaries nor global dreams, grandiose or otherwise.  There are only managers and bureaucrats desperately trying to handle an uncooperative planet.  The question that remains is: Will they or won’t they send American air power back into Iraq?  Will they or won’t they, that is, loose the guns of folly and so quite predictably destabilize a terrible situation further?

In the meantime, a small footnote to future history: given what we’ve just seen, it might be worth taking with a grain of salt the news out of Afghanistan about the increasingly impressiveabilities of the Afghan security forces, another gigantic crew set up, funded, trained, and armed by the U.S. military (and associated private contractors).  After all, haven’t we heard that somewhere before?

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Egypt court confirms Badie death sentence


Court upholds sentences against general guide Mohamed Badie and more than 180 other Muslim Brotherhood figures.

Badie was arrested in a crackdown following the military coup in July last year [EPA]
An Egyptian court has confirmed the death sentence against the Muslim Brotherhood’s general guide Mohamed Badie and more than 180 others, judicial sources say.

Lawyers said the ruling, which was confirmed on Saturday, can be overturned on appeal.

Badie was one of thousands of Brotherhood figures and supporters arrested in a deadly crackdown following the army’s toppling in July of former president Mohamed Morsi, a senior member of the group.

The case against Badie springs from an attack on a police station near the southern city of Minya on August 14, in which one policeman and one civilian were killed.

The attack was carried out in retaliation after police killed hundreds while dispersing a Cairo sit-in by supporters of Morsi.

The Brotherhood has since been labelled a “terror organisation” by Egyptian authorities. Its supporters have held persistent protests against the military-backed government, often resulting in clashes.

In the latest violence, three people were killed during a protest in Cairo on Friday, according to the Health Ministry.

In March, the same court that sentenced Badie to death triggered an international outcry when it handed down the same sentence for 529 alleged Morsi supporters on similar charges.

The judge subsequently upheld 37 of those sentences and commuted the rest to life in prison.

Morsi has been in jail since he was overthrown and is on trial for inciting the killing of opposition protesters in December 2012 outside the presidential palace.

The deposed president also faces charges of espionage in collaboration with the Palestinian movement Hamas.

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Egypt taking oil shipments for June needs despite free Gulf fuel-official

petrol station

A man fills the tank of a car at a petrol station in downtown Cairo (Photo: Reuters)
Egypt is receiving fuel shipments to cover its needs for this month, an energy official said on Friday, despite $6 billion of free fuel given by its Gulf allies after the ouster of the Islamist President Mohamed Morsi last year.Amr Mostafa, vice president of the state-run Petroleum Authority for Operations, noted in a statement that fuel consumption spikes in the summer months when many Egyptians travel from Cairo to the Mediterranean coast.According to state’s Al-Ahram news website, the fuel shipments includes 120,000 tonnes of petrol, 250,000 tonnes of diesel and 225,000 tonnes of the low-quality Mazut.

The government had supplied all the diesel farmers needed for this year’s wheat harvest despite storage problems that had hindered production of the strategic crop last year, he said.

Energy prices in Egypt are among the cheapest in the world, with subsidies eating up a fifth of state spending, and unfettered consumption has led to the worst fuel crunch for years.

Egyptians rioted over long lines at gas pumps just before Morsi’s removal in July following mass protests against his rule.

Egyptian officials have recently said that aid in the form of refined oil products from Gulf oil producers Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait will continue until at least September.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former army chief sworn in less than two weeks, spoke cautiously about energy subsidies during his campaign, saying that they could not be removed suddenly because the people would not tolerate it.

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Egyptian government cracks down on mystery posters


Islamists accused of igniting sectarian splits

    • By Ramadan Al Sherbini
    • Gulf News

Cairo: A sudden proliferation of Islamic street posters has irked the Egyptian government, which has condemned them as designed to spark sectarian tensions in the country.

“Have you prayed for the Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, today?” reads the small poster, copies of which have been pasted up on building walls and cars across the predominantly Muslim country in recent weeks. No one has claimed responsibility for the posters, which authorities have started to tear apart.

Police removed around 1,000 such posters from cars in one week, saying they violate traffic regulations, according to local media.

The massive spread of the signs comes amid a deep polarisation that has gripped Egypt since July last year when the army deposed Islamist president Mohammad Mursi following enormous protests against his troubled one-year rule.

“These posters will be erased soon,” Interior Minister Mohammad Ebrahim said last week. “Their spread may have been motivated by a desire to trigger sectarianism in Egypt.”

Christians account for around 10 per cent of Egypt’s 85 million population. They are among the staunch supporters of recently elected President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi, who led the army’s overthrow of Mursi.

“Despite the importance of praying for the prophet, this should be done inside places of worship, not out in the streets,” Minister of Waqfs (Religious Endowments) Mohammad Jumaa said. “The fact that no one is known to stand behind these posters suggests that the aim is sinister.”

Religious authorities have recently tightened their hold on mosques across Egypt, depriving Islamists of traditional strongholds, mainly in rural areas. Under a recent presidential decree, clerics, not approved by the Ministry of Waqfs, risk fines and jail terms if they deliver mosque sermons without official permits.

While stopping short of taking responsibility for the posters, Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood has called the security crackdown on them a “war on Islam and a blatant defiance of the pious Egyptians’ sentiment”.

Pro-Mursi activists have vowed to raise placards carrying the same phrase in street protests they plan on July 3, which marks the first anniversary of the Islamist leader’s overthrow.

“We’ll write this slogan in spite of its haters,” Montassar Al Zayat, a well-known Islamist lawyer, posted on his Facebook page.

In a recent TV interview, Al Sissi has accused Islamists, mainly the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, of manipulating religion to make political gains.

A recently adopted constitution bans the establishment of political parties based on religious grounds, throwing the future of several Islamist parties into uncertainty.

Some political experts have backed the government’s suspicion of the religious posters and the ensuing clampdown. “The spread of these posters at this particular time is aimed at reviving the phenomenon of lending a religious touch to the public life in Egypt in the run-up to parliamentary elections,” said Emad Jad, an analyst at the state-run Al Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies. Egyptians are expected later this year to elect a new parliament likely to be dominated by Al Sissi’s backers.

”These posters have appeared although we have a traffic law banning cars from displaying such signs and another on election prohibiting the use of religious slogans. Therefore state institutions should act strictly to enforce the law.”

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