Archive for the ‘Sunni Muslims’ category

Reflections on Trump’s First State Visit to the Middle East

May 19, 2017

Reflections on Trump’s First State Visit to the Middle East, The National InterestAhmed Charai, May 19, 2017

King Salman of Saudi Arabia in 2013. Flickr/Secretary of Defense

The Trump administration, working alongside its Arab allies, should promote moderate or quietist forms of Islam, and not remain neutral on religious matters. This means working with Islamic leaders, many of whom are state-funded imams, to challenge jihad on a religious basis and offer a form of faith shorn of violence.

These strategic insights come together in Morocco, where King Mohammed VI has used his religious role as commander of the faithful to inspire religious leaders to combat jihadism and urge tolerance and peace.

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President Trump is visiting the Middle East. He will travel to Saudi Arabia and Israel, then visit the Vatican. Given the sequence of the first two, some observers speculated that he will attempt to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, perhaps within a broader, regional framework. But different potential outcomes for Arab-Israeli relations, short of a peace settlement, may also be in the offing.

Both Saudi Arabia and Israel have proven themselves to be invaluable partners to the United States in the struggle against ISIS. An American-brokered framework whereby direct cooperation between the two is formalized—rather than a reliance on the United States as an intermediary—may create a framework to broaden the cooperation. Heightened partnership to counter the shared threat of Iran would be an obvious next step. The Trump administration’s new strategy is the creation of a regional alliance, focused on the Gulf countries but also including countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Morocco. A multilateral approach in which Israel plays a more direct and visible role in the coalition would signify a breakthrough. It would bolster confidence among Arab publics that broader cooperation and conflict resolution are warranted.

Donald Trump made the eradication of the Islamic State a priority during his campaign. He has been criticized for his more muscular strategy, as well as the desire to augment intelligence, economic and communications measures to put the screw to the organization.

It seems possible that the president is making a clean break with the Obama administration’s policy of disengagement from the Middle East. For Trump, the rubric of a “war on terrorism” seems to be appealing. Arabs appreciate the fact that, unlikely his predecessor, Trump appears to be recognizing the Shia extremist terror threat as represented by Iran and its proxy militias alongside the widely recognized Sunni jihadist threat.

In the view of this administration, this alliance should function like NATO, as an alliance (perhaps supported by the West) with multiple objectives. The eradication of Islamic State is the main objective, but the containment of Iranian influence in the region is also on the menu.

The use of a massively powerful bomb against the Islamic State in Afghanistan provided a mighty demonstration of strength, but may also have been intended to send a message about the president’s commitment to confront his adversaries with some of the most powerful tools in his arsenal.

But of course, matters are not so simple.

At the geostrategic level, Russia and the pro-Iranian Shia arc cannot be ignored politically. The alliance between the two poses layers of complexity, whereby American and Russian accounts in the Baltic states and vis à vis NATO may be dragged into the diplomatic mix. Moscow cannot be excluded from the equation in any prospective political resolution in Syria. As for Iran, Russia wields heavy influence on its government and its security sector. Trump faces a Twister-like game of challenges in navigating the array of alliances, rivalries and hostilities among the players. Yet his aspiration to eradicate the Islamic State and block Iranian expansion in the region depends on his effective management of these quandaries.

Nor do Trump’s aspirations allow for neglect of the broader counterterrorism challenge beyond military action, intelligence work and even diplomacy. He must wage an ideological war, and challenge extremist strands within Arab and Islamic societies that guarantee the perpetuation of conflict—whatever the outcomes on the battlefield—unless they are addressed.

The Trump administration, working alongside its Arab allies, should promote moderate or quietist forms of Islam, and not remain neutral on religious matters. This means working with Islamic leaders, many of whom are state-funded imams, to challenge jihad on a religious basis and offer a form of faith shorn of violence.

These strategic insights come together in Morocco, where King Mohammed VI has used his religious role as commander of the faithful to inspire religious leaders to combat jihadism and urge tolerance and peace.

King Mohammed VI has demonstrated his commitment to deeper cooperation with neighboring countries by embarking on several state visits and signing an unprecedented number of economic-partnership conventions. He has also expressed support for joint efforts to combat radicalization, and officials from Cote d’Ivoire, Niger, Tunisia, and Guinea have indicated a willingness to train their imams in Morocco.

If Trump is looking for a healthy example of Muslim leaders bringing peace through Islam, Morocco is a good place to start.

Sunni Muslims Storm Ahmadi Mosque On Prophet’s Birthday

December 13, 2016

Sunni Muslims Storm Ahmadi Mosque On Prophet’s Birthday, Clarion Project, Elliot Friedland, December 13, 2016

pakistan-rangers-copyright-rizwan-tabassum-afp-gettyimages-594355186-size-640-420Illustrative picture of Pakistani Rangers. (Photo: © Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty Images)

The Ahmadis are regarded as heretical by mainstream strands of Islam, due to their belief that their founder, the 19th century preacher Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, is the second coming of Jesus Christ and a prophet. This is considered by orthodox Muslims as a direct violation of the foundational Islamic belief that Mohammed was the last of the prophets.

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A procession of approximately 2,000 Sunni Muslims descended onto an Ahmadi mosque yesterday in Pakistan, firing weapons at worshippers and hurling bricks, reported Reuters. The attack took place in the Punjab province. The mob was able to wound several people before the police dispersed the crowd, which they had been unable to prevent from reaching and attacking the mosque.

“Police tried its best to stop the attackers but failed because of slim deployment,” Malik Nawaz, the highest ranking police officer in the Choa Saiden Shah area told Reuters. “Later, high officials reached the spot with more troops and chased out the occupants.”

A spokesman for the Ahmadi community, Amer Mahmood, told reporters the mob had been fired up by clerics who said the Ahjmadi community should not be allowed to worship on the prophet’s birthday.

The Ahmadis are regarded as heretical by mainstream strands of Islam, due to their belief that their founder, the 19th century preacher Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, is the second coming of Jesus Christ and a prophet. This is considered by orthodox Muslims as a direct violation of the foundational Islamic belief that Mohammed was the last of the prophets.

In 1974, this foundational belief was codified into Pakistani law and Ahamadis were prohibited from calling themselves Muslims. The Ahmadiyya dispute this and regard themselves as Muslims.

As a result of their beliefs, the Ahmadiyya are routinely persecuted in Pakistan.

Whether or not Ahmadis are authentically Muslim or are a heretical offshoot is completely irrelevant. Persecution and violence against a religious minority is unacceptable. Those who support freedom of religion for Muslims around the world must support the rights of Ahmadis to live in peace without persecution for their beliefs.

Exposed: Obama’s Love for Jihadis and Hate for Christians

November 23, 2015

Exposed: Obama’s Love for Jihadis and Hate for Christians, American ThinkerRaymond Ibrahim, November 23, 2015

President Obama recently lashed out against the idea of giving preference to Christian refugees, describing it as “shameful.”  “That’s not American.  That’s not who we are.  We don’t have religious tests to our compassion,” loftily added the American president.

Accordingly, the administration is still determined to accept 10,000 more Syrian refugees, almost all of whom will be Muslim, despite the fact that some are ISIS operatives, while many share the ISIS worldview (as explained below).

Yet right as Obama was grandstanding about “who we are,” statistics were released indicating that “the current [refugee] system overwhelmingly favors Muslim refugees. Of the 2,184 Syrian refugees admitted to the United States so far, only 53 are Christians while 2,098 are Muslim.”

Aside from the obvious – or, to use Obama’s own word, “shameful” – pro-Muslim, anti-Christian bias evident in these statistics, there are a number of other troubling factors.

For starters, the overwhelming majority of “refugees” being brought into the United States are not just Muslim, but Sunnis – the one Muslim sect that the Islamic State is not persecuting and displacing.  After all, ISIS – and most Islamic terrorist groups (Boko Haram, al-Qaeda, Al Shabaab, Hamas, et al.) – are all Sunnis.  Even Obama was arguably raised a Sunni.

In this context, how are Sunnis “refugees”?  Whom are they fleeing?  Considering that the Obama administration defines refugees as people “persecuted by their government,” most of those coming into the U.S. either aided or at least sympathized with the jihad against Assad (even if they revealed their true colors only when the time was right).

Simply put, some 98% of all refugees belong to the same Islamic sect as ISIS does.  And many of them, unsurprisingly, share the same vision – such as the “refugees” who recently murdered some 120 people in France, or the “refugees” who persecute Christian minorities in European camps and settlements.  (Al Azhar – the Sunni world’s most prestigious university of Islamic law, which co-hosted U.S. President Obama’s 2009 “A New Beginning” speech – was just recently exposed as teaching and legitimizing all the atrocities that ISIS commits.)

As for those who are being raped, slaughtered, and enslaved based on their non-Sunni religious identity – not by Assad, but by so-called “rebel” forces (aka jihadis) – many of them are being denied refuge in America.

Thus, although Christians were approximately 10 percent of Syria’s population in 2011, only one percent has been granted refuge in America.  This despite the fact that, from a strictly humanitarian point of view – and humanitarianism (Obama’s “compassion”) is the chief reason being cited in accepting refugees – Christians should receive priority simply because they are the most persecuted group in the Middle East.

At the hands of the Islamic State, which supposedly precipitated the migrant crisis, Christians have been repeatedly forced to renounce Christ or die; they have been enslaved and raped; and they have had more than 400 of their churches desecrated and destroyed.1

ISIS has committed no such atrocities against fellow Sunnis, they who are being accepted into the U.S. in droves.  Nor does Assad enslave, behead, or crucify people based on their religious identity (despite Jeb Bush’s recent, and absurd, assertions).

Obama should further prioritize Christian refugees simply because his own policies in the Middle East have directly exacerbated their plight.  Christians and other religions minorities did not flee from Bashar Assad’s Syria, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, or Moammar Gaddafi’s Libya.  Their systematic persecution began only after the U.S. interfered in those nations in the name of “democracy,” succeeding only in uncorking the jihadi terrorists whom the dictators had long kept suppressed.

Incidentally, prioritizing Christian refugees would not merely be an altruistic gesture or the U.S. government’s way of righting its wrongs: rather, it brings many benefits to America’s security.  (Unlike Muslims or even Yazidis, Christians are easily assimilated into Western nations due to the shared Christian heritage, and they bring trustworthy language and cultural skills that are beneficial to the “war on terror.”)

Finally, no one should be shocked by these recent revelations of the Obama administration’s pro-Muslim and anti-Christian policies.  They fit a clear and established pattern of religious bias within his administration.  For example:

Most recently, as the White House works on releasing a statement accusing ISIS of committing genocide against religious minorities such as Yazidis – who are named and recognized in the statement – Obama officials are arguing that Christians “do not appear to meet the high bar set out in the genocide treaty” and thus likely will not be mentioned.

In short, and to use the president’s own words, it is the Obama administration’s own foreign and domestic policies that are “shameful,” that are “not American,” and that do not represent “who we are.”

Yet the question remains: will Americans take notice and do anything about their leader’s policies – which welcome Islamic jihadis while ignoring their victims – or will their indifference continue until they too become victims of the jihad, in a repeat of Paris or worse?

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1 Even before the new “caliphate” was established, Christians were and continue to be targeted by Muslims – Muslim mobs, Muslim individuals, Muslim regimes, and Muslim terrorists, from Muslim countries of all races (Arab, African, Asian, etc.) – and for the same reason: Christians are infidel number one.  See Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians for hundreds of anecdotes before the rise of ISIS as well as the Muslim doctrines that create such hate and contempt for Christians who are especially deserving of refugee status.

 

Egypt Under Al-Sisi: An Interview with Raymond Stock

February 9, 2015

Egypt Under Al-Sisi: An Interview with Raymond Stock, Middle East Forum, February 8, 2015

by Jerry Gordon
The New English Review
February 2015

The introduction to this interview has been abridged.

To discuss Egypt’s prospects under the Abdel Fattah al-Sisi government, we invited back Dr. Raymond Stock whom we had interviewed in November 2012. (See: No Blinders About Egypt Under Muslim Brotherhood ). Stock is a Shillman/Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and a former Assistant Professor of Arabic and Middle East Studies at Drew University. He spent twenty years in Egypt and was deported by the Mubarak regime in 2010. He is writing a biography of 1988 Egyptian Nobel laureate in literature Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006) for Farrar, Straus and Giroux and is a prolific translator of his works.

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“[The Muslim Brotherhood] has deeply bonded with the highest levels of the Obama administration, which uncritically backed its creation of an elected, one-party dictatorship under Morsi.

“Unlike Morsi and the MB, who worked covertly with the terrorists in Sinai, al-Sisi wholeheartedly supports the peace with Israel.”

Egypt is now in an informal alliance with Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to confront Iran. That alliance is compromised, however, by recent moves from Egypt’s Gulf partners to mend fences with Iran as a result of their feeling exposed by Washington’s alarming pivot toward Tehran at the expense of its traditional Sunni clients.

“Obama’s leftist, rather Edward-Saidian worldview … sees indigenous anti-Western forces such as the Islamists to be the benignly natural and legitimate consequence of American and European policies during the colonial era and the Cold War.”

 

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Jerry Gordon: Ray Stock thank you for consenting to this interview.

Raymond Stock: Thank you for inviting me back.

Jerry Gordon: Egyptian President al-Sisi started 2015 with two dramatic moves- his New Year’s speech at al-Azhar University and Christmas greetings at a Coptic church with Pope Tawadros II present. What were the messages he conveyed to Muslim clerics, Coptic Christians and the world?

Raymond Stock: At al-Azhar, President al-Sisi was saying it is not merely an extremist interpretation of Islam that is threatening the world with global jihad, but ideas that are at the core of the mainstream, orthodox understanding of the religion–and that this would require a “religious revolution” to change.

At the Coptic Cathedral, he urged Egyptians not to define themselves by their religion, be it Christian or Muslim, but by the fact that they are Egyptians–a rejection of Islamism, which defines national identity in purely religious terms.

To the world, he was saying that Islam as it is being taught and practiced by its leading religious scholars has given birth to a globally destructive ideology which is now threatening us all.

Moreover, he wants to launch a movement within Islam to save the religion from itself, that is, before it tears itself apart completely and the rest of the world destroys it in self-defense.

And he challenged the clerics to take the lead in that effort by openly re-examining their own teachings and source materials for interpreting Islam.

Gordon: Al-Sisi has cracked down on press freedoms in Egypt and brought to trial three Al Jazeera correspondents. What in your view prompted that?

Stock: Though no libertarian, it is hard to say if al-Sisi himself has had anything to do directly with the suppression of press freedom, though it is happening on his watch. Going back to Pharaonic times, Egypt’s state institutions, the oldest in the world, and its political culture, have little tradition of respecting civil liberties. Some periods have been worse than others–the worst was actually under Gamal Abdel-Nasser in the 1950s and ’60s, when many thousands of political prisoners were sent “behind the sun” to camps in the Western Desert.

Al-Sisi is still so popular, the public so widely disgusted with the unending social and political chaos since the 2011 revolution, and so alarmed by the terrorist insurgency waged by the Islamists, that probably a majority of news editors and perhaps also of reporters have decided to support him completely and to oppose his critics automatically. At this point it is hard to find any clear connection with al-Sisi himself to this consensus, enshrined in a declaration by several hundred key media figures a few months ago. However, certainly if he didn’t like it he could well speak up against it–yet he hasn’t so far.

948Pro-Sisi demonstrators celebrate the third anniversary of Mubarak’s overthrow, January 2014.

Last summer he publicly regretted the imprisonment of the three Al Jazeera journalists, saying he wished they had been deported instead. Citing his belief in an independent judiciary, he refused to intervene in the legal process. Now that they are being retried after winning on appeal, we’ll see if he pardons and deports them should they be convicted again.

Gordon: Following, al-Sisi’s ouster of President Morsi and crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood leaders, what has happened to the movement in Egypt?

Stock: Though deservedly banned as a terrorist group, its top leaders in jail and the rest driven underground or abroad, it is far from dead and remains a threat to the Egyptian state and society. Its refusal to accept the June 30 popular revolution (far larger than the one that overthrew Mubarak), parental bonds to Hamas, financial support from Qatar and wealthy Gulf donors (and possibly Iran), partnership with the Salafis and ideological affinity and outreach to groups like al-Qa’ida and Islamic Jihad have served it well in retaining its base while gaining sympathy–especially internationally.

Though all these factors–plus its horrendous behavior in power–have greatly alienated the majority of Egyptians, they are for the most part also its greatest assets for the future, if they can only survive the current storm. As they have shown in several major periods of repression in the past–the most severe being under Abdel-Nasser–they only need to endure until there is successor to al-Sisi, who may decide to restore the MB to political legitimacy as a means of fighting al-Sisi’s remaining political allies. (Anwar al-Sadat, for example, freed the MB activists from prison to combat the surviving members of Abdel-Nasser’s coterie.) Such a situation could put them in striking distance of taking power again.

Meanwhile, the MB has global headquarters in Istanbul and London, is very influential in Europe, and has enormously increased its penetration at the federal, state and local levels all over the US. As part of this, it has deeply bonded with the highest levels of the Obama administration, which uncritically backed its creation of an elected, one-party dictatorship under Morsi. Obama evidently seeks to help the MB to return to power in Egypt—as shown, for example, by the State Department’s recent hosting of a conference of MB allies at Foggy Bottom, though it may take a while. Al-Sisi probably only has a year or two to turn the economy around before he risks another uprising.

The goal of the terrorist insurgency is to discourage foreign investment and stifle the stimulus provided by major government projects such as the new second channel to the Suez Canal to aid the recovery from the last four years of chaos. This, they hope, will pave the way for new popular upheaval which they hope to manipulate if not lead.

Gordon: Has the Islamic State supplanted the Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood movements?

Stock: In a sense, yes, but the situation is actually quite complex. Ideologically, IS—like al-Qa’ida–is an extension of the Salafist movement and the MB (itself established as a Salafi organization in the Salafi library in Ismailiya, Egypt in 1928). IS, because of its uncompromising Islamist purity, harshness, brutality and its dramatic seizure of so much territory in Iraq and Syria, coupled with its incredibly savvy use of social media, has largely eclipsed all of its predecessors in recruitment of fighters to the Middle East. It also outpaced all of them in its creation of lone wolves and sleeper cells in Europe, America and elsewhere.

949Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group last year.

That includes Egypt, where the MB-and-AQ aligned Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM) organization is responsible for most of the attacks in the country over the past two years. ABM, along with its allies controls much of North Sinai and has declared its allegiance to IS. The MB, as noted, still retains a very strong base, as does the Salafi al-Nour Party which has pragmatically allied itself with Al-Sisi. The appeal of IS may frustrate their ability to draw younger members–yet it is far from clear that IS will do any better in the long run. So have many of the Islamists in Libya, the eastern half of which IS now controls, and may soon run Tripoli as well. The stunning success of IS provides further inspiration to groups like Boko Haram, which has overrun much of northeastern Nigeria and has recently spread into Cameroon, as well as al-Shabaab in Somalia. IS also now has a presence in southern Afghanistan and beyond. Unless it is destroyed militarily in the very near future–which is virtually impossible so long as Obama is President–IS threatens every state with a significant Muslim population, as well as the West, which is its ultimate target.

Gordon: Al-Sisi has propounded a doctrine of stability for Egypt. What is it and has he succeeded since his election?

Stock: I would say that if al-Sisi truly has established such a doctrine for stability, it would consist of the following:

    1. Anti-Islamism—i.e. a more limited role for Shariah (which is nonetheless still enshrined in the new constitution, yet no longer to be interpreted by the clerics at al-Azhar, but by the government, whose authority and much of its outlook is secular, not religious;
    2. Electoral democracy though with somewhat limited civil liberties, to satisfy both the demand for popular sovereignty and for an end to the endless chaos–strikes and demonstrations (and skyrocketing crime) since the fall of Mubarak in 2011, and to limit the public role of the Islamists, who are at war with Egypt; and
    3. An independent foreign policy—one that still seeks to maintain the traditional alliance with the U.S. and the West, but is not afraid to go elsewhere as needed.

Obama’s backing of the Islamists and his cutting of aid for the past two years have driven al-Sisi to radically diversity Egypt’s sources of funding and investment from abroad, including for the first time military aid. For more than three decades, Egypt’s military assistance came almost exclusively from Washington, though that is now being surpassed by multi-billion dollar arms deals from Moscow and even to an extent from Beijing, funded by al-Sisi’s backers in the Gulf. That puts the Egyptian-American alliance and its principal benefits—the more than thirty-five year peace with Israel, our priority access to the Suez Canal (now being expanded with a second channel but without US investment), and vital cooperation on security issues—seriously at risk.

Gordon: Some analysts have said that in the wake of the Arab Spring the old order of regional autocracies has re-emerged in an alliance against the Muslim Brotherhood. What is your view and especially in the case of Egypt’s North African neighborhood?

Stock: That depends on the country: in North Africa, King Mohammed VI is still in power, but the Muslim Brotherhood has won more seats than the other parties in parliament, a situation echoing that in Jordan, though it is less precarious at present. Algeria, still recovering from the savage Islamist bloodbath after the Army’s annulment of elections in January 1992, was least affected of all the states in the region by the Arab Spring. (Perhaps the only major result there was the lifting of the State of Emergency that had prevailed for nearly two decades, in February 2011.) Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began in December 2010, threw out its MB-affiliate controlled government in a popular movement backed by the army—in a situation that rather echoed the one in Egypt, and late last year elected a new secularist plurality in parliament and a new secularist president, Béji Caїd Essebsi.

In Libya, the feeble central government that we helped install by foolishly removing the vicious, eccentric but cooperative Col. Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi has predictably collapsed. Yet a new secularist-dominated government was elected last June 25 and a pro-secularist remnant of the Qaddafi era, General Khalifa Haftar, for the past year has been at war with the Islamist militias that have been the real powers since 2011. Haftar also wants to destroy the Libyan iteration of the Muslim Brotherhood, root and branch, especially after it launched an armed uprising in eastern Libya following Morsi’s ouster in Egypt in 2013. As a result of this chaos, generated by our own needless—or at least, badly botched–intervention in the Arab Spring, the U.S. now has no effective presence in Libya. The security vacuum prompted Egypt and the United Arab Emirates to cooperate in launching air strikes near Tripoli last summer in support of Haftar’s forces. IS and other Islamist organizations are now infiltrating weapons and fighters into Egypt from Libya, threatening the country’s—and the region’s—stability.

In the Eastern Arab world, Egypt’s principal allies now are Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who together immediately pledged 12 billion dollars in aid after Morsi’s removal, and have given billions more since. All of it and more is desperately needed to compensate for the depletion of Egypt’s hard currency reserves, loss of foreign investment and near-destruction of the once lucrative tourist industry that have all continued since the January 25th Revolution against Hosni Mubarak. Both the Saudis and the Emiratis oppose the MB and Hamas, who—along with Egypt under Morsi—are clients of their Gulf rival, Qatar. America’s annual, mainly military package of $1.5 billion seems trifling in comparison (unless viewed cumulatively since it began in 1979). Still, it will be difficult to switch to mainly Russian or Chinese systems–much as the latter may be based on hacked American designs–after so many years of absorbing Yankee equipment and training.

Gordon: What is the emerging change in Egypt’s relations with Israel, both geo-political and economic?

Stock: Unlike Morsi and the MB, who worked covertly with the terrorists in Sinai, al-Sisi wholeheartedly supports the peace with Israel. He has greatly increased security cooperation with the Jewish state—which had been endangered in the 2011-12 transition and during the Morsi era—to levels exceeding those under Mubarak. Again, even more than Mubarak, who loathed them too, al-Sisi sees the MB, Hamas and their Islamist allies as threats to Egypt as well as Israel. Likewise, he sees Iran—with whom Morsi sought a rapprochement—as Egypt’s greatest strategic adversary in the region.

As a result, Egypt is now in an informal alliance with Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to confront Iran. That alliance is compromised, however, by recent moves from Egypt’s Gulf partners to mend fences with Iran as a result of their feeling exposed by Washington’s alarming pivot toward Tehran at the expense of its traditional Sunni clients.

Meanwhile, though overall Israel-Egypt trade remains minimal (as it had through the decades of cold peace under Mubarak and afterward), energy-strapped Egypt may soon be importing natural gas from Israel’s newly-developed Tamar Reservoir in the Mediterranean. Given that Israel used to import natural gas from Egypt via a pipeline shared with Jordan (repeatedly sabotaged physically as well as assailed legally in Egypt since the fall of Mubarak), that is a remarkable turnaround indeed.

Gordon: What triggered Qatar’s re-opening of relations with Egypt despite the former’s support of Hamas and the Brotherhood?

Stock: The main factor was probably al-Sisi’s logical desire to stay in step with the policy of Egypt’s current primary foreign donors and investors, the Arab states in the Persian Gulf. After freezing relations with Qatar due to its support for Hamas and the MB, and perhaps also AQ and IS (the latter only early on?), and the universal irritant of Doha-based Al Jazeera, the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, decided last summer to repair the rift, apparently in face of the increasing U.S. tilt toward Iran. The U.S. tried to bypass al-Sisi by turning to Qatar and Turkey—both of whom Cairo had shunned for their support of Islamists and their criticism of Morsi’s ouster—as intermediaries with Hamas in the Gaza conflict last summer.

Ironically, that move may have done more to damage relations with Washington than with either Doha or Ankara, who probably could not be totally excluded in any case, given their closeness to Hamas. Yet those two regional rival countries’ desire to cut out Cairo, the historic mediator between the Palestinians, Israel and the West, did aggravate the Egyptians enormously, to be sure.

Qatar has taken some token steps to distance itself from the MB, like deporting several MB leaders who had taken refuge there. But Qatar apparently continues to finance them in their new home in London, and few believe the change is more than cosmetic. Thus the warming with Egypt and even within the GCC may not long endure.

Gordon: Why has the US Administration maintained an arm’s length relationship with al-Sisi subsequent to the ouster of Morsi?

Stock: It is no doubt due to Obama’s leftist, rather Edward-Saidian worldview, which sees indigenous anti-Western forces such as the Islamists to be the benignly natural and legitimate consequence of American and European policies during the colonial era and the Cold War—for which he has apologized repeatedly. He also has a positive, nostalgic view of Islam, given that he was born of a Muslim father and having apparently been raised as one by his step-father during his early childhood in Indonesia, and seems to project this image onto radical groups like the MB who cleverly pose as moderates. He is thus surrounded by numerous pro-Islamist advisers, as well as those who simply take a naïve view of groups like the MB, Hamas and Hizbollah–and even the Taliban (not a new position, but one now getting attention in the news).

It also means that he denies the common Islamist ideology of all those groups as well as AQ and IS, or even any connection of their beliefs to Islam. This, despite their being made up entirely of Muslims, that they base their ideology and tactics on the Qur’an, Hadith and other key Islamic texts, and that they have a very wide appeal in the global Islamic community. This is even more bizarre if you compare his statements and those of his aides about this question to those of al-Sisi—a Muslim leader of a majority Muslim country—at the seat of Sunni Islam’s highest authority, al-Azhar, on New Year’s Day. One of them, Obama, is willfully blind; the other, al-Sisi, with devastating clarity, identifies the problem as coming from within the very heart of Islam.

On a personal level, Obama does not take kindly to those who cross him. Just look at his relationship with Congress, and with Benjamin Netanyahu, while ignoring his own transgressions against those he thinks are transgressing against him. He regarded al-Sisi’s patriotic overthrow of Morsi–whom he had bolstered with more and more aid even as the MB leader became more and dictatorial–at the demand of more than twice as many Egyptians as those who voted for Morsi, as a personal affront as well as ideological heresy. He has since punished al-Sisi and the Egyptian people who rejected his chosen savior of their destiny accordingly. That may have softened a bit recently, due to the need to find Arab allies to fight IS, but that is not a serious effort: the default position is against al-Sisi and for the MB.

Gordon: Given your Egyptian sojourn does al-Sisi have both the domestic and international support to implement his agenda?

Stock: Domestic, yes—all but a quarter to a third of the country wants him to succeed. But internationally is another story. Al-Sisi’s greatest enemy is not the MB, or even IS, but the president of the United States. When the State Department invited key figures from the pro-MB alliance of groups to a major conference in Washington this week, he was signaling his desire (and only Obama sets our foreign policy) to overthrow al-Sisi—just as his invitation to the leaders from the banned MB to sit in the front row of his Cairo speech in 2009 signaled that he wanted to remove Mubarak. So U.S.-dependent international institutions and allies may not be too supportive of al-Sisi.

The only possible silver lining for Egypt is, ironically (given our historic alliance), really a great problem for our country, if one values its role of global leadership since World War II. That is, Obama has done so much to destroy America’s standing with the rest of the world that even our closest allies no longer fear to stray, and may yet not follow his wishes regarding al-Sisi. Tragically, on many issues, that may be better for us all until Obama leaves office. For the heading he has set leads directly to hell, a destination that many countries, thanks to in large part to his policies, have already seen (and Syria and Libya have already become)–good intentions (by his lights) notwithstanding.

Gordon: Dr. Stock many thanks for this highly informative interview.

Stock: You’re most welcome.

Kurdish Land-Grab Stuns Baghdad

January 27, 2015

Kurdish Land-Grab Stuns Baghdad, Newsweek and , January 27, 2015

peshmergaKurdish Peshmerga fighters keep watch during the battle with Islamic State militants on the outskirts of Mosul January 21, 2015. AZAD LASHKARI/REUTERS

A senior Kurdish federal official, who declined to be named, said that Peshmerga forces would never hand back areas captured after Isis’s march across northern Iraq, which brought the group to within miles of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

While the threat of Isis remains significant, Kurds may have to put their independence dreams on hold and the Iraqi government will worry about Kurdish territorial claims later. As the terror group continues to grow, both parties need each other and the radical Islamist threat will bind them together, at least for now.

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Kurdish forces launched a barrage of Grad missiles against Islamic State (Isis) positions inside Mosul last week, for the first time since Isis overran Iraq’s second-largest city in June last year, marking a dramatic shift in the Kurds’ battle against the terrorist group.

The bombardment was preceded by a large-scale Kurdish operation against Isis in northern Iraq, which saw 5,000 Kurdish fighters, supported by US-led coalition airstrikes, sweep around Mosul to recapture an area larger than the size of Andorra, Liechtenstein and San Marino combined.

In the offensive, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters killed over 200 Isis militants, ousting the group from almost 300 square miles of territory, capturing a number of areas contested with Baghdad. As they advanced, encircling Mosul on three sides and cutting vital Isis supply lines to the nearby towns of Tal Afar and Sinjar, the Kurdish forces began a counter-offensive that analysts worry may be the start of a territory war between the Kurdish capital, Erbil, and Baghdad.

The Kurdish forces captured Makhmour, to the east of the city; the towns of Zimar and Wannah, and several Arab villages located in the Sinjar Mountains, west of Mosul; and the area around Mosul Dam, in what amounts to a Kurdish land-grab backed by Western airstrikes.

Iraqi Kurds believe that the recaptured territory around the city is rightfully theirs while the Iraqi government “fears that the Kurds will use territory as leverage during political negotiations”, according to Ranj Alaaldin, a visiting scholar at Columbia University.

A senior Kurdish federal official, who declined to be named, said that Peshmerga forces would never hand back areas captured after Isis’s march across northern Iraq, which brought the group to within miles of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region. “All the current military operations that involve the Peshmerga are implemented in coordination with the international military coalition and the central government is aware of it, but, in the Kurdish areas, we will never ever let Arabs control them again,” the official warned. “We are not ready to fight, terrify our fighters’ souls to liberate these areas and hand them to a traitor who would sell it to the killers. We will not allow this scenario to take place again in these areas.”

While the Kurds argue that they have taken control of this territory to defend against Isis, many Iraqis believe that the Kurds will never give up what they have captured because of their ambitions for an independent state.

“In the chaos that followed the Isis assault on Iraq in June, the Iraqi army melted away from its positions throughout northeastern and northwestern Iraq and the Peshmerga swiftly moved in to take their place – taking control of the whole of Kirkuk,” she said.

Despite these aspirations, Iraqi officials seem content to let Kurdish forces claim the territory from Daesh (as Isis is also known), for now. “As long as we are not ready to move as far as to fight in Mosul, it would be better to let them (Kurds) re-control these areas rather than leave it at the hands of Daesh,” a senior Iraqi military officer said. “Now, we will not raise any political disputes. Let [the Kurds] drive the militants away from these areas and we will think about the consequences later,” he added.

Hamed al-Khudari, a senior Shia lawmaker, agreed that Iraqis should “clear our lands” and “talk about this [territorial dispute] later”. Nevertheless, analysts do not believe that the Iraqi government in Baghdad is capable of ousting Kurdish forces from the territory they have seized in the recent advance. “Baghdad cannot do much to kick out the Kurds from any territory they have captured,” says Wladimir van Wilgenburg, analyst on Kurdish politics for the Jamestown Foundation.

The Kurds’ success on the battlefield, coupled with rumours of a potential Iraqi operation in Mosul, has put Isis on the back-foot but also caused disagreement between Erbil and Baghdad. Differences remain over involvement in any potential operation to recapture Mosul. Masrour Barzani, the head of Kurdistan’s regional security council, has said that Mosul will soon be “liberated” from the terror group’s self-proclaimed caliphate. “I don’t think anyone would envy the situation the people of Mosul are in,” he said. “The terror of Isis is too much for anyone to handle.”

But Kurdish officials believe that the responsibility for the recapture of the predominantly Sunni-Arab city lies solely with Baghdad. “Peshmerga are now 8km away from Mosul but they will not fight inside the city,” the official, who declined to be named, said. “When it comes to liberating Mosul, its people have to fight, not anyone else. We will just support them because we do not want anyone to say that Kurds are fighting Arabs. The [Iraqi] government understands that Mosul is not our battle or Shiites’ battle. Arab Sunnis in Mosul have to take the initiative to liberate their areas.”

Whereas Kurdish officials believe that Baghdad should take leadership over the battle for the city, where citizens now live under the group’s radical version of Islamic law, Iraqi officials claim that the battle against “Daesh is everyone’s to fight. The main goal now for all Iraqis is to fight Daesh and drive them away from all the Iraqi lands, so we will not allow anyone to talk about these [territorial] issues”, says al-Khudari. “This [fighting against IS] is the responsibility of everyone including the central government, the Kurdish forces, the public crowd (Shia militias and volunteers) and the anti-IS Sunni tribes.”

The lack of Kurdish motivation to enter into a battle for Mosul alongside Iraqi forces is due to the knowledge that any fight would be a drawn-out and lethal affair, according to van Wilgenburg. “They know the battle is going to be very heavy if it has to involve street to street fighting,” he says.

“The Kurds are already assisting the fight in Mosul. They recently fired into the city.” Erbil and Baghdad both have “to be pragmatic”, says Gonul Tol, executive director at the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute. Baghdad is focused on recapturing Isis-held territory as opposed to Kurdish territory while Kurds “do not want to get involved” in Mosul to avoid “igniting a Kurdish-Arab war”.

While the threat of Isis remains significant, Kurds may have to put their independence dreams on hold and the Iraqi government will worry about Kurdish territorial claims later. As the terror group continues to grow, both parties need each other and the radical Islamist threat will bind them together, at least for now.

Over 7,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Iraq to compensate for Maliki’s ouster not to fight ISIS

December 28, 2014

(Interesting if accurate. A few sometimes reliable sources are cited, but without links. — DM)

Original posted by Dan Miller

Over 7,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Iraq to compensate for Maliki’s ouster not to fight ISIS, National Council of Resistance of Iran, December 26, 2014

suleimani-ameriQassem Suleimani and Hadi al-Ameri head of Badr Organization

The objective of mullahs in dispatching revolutionary guards and strengthening militias is not to fight ISIS but to compensate for the decisive blow of Nouri al-Maliki’s ouster and to consolidate dominion of velayat-e faqih caliphate over Iraq

NCRI – The Iranian Resistance warns of the escalating presence of the criminal revolutionary guards of the terrorist Qods Force (QF) in Iraq that is a blatant breach of UN Security Council resolutions and underscores that their objective is not to fight ISIS, but to compensate for the heavy blow caused by Maliki’s ouster and to consolidate the velayat-e faqih caliphate in Iraq.

The slaughter and forced migration, along with aggression against the Iraqi people, in particular the Sunnis, and ridding them of their property by the revolutionary guards and their affiliated militias under the pretext of fighting ISIS has endangered peace and security throughout the region and fuels the machine of extremism and terrorism in the whole region.

1. According to Resistance’s information from inside the regime, the number of revolutionary guards of the QF now reaches 7000 in Iraq. A large number of them have been stationed in Baghdad, Diyala and Salah ad-Din provinces and the cities of Samarra, Karbala, Najaf, Khaneqain, Sa’adiyah and Jaloula. A great number of commanders and experts from the revolutionary guards accompany the terrorist militias in various areas of Iraq. Regime’ fighter jets have been flying in Iraq since early November and are currently carrying out military missions in Diyala and Salah ad-Din provinces.

2. The extent of this meddling is such that mullahs’ Defense Minister Dehqan stated on December 20: “In the realm of weapons and equipment, usually their governments (Iraq and Syria) purchase from us and in the realms of training and advising we are serving the armies and resistance forces of Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.” He added: The presence of Qasem Soleimani in Iraq “is to offer advice, guidance and training… the people who have gone there are to advise and offer training to help out with organizing and training and to offer advice on operational plans”.

3. The clerical regime and the QF that had brought Iraq under their hidden occupation in a step by step manner since 12 years ago, had taken over all aspects of that country through their proxy prime minister. Subsequent to the initiation of the popular uprising against Maliki in January 2013, they broadened their interference to suppress the uprising and to strengthen their hand in Iraq.

4. Since January 2014 that Maliki initiated the Anbar conflict and suffered a severe defeat in the hands of the people and tribes of that region, the Iranian regime felt imperiled and thus the presence of the QF in Iraq took on new dimensions. Mohammad Hejazi, Deputy for Logistics in regime’s General Command Headquarters of the Armed Forces, announced that the clerical regime is prepared to offer Iraq equipment and consultation (IRNA News Agency – January 5, 2014).

5. In February 2014, a number of QF commanders who had participated in the slaughter of the Syrian people went to Iraq to pass on their experiences in trainings to the Iraqi forces. Intimately and directly they transferred their experience in Iran and Syria to Ali Qaidan, the at the time Commander of the Army, and Fadhil Barwari, the Commander of the Golden (Dirty) Division. They primarily order to Maliki to establish a Basij-like force. They noted that they had initiated the civil defense in Syria which is capable of saving Assad’s regime; the classical army is designed to fight an external war and is useless in guerrilla warfare.

6. During this period, the QF beefed up the terrorist militia groups under its command such as Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, Kata’ib Hezbollah and Badr Corps and dispatched them to Anbar Province, especially to Ramadi and Garmeh regions. Their first task was to pump morale into Maliki’s military. Since March 2014, 15-day training courses were arranged for these militias in Iran; the same thing that the regime had initiated two years ago for the mercenaries who were dispatched to Syria.

7. In March 2014, the QF sent some trainers from the Lebanese Hezbollah to Iraq to organize and train the militias and concurrently sent all types of weapons and equipment in an attempt to organize a powerful force capable of preserving the power in the hands of Maliki and Iranian regime’s elements.

8. Since late March 2014, the militias who had been equipped and organized in orderly units and were accompanied by QF commanders were deployed in battlefields and specific defensive lines were trusted to them. The Garmeh region until Zaidan and Baghdad Beltway from Taramiyah to Abu Ghoraib was given to Asa’ib militias; Fallujah and Baghdad Beltway from south of the airport to Yousefiyah was given to the Kata’ib terrorist group; and the Badr forces were deployed to the west of Fallujah and Ramadi. A division composed of the militias was organized to be deployed in Baghdad’s Beltway from Taramiyah to Madaen, west of Baghdad. Maliki and the QF jointly provided their equipment. Special equipment, bombs and missiles were transferred to Najaf and Baghdad through air transport with coordination by Hadi Ameri, Iraq’s at the time Minister of Transportation, to be transferred subsequently to these forces.

9. During this period, the commanders of the QF were placed in active liaison and direct coordination with Maliki’s army and police commanders and a joint Tactical Operating Center (TOC) was set up in Anbar. IRGC Brigadier General Iraj Masjedi, Qasem Soleimani’s “supreme advisor”, and a number of other commanders of the QF were deployed in Iraq. In addition, “Esmail Qa’ani Akbarnejad”, Deputy to Qasem Soleimani, regularly travelled to Iraq to supervise the situation.

10. Following the disintegration of Maliki’s army on June 10 and as Ninawa and Salah ad-Din slipped from his hands, the QF dispatched its command system to Iraq in a matter of hours. In the early days of this development, over 2000 seasoned revolutionary guards entered Iraq who were primarily tasked to Baghdad’s Beltway. Others were deployed in Diyala. Concurrently, people from IRGC Air Force were deployed in Diyala, Salah ad-Din and Kurdistan to collect information and direct drones. The number of revolutionary guards continues to rise and has now reached 7000.

11. At this stage, Soleimani used Abu Mehdi Mohandess, the known terrorist, as his Deputy of Operations in Iraq and commander of the militias and formed a special TOC for coordinating the militias in Baghdad. The military and security responsibility for Diyala was given to Hadi Ameri, Maliki’s Minister of Transportation. These two are both in the list of 32000 employees of IRGC in Iraq. This is the list that the Iranian Resistance exposed back in 2006.

12. To compensate for the sidelining of Maliki and regain former status, the clerical regime ramped up the presence of the QF in August and the presence of Qasem Soleimani increased, especially in battlefields such as Amerli, Jarf al-Sakhar, Sa’adiyah and Jaloula. In order to build up the morale of its defeated mercenaries, regime’s Farsi and Arabic speaking media staged a noisy propaganda campaign about the presence of Soleimani and the IRGC in Iraq.

13. During this period, organizing the “popular Basij” forces was left to the militias and the QF. In an interview with al-Iraqiya state TV on December 22, Maliki’s National Security Advisor Faleh Fayad stipulated that there are a number of “Iranian advisors” within the “popular Basij” forces.

14. The objective of IRGC and the militias is not to fight ISIS, but to exploit on the present situation and consolidate their grip on Iraq. That is why the massacres, aggressions, forced migration of populations, and ridding the Sunnis of their property that have been ongoing by these forces since 2003 took on unprecedented dimensions in the recent months. In an interview on December 1st with the official website of Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), Sheik Jafar, KDP’s official in Khaneqain, said: “The actions of Shia militias is like ISIS or even worse. They are experts in killing, burning and looting. They have disrupted 90% of Sa’adiyah and looted and burned all its places… Their objective is to expand their rule and influence… They rarely use the Iraqi flag and mostly hoist a flag that carries the emblem of the Islamic Republic of Iran… They have initiated purging of all Sunnis and kill people anywhere they can… These forces blew up people’s homes under the pretext of neutralizing mines and explosives.”

15. In a shocking report on December 15, the Al-Jazeera TV unveiled the bombing of Sunni areas and forcible displacement of the Sunnis in Iraq including in Diyala and Salah ad-Din and especially in Samarra, various districts of Baghdad and its suburbs such as Mahmoudiyah, Arab Jabour, Jarf-al-Sakhar, Yousefiyah, Latifiyah, Abu Ghraib, Taji and Moshahedeh by the militias affiliated with the QF. The number of forcibly displaced people in Baghdad reaches one million. A resident of Jarf-al-Sakhar testified, “Militias burn homes, arrest the youth, and kill them in undisclosed locations… No Sunni family is left in Jarf-al-Sakhar. They arrest young and old men, forcibly displace the families, and kill them… We are witnessing the beginning of an Iranian caliphate just as ISIS has announced its caliphate.”

16. On 14 October 2014, in a detailed report titled “Absolute impunity, Militia rule in Iraq”, Amnesty International underscored the affiliation of the militias to the Iranian regime and wrote:
• The growing power of Shi’a militias has contributed to an overall deterioration in security and an atmosphere of lawlessness.
• Shi’a militias are ruthlessly targeting Sunni civilians on a sectarian basis under the guise of fighting terrorism, in an apparent bid to punish Sunnis for the rise of the IS and for its heinous crimes.
• Scores of unidentified bodies have been discovered across the country handcuffed and with gunshot wounds to the head, indicating a pattern of deliberate execution-style killings.
• Militia members, numbering tens of thousands, wear military uniforms, but they operate outside any legal framework and without any official oversight.
• By granting its blessing to militias who routinely commit such abhorrent abuses, the Iraqi government is sanctioning war crimes and fuelling a dangerous cycle of sectarian violence that is tearing the country apart.
• Successive Iraqi governments have displayed a callous disregard for fundamental human rights principles. The new government must now change course and put in place effective mechanisms to investigate abuses by Shi’a militias and Iraqi forces and hold accountable those responsible.

17. On 18 September 2014, the Foreign Policy website in an article titled “Iraq’s Shiite militias are becoming as great a danger as the Islamic State” wrote: “These groups, many of which have deep ideological and organizational links to Iran… are actively recruiting — drawing potential soldiers away from the Iraqi army and police and bringing fighters into highly ideological, anti-American, and rabidly sectarian organizations. Many of these trainees are not simply being used to push back Sunni jihadists, but in many cases form a rear guard used to control districts that are supposedly under Baghdad’s control…In early June, Shiite militias, along with Iraqi security forces, reportedly executed around 255 prisoners, including children…The growth of these pro-Iranian Shiite militias, and many more like them, helps demonstrate Iran’s goals for the domination of Shiite Iraq. These groups not only benefit from Iran’s patronage and organizational capabilities — they also all march to Tehran’s ideological tune. They are loyal to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Iran’s ideology of absolute wilayat-e faqih.”

18. On September 16, New York Times wrote: “‘We break into an area and kill the ones who are threatening people,’ said one 18-year-old fighter with Asaib Ahl al-Haq… insisting that their militia commanders had been given authority by Iraqi security officials… This militia was once a leading killer of American troops … Alla Maki, a Sunni lawmaker said that under former Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, Asaib Ahl al-Haq was ‘encouraged to do dirty jobs like killing Sunnis, and they were allowed to operate freely. Now the international community are all being inspired by the removal of Maliki personally, but the policy is still going on’… So far, though, there is no sign of any official attempts to investigate even the most publicized allegations of extrajudicial killings of Sunnis by Asaib Ahl al-Haq.”