Archive | June 26th, 2014

Juan Cole: Mass Sunni Uprising Forces Iraq to Confront Sectarian Blowback of 2003 US Invasion ”VIDEO”

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As the United States briefly holds talks with Iran over the crisis in Iraq, President Obama has announced the deployment of 275 U.S. military personnel to protect U.S. personnel and facilities in Baghdad. The Obama administration is reportedly weighing other options in Iraq, including drone strikes and the deployment of special forces to train Iraqi troops.

This comes as Sunni militants have launched a new offensive against the city of Baquba less than 40 miles from Baghdad. We speak to University of Michigan professor Juan Cole, author of several books, including the forthcoming “The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East.”

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Will Iraq or Syria Survive? UN Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on Sectarian War & the Disastrous ’03 Invasion ”VIDEO”

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As a Sunni militancy overtakes large parts of Iraq, former U.N.-Arab League special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi joins us to discuss the escalating Iraqi conflict, the long-term impact of the 2003 U.S. invasion, and the crisis in neighboring Syria. A former Algerian freedom fighter who went on to become Algeria’s foreign minister, Brahimi has been deeply involved in Middle Eastern diplomacy for decades.

He has worked on many of the world’s major conflicts from Afghanistan and Iraq to South Africa. Brahimi resigned as the U.N.-Arab League special envoy for Syria last month after a lengthy effort that failed to bring about peace talks between the Syrian government and rebel groups. On the legacy of the U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, Brahimi says: “The biggest mistake was to invade. I am tempted to say that every time there was a [U.S.] choice between something right and something wrong, not very often the right option was taken.” On Syria, Brahimi says the conflict is “an infected wound … if not treated properly, it will spread — and this is what is happening.”

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Famous War Correspondent Explains Why He’s Still Wrong on Iraq

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CNN‘s Brian Stelter–formerly of the New York Times–introduced an interview with New York Times reporter John Burns (Reliable Sources6/15/14) by calling him “one of the most famous war correspondents of all time.” This would put Burns in the same league as  Edward R. Murrow, Ernie Pyle, Walter Cronkite, George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway, Stephen Crane, Jack London, Walt Whitman and Thucydides.

Stelter also says that Burns is “the best person to ask” about “what is happening in Iraq.” That statement is equally dubious.

Burns is the journalist who wrote (New York Times3/19/03) as the United States began bombing Iraq,  “The striking thing was that for many Iraqis, the first American strike could not come too soon.”

He’s also the reporter (New York Times4/4/03) who memorably quoted the opinions of an Iraqi motorist even though he was too far away to hear anything he was saying:

“From an 11th-floor balcony of the Palestine Hotel, it was not possible to hear what the driver of the red Mercedes said when he was pulled over halfway down the block, but his gestures conveyed the essence powerfully enough. “Get real,” the driver seemed to be saying. “Look at the sky. Look across the river. The old is giving way to the new.”

Burns was noted for insisting that Iraqis liked being under US military occupation, no matter what actual polls of Iraqis said (Extra!11-12/08). But even Burns (New York Times,3/16/08; FAIR Action Alert, 3/17/08) eventually came to admit that the war hadn’t turned out as splendidly as he expected:

Only the most prescient could have guessed…that the toll would include tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed, as well as nearly 4,000 American troops; or that America’s financial costs, by some recent estimates, would rise above $650 billion by 2008, on their way to perhaps $2 trillion if the commitment continues for another five years.

Actually, millions of people anticipated that the war would be both costly and deadly–killing not “tens of thousands,” but hundreds of thousands of Iraqis–which is why they were protesting the invasion that Burns was eagerly anticipating. Perhaps one of those people would have been “the best person to ask” about the current crisis in Iraq, since they weren’t so wrong about the invasion that precipitated it.

John Burns interviewed on CNN

In his interview with Stelter, Burns did, in fact, reflect on where he thinks he went wrong on Iraq:

“To speak to the position of people like myself, what mistake did we make? We thought, many of us, that the toppling of Saddam Hussein to end the ghastly brutalities he was besetting upon Iraq, it wouldn’t be a bad idea if it could be accomplished at reasonable cost.

Well, it turned out it couldn’t be accomplished at reasonable cost, and that the American endeavor there was defeated and defeated rather early on, now as we looked back, by the sectarian enmities among the Iraqi people. It was impossible to build a civil society on that shaky, fractured foundation. I think the mistake we made was–I’m talking here about myself as well as some of my colleague, not just at the New York Times but many publications–was not to understand how deeply fractured that society was, how strongly held those animosities were, and how they would not likely relent under any amount of American tutelage and encouragement.”

Is it typical for countries to respond to unprovoked military invasions by becoming strong, stable democracies? Perhaps John Burns isn’t the “the best person to ask” about that.

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Who Are Iraq’s Sunni Arabs and What Did We Do To Them?

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A young Iraqi girl waits outside of her house during a clearing operation in the Rasalkoor District of Mosul, Iraq, May 27. (Credit: Joint Combat Camera Center Iraq / cc / Senior Airman Kamaile Chan)The two great branches of Islam coexist in Iraq across linguistic and ethnic groups. There are Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs, Sunni Kurds and (a tiny minority of) Shiite Kurds. Arabs are a linguistic group, speaking a Semitic language. Kurds speak and Indo-European language related to English.

Sunnism and Shiism as we know them have evolved over nearly a millennium and a half. But the difference between them begins after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 AD (CE) in the city-state of Mecca in western Arabia. Muhammad, the son of Abdallah, had derived from the noble Quraysh clan. Those who became the Shiites insisted he should be succeeded by Ali, his cousin and son-in-law (and the next best thing to a living son). This dynastic principle was rejected by the group that became the Sunnis. They turned for leadership to prominent notables of the Quraysh, whom they saw as caliphs or vicars of the Prophet. The first three caliphs had given their daughters in marriage to the Prophet and so were his in-laws, but Sunni principles said that they needn’t have been– any prominent, pious male of the Quraysh would have done.

There is a vague analogy to the split between Catholicism and Protestantism, on the difference between seeing Peter as the foundation of the Church and of seeing Paul as that.

Iraq was part of the medieval caliphates– the Orthodox Caliphs, then the Umayyad Arab kingdom, and then the Abbasids. In 1258 the invading Mongols (themselves Buddhists and animists) sacked Baghdad and executed the last caliph. It is said that they were warned that it was very bad luck to shed the blood of a caliph, so they rolled him up in a Persian rug and beat him to death with hammers.

Parts of what is now Iraq were ruled by the Mongol Il Khanid state (which gradually became Muslim), and then by fragmented small principalities until the rise of the two great Middle Eastern empires of the early modern period, the Safavid and the Ottoman. The Safavids, based in Iran, were Shiites and ruled Baghdad 1508-1534. Then the Ottomans, Sunnis based in what is now Turkey, took Iraq in 1534 and ruled it, with the exception of a couple of decades of Iranian reassertion, until World War I.

The elite of Iraq was Sunni since the medieval period, though there were always significant Shiite movements. In the course of the late 18th and the nineteenth centuries, under Ottoman rule, the tribes of the south of Iraq gradually converted to Shiite Islam. This may have been a form of protest against Ottoman oppression. It was in part influence from wealthy Shiite states in India after the fall of the Mughal Empire in the 1700s and before the imposition of British direct rule over all of North India from 1856. The Indian Shiite potentates or Nawabs gave money for the building of water canals out to the shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala in Iraq, which suffered from lack of water. Once the canals were built, tribes irrigated off them and settled near the holy cities, the residents of which proselytized them into Shiism.

The elites of Mosul and Baghdad, however, tied to patronage from the Ottoman Sultan, resisted this conversion movement and remained Sunnis, recognizing the four Orthodox Caliphs. From about 1880, Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II started claiming to be a caliph, on the medieval model. This claim wasn’t universally accepted but it was popular among Muslims in colonized British India in particular. The British, French and Russians defeated the Ottomans in World War I, after which the empire collapsed. In 1924 the new secular Republic of Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Attaturk abolished the caliphate. Sunnis became like Protestants, organized by country and lacking a central node of authority. Some fundamentalist Sunnis refused to accept this situation and dreamed of reconstituting the caliphate as a center of authority that could unite 1.5 billion Muslims and deliver them from their divided estate and consequent weakness in the face of the West.

When the British took Iraq during World War I, after the Ottomans unwisely allied with Germany and Austria, they mainly turned to the Sunni elites as partners in building a new “Mandate” or colony recognized by the League of Nations. When the Iraqis revolted in 1920 against the prospect of British colonialism, desiring independent statehood instead, the British brought in Faisal as king. He was the son of Sharif Hussein of Mecca, and a Sunni, who had allied with the British (think Lawrence of Arabia) to revolt against the Ottomans during the war.

Faisal lacked roots in Iraq, and turned, in order to rule the country, to the Sunni mercantile and bureaucratic elites of Baghdad and Mosul. He also picked up the remnants of the Ottoman-trained officer corps to constitute his new military, almost all of the Sunnis (the Sunni Ottomans were skittish about 12er Shiite officers).

Although the Shiites were a majority in Iraq, Sunnis predominated in positions of power and wealth throughout the twentieth century. When the Baath Party, a secular, socialist and nationalist movement, came to power in 1968, it was dominated by Sunnis from the area north of Baghdad. The Baathists created a one-party state and repressed religious Shiites (and also religious Sunnis who mixed in politics). The high generals, bureaucrats, entrepreneurs and politicians were Sunni. There were Shiites in the Baath Party, but they had less status than the Sunnis. After the Gulf War of 1990-91 when the US and allies pushed Iraq back out of Kuwait, the Shiites of south Iraq rose up. The US had urged them to do so, but stood by while the Baath massacred the Shiites. The Shiite religious parties interpreted this spring 1991 repression as sectarian genocide. Belonging to the main Shiite religious party, the Da’wa (Call or Mission) Party, was made a capital crime by the Baath already in 1980 and members were often killed and put in mass graves.

In the 1990s when Iraq was under severe US and UN sanctions, some lived on smuggling oil and other goods out to Jordan. The Jordanian form of modern Sunni fundamentalism, or Salafism, made inroads into Iraq along truck stop towns like Fallujah and Ramadi. The Baath Party, although hostile, winked at this development because sanctions made it weak. At the same time, Baath leader Izzat Duri developed ties of patronage with the Naqshbandi Sufi order in Mosul. Sufism or Muslim mysticism is the opposite of fundamentalism, valuing rituals and saints and mystical experiences of God. Both Salafism and Sufism had a revival in the 1990s.

The US overthrew Saddam Hussein of the Baath Party in 2003 in alliance with Shiite groups primarily. Those Shiite groups wanted revenge on the disproportionately Sunni Baath Party. They carried out a program of “de-Baathification,” in which they fired tens of thousands of Sunni Arabs from their government jobs as bureaucrats and even teachers. They hired Shiite clients instead. The Neocons hated the state-owned industries, and closed them down as inefficient without putting anything in their place. The Bush administration backed Shiite supremacism and debaathification to the hilt. Its proponents likened it to de-Nazification after WW II in Germany, but actually former Nazis below the top level in Germany typically kept their jobs.

In the new Iraq, Sunni high status was turned upside down. The Sunnis had been the top graduates of the officer training academies, the equivalent of West Point. They disproportionately dominated the officer corps. They were at the top of the Baath Party. They were the rich entrepreneurs to whom lucrative government contracts were given. Now they were made unemployed, or given menial jobs, while the goodies went to the members of Shiite religious parties. Massive unemployment swept the Sunni cities in 2003-2004.

In 2005 the US was maneuvered by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and his allies, all Shiites, into having parliamentary elections. Because of the US military attack on Sunni Fallujah, the Sunnis of Mosul, Ramadi and elsewhere boycotted that election. Sistani had insisted that the parliament also function as a constituent assembly to draft the constitution. There were almost no Sunnis in the first 2005 parliament, so the constitution was crafted by the Shiites and the Kurds. They Sunnis rejected it in their provinces by a solid majority (by 2/3s in two provinces).

Sunnis all along were nervous about the Shiite-Kurdish government erected under the Americans and some turned to guerrilla warfare. When guerrillas blew up the Golden Dome shrine in Samarra in February 2006, a site sacred to Shiites, it kicked off a civil war. In summer of 2006 3000 people were being killed a month. Shiite militias ethnically cleansed Sunnis from mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad. When Gen. Petraeus conducted his troop escalation (‘surge’), he disarmed the Sunni militias first, inadvertently leaving Sunnis in the capital vulnerable to threats and night raids. The Sunnis ran away to Syria and Jordan or to Mosul. After a while there were few mixed neighborhoods and it was harder for Shiites and Sunnis to get at one another, so the violence subsided.

In the one-chamber Iraqi parliament, Sunnis would always be a minority. When they stopped boycotting they typically got 56 seats. The Shiites and Kurds typically allied against them so that they lost all important votes. In 2010, they united behind the Iraqiya Party of ex-Baathist Ayad Allawi, which became of the largest single party in parliament, with 91 seats. But Allawi could not find Shiite or Kurdish allies to bring his total up to 51% and so could only have headed a minority government open to being toppled at any time by a vote of no confidence. In contrast Nouri al-Maliki of the Da’wa Party put together, with Iran’s help, a Shiite majority and allied with the Kurds for a super-majority. President Jalal Talabani therefore appointed al-Maliki to a second term.

Secular groups like the 1920 Revolution Brigades and the Army of Muhammad, and Sufi ones like the Men of the Naqshbandiya, formed cells to fight the American occupation. Another of the Sunni insurgent groups was al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, led by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He was killed in 2006, but it made no difference to the movement, which continued to blow things up. When US military officers in the field in 2005 tried to reach out to disaffected Sunni tribes, Condi Rice is said to have stopped them, lest Washington offend its Shiite allies in Baghdad. Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia later started styling itself the Islamic State of Iraq. It engaged in extensive terrorist operations in a bid to stop the new Shiite-dominated government from establishing itself. When the revolution in Syria turned violent in late 2011, its fighters went there and the organization became the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or Iraq and the Levant). It is said to have received money from rich private businessmen in Kuwait who support the fundamentalist Salafi form of Sunni Islam, and which typically hates Shiites. ISIS became the best fighters and they captured Syrian Baath military bases and took towns like Raqqa and Aleppo neighborhoods.

From 2011 when there was a ‘Sunni Arab Spring’ in Iraq, with urban youth demonstrations and demands for an end to discrimination, the al-Maliki government heavy-handedly repressed it. If it instead had accommodated those moderate young people in their demands, it might have avoided losing the Sunni areas to religious extremists.

In the 2014 elections, the Sunnis did poorly and it was clear that they would continue to be marginalized in parliament by Shiites and Kurds. The Shiite-dominated government provided them with few services or jobs. Although Iraq is an oil state, you can’t tell it. I was in Baghdad last year this time and it was dowdy and nothing like Abu Dhabi or Dubai. In Mosul, residents complained of electricity outages and lack of services or jobs. Shiite troops often put up Shiite insignia to humiliate Sunnis. They frisked Sunnis at checkpoints. Sunnis felt as though they were frozen out of meaningful power and treated as though under Shiite occupation. This situation derived in part from the invidious Bush policies of backing the Shiites against the Sunnis.

ISIS, having gained fighting experience and a taste of urban administration in Syria, expanded its cells back in Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul in western and northern Iraq. Last January it took over Fallujah and parts of Ramadi west of Baghdad. Last week it took over Mosul and most other towns in Ninevah Province. This was not primarily a military conquest but a coordinated urban uprising against Iraqi security forces, in coordination with other Sunni groups, including secular ex-Baathists. ISIS also tried to advance into Salahuddin and Diyala Provinces, though it seems to have been checked there by the Iraqi army and Sunni tribal and urban allies. At the moment, ISIS is a force in al-Anbar and Ninevah Provinces, which are mostly Sunni Arab. But they are demographically vastly outnumbered by the Kurds and Shiites, who could well riposte militarily.

Sunni Iraqis had been in the 20th century cosmopolitan and often modernists. Many were liberals yearning for democracy. From 1968 they turned to more of a Soviet model, a strongly secular one. They have turned in desperation to rural fundamentalists who want a medieval caliphate only because of the vast reversal in their fortunes resulting from the Bush invasion and occupation, and the unfair policies of the Shiite government, which has turned them from an elite into an underclass. They are capable, trained, educated people. They aren’t going to put up with that, and if turning to al-Qaeda is the only way to avoid that fate, they are often willing now to do it.

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US Scientists, Oil Giant Stole Indigenous Blood

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For years, scientists working with Maxus Energy took blood samples from hundreds of Amazonian tribal members

– Max Ocean

Members of the Ecuadorean indigenous group known as the Huaorani (Credit: Jean-François Renaud/cc/flickr)

U.S. scientists working together with oil company Maxus Energy took around 3,500 blood samples from the indigenous Amazonian tribe known as the Huaorani, Ecuador charged on Monday.

The Huaorani are known for a unique genetic makeup that makes them immune to certain diseases.

René Ramírez, the head of the Ecuadorian Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology, told Ecuador state TV on Monday that samples were taken from around 600 Huaorani, and that multiple pints of blood were taken from many members of the tribe. Ramírez said that it is not yet known whether the samples have resulted in any commercial gains, but that samples were sold for scientific research.

According to an initial investigation two years ago, “It was demonstrated that the Coriell Institute has in its stores samples (from the Huaorani) and that it sells genetic material from the Huaorani people.” Harvard University was among the purchasers. Specifically, the 2012 report found that since 1994, seven cell cultures and 36 blood samples were distributed to eight different countries.

In the same report the Huaorani said that scientists had tricked them into allowing their blood to be taken between 1990 and 1991; however, President Rafael Correa said that there is now evidence that samples were taken as far back as the 1970s “in complicity with the oil company operating in the area.”

The Huaorani allegedly agreed to give the blood samples because scientists lied to them about why the samples were being taken. They were told the samples were being taken for medical tests, but never received results.

According to the website Hispanically Speaking News, in his weekly radio address on Saturday, President Correa said that at least 31 research papers were written between 1989 and 2012 based on the blood samples obtained––all without the consent of the Huaorani or the royalty payments normally required.

The taking of the samples was illegal, as Ecuador’s constitution bans the use of scientific research including genetic material in violation of human rights.

According to AFP, when the allegations first emerged in 2012, the U.S. Embassy said it was not aware of the case, and they did not immediately issue a response after Ecuador brought the charges on Monday.

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Groups Appeal to UN for ‘Humanity’ as Detroit Shuts Off Water to Thousands

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‘By denying water service to thousands, Detroit is violating the human right to water.’

– Sarah Lazare

(Image: Wikimedia / CC)As thousands of people in Detroit go without water, and the city moves to cut off services to tens of thousands more, concerned organizations have taken the unusual step of appealing to the United Nations to intervene and protect the “human right to water.”

“After decades of policies that put businesses and profits ahead of the public good, the city now has a major crisis on its hands,” said Maude Barlow, founder of Blue Planet Project and board chair of Food & Water Watch, in a statement. “By denying water service to thousands, Detroit is violating the human right to water.”

The Submission to the Special Rapporteur was released Wednesday by the Detroit People’s Water Board, the Blue Planet Project, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and Food & Water Watch.

It calls for the “state of Michigan and U.S. government to respect the human right to water and sanitation” and for shut-offs to be halted, services restored, and water to be made accessible and affordable.

The report comes on the heels of the Detroit’s city council’s Tuesday approval of an 8.7 percent increase in water rates, part of a long-standing trend that, according to Food & Water Watch, has seen prices increase 119 percent over the past decade.

This rate hike follows an announcement in March by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department that it would start turning off water for accounts that are past due.  According to a late May Director’s Report from the DWSD, there were “44,273 shut-off notices sent to customers in April 2014” alone, resulting in “3,025 shut-offs for nonpayment, and additional collections of $400,000.”

Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, who was appointed to power by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder in March 2013, has aggressively pursued privatization and austerity measures across the city. “Nothing is off the chopping block, including water utilities, which are being considered for regionalization, sale, lease, and/or public private partnership and are currently subject to mediation by a federal district judge,” reads the report.

“The Detroit People’s Water Board fears that authorities see people’s unpaid water bills as a ‘bad debt’ and want to sweeten the pot for a private investor by imposing even more of the costs of the system on those least able to bear them,” the report continues.

Residents say the mass cut-off of this vital service is especially unjust in a city where many are unable to pay their water bills due to high unemployment, a poverty rate near 40 percent, and a foreclosure crisis that has devastated and displaced people across the city, hitting Detroit’s African American community especially hard.

“When delinquent corporate water lines are still running without collection of funds, it demonstrates a level of intentional disparity that devalues the lives of the people struggling financially,” said Lila Cabbil, President Emeritus of the Rosa Parks Institute, which is part of the People’s Water Board. “Where is our compassion? Where is our humanity?”

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Revealed: Germany is Ground Zero for NSA’s ‘Secret Surveillance Architecture’

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Der Spiegel combs through Snowden documents to expose NSA’s ‘all powerful’ intelligence ‘web.’

– Sarah Lazare

Germans protest against the NSA surveillance program PRISM in Berlin June 2013. (Photo: Digitale Gesellschaft / Wikimedia Creative Commons)Germany has for years been ground zero for the U.S. National Security Agency’s European spy operations, hosting a “web” of sites that secretly collect information, including data used to “capture and kill” alleged terrorists, German magazine Der Spiegel revealed Wednesday.

Based on documents exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the reporting asserts that spying operations in Germany are more widespread than previously disclosed and raise questions about the German government’s complicity in these operations.

Previous Snowden-linked revelations that the U.S. had been spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone communications had sparked an uproar across Germany and prompted an investigation by Germany’s federal prosecutor. Yet, critics have charged that the German government has directly collaborated with the NSA behind closed doors while also being targeted by the agency.

According to the article, Snowden’s documents

paint a picture of an all-powerful American intelligence agency that has developed an increasingly intimate relationship with Germany over the past 13 years while massively expanding its presence. No other country in Europe plays host to a secret NSA surveillance architecture comparable to the one in Germany. It is a web of sites defined as much by a thirst for total control as by the desire for security. In 2007, the NSA claimed to have at least a dozen active collection sites in Germany.

One facility, known as the European Technical Center, is based in Wiesbaden (a city in southwest Germany) and serves as a key data collection site. “From here, a Snowden document outlines, huge amounts of data are intercepted and forwarded to ‘NSAers, warfighters and foreign partners in Europe, Africa and the Middle East,'” states the article.

The NSA’s power in Germany appears to be growing, the article asserts. The “Consolidated Intelligence Center,” a new spy center, is currently under construction in a U.S. military complex in Wiesbaden at a cost of $124 million. “When finished, the U.S. government will be even better equipped to satisfy its vast hunger for data,” Der Spiegel reports.

As of 2011, the “Dagger Complex” in Griesheim, not far from Wiesbaden, employed 240 intelligence analysts who used programs like XKeyscore “not only to collect metadata—e.g. the who, what, where, with whom and at what time—but also the content of actual communications,” the article reveals.

“The German public has a right to know exactly what the NSA is doing in Germany,” charge the authors, listed as Spiegel staff.

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Ukraine and Russia Presidents Talk ‘Cease Fire’

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Phone conversation between Poroshenko and Putin lays groundwork for peace deal

– Jon Queally

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said a cease fire could come within days. (Credit: Sergie Chirikov/EPA))Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday has offered an outline of a 14-step peace plan process designed to end the months long violence and political upheaval in Ukraine following a late night telephone call with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

The two leaders spoke Tuesday night and Poroshenko says the first step will be a complete “cease fire” in the eastern regions of the country that could begin within days.

“The plan will begin with my order for a unilateral cease-fire,” Poroshenko was quoted as saying by various news outlets. “Immediately after this, we need very quickly to get support for the peace plan … from all participants.”

The conversation and announced plan comes less than two days after Russia cut off gas supplies to Ukraine on Monday. Amid months of recent violence and regional tensions, Moscow and Kiev have been in a battle over outstanding payment for Russian gas owed by the Ukrainian government. Energy resources, especially over natural gas pipelines, are seen as a key sticking point in the long-term prospects for better relations between the two countries that share a long and complicated history.

As Agence France-Presse reports:

Weeks of acrimonious debt and price negotiations broke up on Monday, with Russia walking away from a compromise solution proposed in Kiev by the European Union’s energy commissioner.

Kiev blamed the explosion of a vital pipeline used to transport Siberian gas to Europe — which erupted in a spectacular fireball on Tuesday — on Russian “sabotage”.

Acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov — an outspoken official who has made a recent series of unsubstantiated claims — said on Tuesday that the explosion at the Trans-Siberian Pipeline Russian may have been an act of “terrorism”.

On the proposed peace agreement now on the offer, Reuters reports the deal would include “amnesty for separatist fighters who lay down arms, and tighter controls over Ukraine’s border with Russia.”

Meanwhile, in the city of Donetsk on Wednesday, thousands of Ukrainians marched against the military aggression of the Kiev-controlled Ukraine Army in recent weeks and once again declared their autonomy and independence.

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Pipeline Opponents: This Means ‘War’

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First Nations and other British Columbia citizens promise direct actions, protests and legal battles to thwart Northern Gateway project

– Lauren McCauley

Demonstrators took to the streets of Vancouver Tuesday evening after the Canadian government gave the greenlight to the Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline. (Photo: Brent Patterson/ Twitter)“It’s official. The war is on,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip told a crowd of hundreds who had flooded the streets of Vancouver late Tuesday following the announcement that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had approved the Enbridge Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline.

Phillip, who is president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, told reporters that people are prepared to go to jail over this fight, “because that’s what it’s going to take.”

Phillip’s statement exemplified the widespread condemnation and vows of resistance that swiftly followed news that the Canadian government had greenlighted the controversial project.

The 1,177 kilometer pipeline will carry 200 million barrels of tar sands crude each year from Alberta to a terminal in Kitimat, British Columbia, where it will be loaded onto oil tankers.

Blocking a major intersection, the Vancouver protesters wielded signs and chanted: ‘No pipelines!’, ‘No tankers!’ and ‘Defend our coast!’

“The only thing we can do now is raise our voices together and have a peaceful protest, to make a strong statement that this is not okay,” Mona Woodward, executive director of the Aboriginal Front door societytold a reporter from the Vancouver Observer.

A diverse crowd gathered in front of the CBC News headquarters in the B.C. city to voice their anger at a government that they say blatantly chose to neglect the people and the environment over big business.

“It’s more than disrespectful […] it’s the end of safe drinking water, it’s also the end of Mother Earth,” Woodward continued.

Opponents of the pipeline also flooded social media with vows of resistance and pictures of Tuesday’s demonstration.

Canadian Indigenous groups, which have long-fought the pipeline, are vowing to defend their land and their sovereignty ‘without surrender.’

In an unprecedented show of unity, 31 First Nations and tribal councils have signed a letter announcing their intention to “vigorously pursue all lawful means to stop the Enbridge project.”

“We have governed our lands, in accordance to our Indigenous laws, since time immemorial,” read the statement, which was distributed by the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. “Our inherent Title and Rights and our legal authority over our respective territories have never been surrendered.”

“This project, and the federal process to approve it, violated our rights and our laws. We are uniting to defend our lands and waters of our respective territories,” the statement continued. “We will defend our territories whatever the costs may be.”

“We will defend our territories whatever the costs may be.”
—alliance of 31 First Nations

Even with the project tied up in courts, organizers are preparing more immediate direct actions and demonstrations on the ground.

On Wednesday, the First Nations group Kootenays for a Pipeline-Free B.C. is holding a rally under the banner “Occupy the Pipeline Everywhere!” at the Chahko Mika Mall in Ottawa.

Women with the Yinka Dene Alliance, a coalition of six First Nations who live directly along the pipeline route, are vowing to “do everything we can to protect our water,” as alliance coordinator Geraldine Thomas Flurer told The Tyee.

Gitga’at First Nation women are planning to a suspend multicolored crocheted “chain of hope” across the more than 3.5 kilometer-wide Douglas Channel this Friday, in what they are describing as a symbolic blockade against oil tankers.

Echoing the sentiment of many who are specifically directing their anger over the pipeline at Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Chief Phillip said during the Vancouver rally: “Harper has declared war on British Columbians and First Nations, he will absolutely not be welcome into this province in the future.”

Considering the mounting opposition, many believe this is a project destined for failure. As noted Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki wrote following news of the pipeline’s approval, “This conversation is far from over.”

Suzuki added: “In approving it, the government is aggressively pushing an unwanted project on an unwilling public. I don’t believe it will be built.”

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War, Oil, and Intervention as Key Iraq Refinery Sustains Attack

NOVANEWS

Fighting results in scores dead as both US and Iran reportedly weighing deeper military involvment inside country

– Jon Queally

The Baiji oil refinery, 155 miles north of Baghdad, is under attack by ISIL fighters. (Photograph: Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters)Sunni insurgents attempted to overrun Iraq’s largest refinery late Tuesday night outside the city of Baiji but have reportedly been repelled by Iraqi Army units after a lengthy battle that left parts of the facility on fire and dozens of people dead.

As the fighting inside Iraq continues, Obama administration officials have made new comments about the likelihood of U.S. drone strikes targeting fighters aligned with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The New York Times reports:

Obama is considering a targeted, highly selective campaign of airstrikes against Sunni militants in Iraq similar to counterterrorism operations in Yemen, rather than the widespread bombardment of an air war, a senior administration official said on Tuesday.

Such a campaign, most likely using drones, could last for a prolonged period, the official said. But it is not likely to begin for days or longer, and would hinge on the United States’ gathering adequate intelligence about the location of the militants, who are intermingled with the civilian population in Mosul, Tikrit and other cities north of Baghdad.

As Common Dreams reported Tuesday, a growing chorus of anti-war voices in the U.S. and elsewhere are warning against a military response from the Obama administration.

Meanwhile, the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has again voiced his nation’s willingness and determination to send additional forces in order to protect key areas, including religious shrines, in eastern regions of the country.

On the refinery attack, the Guardian reports:

A top security official told the Associated Press that fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) had begun their attack on the refinery late on Tuesday night. The attack continued into Wednesday morning, with militants targeting it with mortar shells, starting a small fire on the periphery.

The refinery accounts for more than a quarter of the country’s entire refining capacity, all of which goes toward domestic consumption – petrol, cooking oil and fuel for power stations. At the height of the insurgency from 2004 to late 2007, the Baiji refinery was under the control of Sunni militants who used to siphon off crude and petroleum products to finance their operations. Isis has used its control of oilfields in Syria to boost its coffers.

Any lengthy disruption at Baiji risks long lines at the petrol pump and electricity shortages, putting further pressure on the Shia-led government of the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

Despite not taking the Baiji facility entirely, Reuters cited a local official and reported that the “Sunni fighters were in control of three quarters of [its] territory.”

And the Times adds:

The attackers, from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, have surrounded the refinery in Baiji for the past week, but a battalion of the Iraqi army inside the refinery complex, backed up by air support, has withstood their attacks.

A storage tank was set on fire in the fighting and continued to burn through the morning after the attack, which took place shortly after midnight.

Foreign workers, including 50 from the German company Siemens and others employed by the security company Olive Group, had already been evacuated from the refinery, officials from both companies were quoted by news reports as saying. The complex, located about halfway between Baghdad and Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, includes the refinery — the largest in the country — as well as a 600-megawatt power plant, which supplies electricity to 11 Iraqi provinces.

Posted in IraqComments Off on War, Oil, and Intervention as Key Iraq Refinery Sustains Attack

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