Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Saudi Arabia, which according to the available data is the biggest financial and spiritual supporter of the terror groups in the region, in a bizarre move has formed a counter-terrorism coalition. Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister, has noted that the alliance would not only target the terror group ISIS but it would counter terrorism phenomenon across Muslim world's regions. The coalition, as Saudi Arabia claims, is "Islamic" and "military" and it would confront any terrorist organization, and every member country would contribute to the alliance based on its capacities and capabilities. The statement published by Saudi news agency asserts that the new coalition is led by Saudi Arabia and that it is headquartered in Riyadh. The coalition includes 35 countries, Saudi Arabia , Jordan , United Arabic Emirates , Pakistan , Bahrain , Bangladesh , Benin , Turkey , Chad , Togo , Tunisia , Djibouti , Senegal , Sudan , Sierra Leone , Somalia , Gabon , Guinea , Palestine , Republic of the Comoros , Qatar , Côte d'Ivoire, Kuwait , Lebanon , Libya , Maldives , Mali , Malaysia , Egypt , Morocco , Mauritania , Niger , Nigeria , Yemen and Uganda.
For a couple of reasons it is obvious that the 34-member coalition is barren and theatrical, being only a gesture posed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
1. The leader of the military alliance is Saudi Arabia which is the main operator and supporter of terrorism in the region. The Western media have always introduced the ideology ruling Saudi Arabia as the most significant ground for rise of the terrorism. On the other hand, in recent years, Saudi Arabia by backing up the terror groups financially and spiritually in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, has engaged these countries in an everlasting wars.
2. Most of the members of the coalition are weak countries. States like Benin, Togo and Sierra Leone lack any potential to fight against terrorism. The only advantage of Saudi Arabia, which leads the military coalition, is its petrodollars and it owns no expertise in using the advanced military equipment.
3. The third reason can be traced to the history of the similar coalitions. Saudi Arabia and the UAE along with other countries had formed a coalition which the purpose was to launch offensive actions against Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition has failed to counter a couple of Yemeni tribes within the past nine months, and only in a latest attack 152 of its troops were killed in Yemen's south. Thereby, the coalition would not be able even to preserve its unity in the upcoming months let alone to fight terrorism.
While owning the world's most advanced military equipment, the US by forming its anti-ISIS military coalition has failed to take any positive step in the past two years. Certainly, Riyadh cannot launch any operations beyond its own borders. In recent years, heavy losses were imposed on Saudi Arabia, and it has been known in the eyes of the public opinions as the "godfather of terror", and that it is severely under public opinions' pressure. Therefore, forming the military alliance, it seeks to amend such a prevailing vision. However, such a gestural move is far from being able to change the view about Saudi support of terrorism.
UK government breaches arms trade treaty by selling arms while Yemeni civilians being hit by Saudi-led coalition, say lawyers.UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia are fuelling the civil war in Yemen and breach domestic, European and international law obligations, according to legal opinion obtained by Amnesty and other human rights groups.
The UK government has known for months that the weapons systems it supplied to Saudi forces have been used against civilian targets, the report released on Thursday maintains.
A British-made cruise missile, manufactured by Marconi, destroyed a ceramics factory in a village west of the capital, Sana’a, killing at least one civilian, it was alleged last month.
The Yemen war involves a Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Arab states that has launched an all-out air campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthi armed groups who seized Sana’a a year ago. Saudi Arabia’s aim is to reinstate Yemen’s president, Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, who fled last year as the insurgency gained ground.
It has turned into a humanitarian crisis with civilian targets, including hospitals, schools, markets, grain warehouses, ports and a displaced persons camp, being hit by Saudi-led coalition forces.
Since the conflict escalated in mid-March 2015, more than 5,800 people have been killed, tens of thousands wounded and 2.5 million have been forced to flee their homes. More than 80% of the country’s population of 21 million are in need of humanitarian aid, including 2 million children at risk of malnutrition.
The legal opinion of Prof Philippe Sands QC, Prof Andrew Clapham and Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh of Matrix Chambers, was commissioned by Amnesty International UK and Saferworld, both members of the Control Arms coalition.
The lawyers argue that, on the basis of the information available, the British government is breaching its obligations under the UK’s consolidated criteria on arms exports, the EU common position on arms exports and the arms trade treaty by continuing to authorise transfers of weapons and related equipment to Saudi Arabia.
The lawyers conclude: “Any authorisation by the UK of the transfer of weapons and related items to Saudi Arabia … in circumstances where such weapons are capable of being used in the conflict in Yemen, including to support its blockade of Yemeni territory, and in circumstances where their end use is not restricted, would constitute a breach by the UK of its obligations under domestic, European and international law.”
The legal opinion also states that the UK government can, since at least May 2015, be deemed to have “actual knowledge ... of the use by Saudi Arabia of weapons, including UK-supplied weapons, in attacks directed against civilians ... in violation of international law.”
The government insists it is not taking part in the military campaign in Yemen. Last month, a spokesman said: “Her Majesty’s government takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world. We rigorously examine every application on a case-by-case basis against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria. Risks around human rights abuses are a key part of our assessment.”
But Amnesty and Saferworld point out that more than 100 licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia have been issued since bombing in Yemen began in March 2015. For the period from January to June 2015, UK licences for exports to Saudi Arabia were worth more than £1.75bn, the human rights groups say, the vast majority of which appear to be for combat aircraft and air-delivered bombs for the use of the Royal Saudi air force.
In 2013, David Cameron hailed the arms trade treaty as a landmark agreement that would “save lives and ease the immense human suffering caused by armed conflict around the world”.
The director of Amnesty International UK, Kate Allen, said: “The UK has fuelled this appalling conflict through reckless arms sales which break its own laws and the global arms trade treaty it once championed.
“This legal opinion confirms our long-held view that the continued sale of arms from the UK to Saudi Arabia is illegal, immoral and indefensible. Thousands of civilians have been killed in Saudi-led airstrikes, and there’s a real risk that misery was ‘made in Britain’. The UK must halt these arms sales immediately.”
Saferworld’s executive director, Paul Murphy, said: “UK government policy on Yemen is in disarray. The UK gives aid to Yemen with one hand, while supporting the destruction of the country with the other.
“With the start this week of the first direct peace talks since the beginning of the conflict in Yemen, the UK government should help turn the current ceasefire into a permanent peace by stopping its support to one side of the conflict. It’s time the UK acted as a peace broker, rather than an arms broker. The UK government must halt these arms sales immediately.”
Amnesty International and Saferworld are calling on the UK government to suspend arms transfers to Saudi Arabia, redouble diplomatic effort to help bring the conflict to an end and push for an end to the blockade so that humanitarian and commercial supplies can enter Yemen.
In awarding its most prestigious human rights prize to an imprisoned Saudi blogger, Europe's Parliament reminded the world just how odious any Western alliance is with the puritanical Kingdom one writer calls "an Islamic State that’s succeeded".
By RICK GLADSTONE
A petition from dozens of authors was sent to President Obama on Wednesday asking him to press Saudi Arabia to pardon a prominent poet condemned to beheading and a blogger punished with prison and flogging.
The petition, organized by the PEN American Center, a group that promotes free expression, threw a spotlight on what critics call the Obama administration’s reluctance to antagonize the religiously strict Saudi kingdom, a partner in the conflict in Syria and the broader struggle to combat violent Islamic extremism.
The administration has not overtly challenged the Saudis on a number of policies and judicial practices that are generally regarded as oppressive, like systematic discrimination against women, severe curbs on free expression and punishments that include decapitation.“The United States has been hesitant to call out the Saudis on human rights issues,” Suzanne Nossel, executive director of the PEN American Center, said in a telephone interview about the petition. “You can see all the reasons for hesitation,” she said, but they are outweighed by “the gravity of these two cases.”
There was no immediate reaction from the White House to the petition, which Ms. Nossel said had been emailed.
Signers included more than 60 prominent artists in the literary world, including Michael Chabon, Ha Jin, Jessica Hagedorn, Paul Muldoon, Zia Haider Rahman and Elissa Schappell.
The petition concerns the fate of Ashraf Fayadh, 35, a Palestinian poet who has always lived in Saudi Arabia, and Raif Badawi, 31, a Saudi writer and activist who managed an online forum called Free Saudi Liberals.
Mr. Fayadh was sentenced on Nov. 17 to death by beheading for apostasy, based on poems he published years earlier that the Saudi authorities deemed atheistic and blasphemous.
Mr. Badawi was arrested three years ago and convicted of insulting Islam and promoting unacceptable thoughts electronically. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes to be delivered in 50-lash installments, but that part of the punishment was suspended in January after the first lashing, which provoked an international outcry and, according to his wife, Ensaf Haidar, nearly killed him.
Ms. Haidar, who now lives in Canada with their three children, has said Mr. Badawi was recently moved to an isolated prison intended for convicted felons whose appeal remedies have been exhausted. The PEN petition called the relocation “a troubling sign that any hope he would be pardoned has been dashed.”
The petition coincided with a ceremony honoring Mr. Badawi by the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, which bestowed on him its Sakharov human rights prize this year. Ms. Haidar accepted the award there on his behalf.
Saudi Arabia has faced a torrent of increasingly negative outside publicity over its heavy use of the death penalty and its harsh treatment of advocates of a more open and tolerant society. The two cases cited by the PEN petition are regarded by advocates as especially egregious.
The petition said the severity of the sentences against Mr. Fayadh and Mr. Badawi, “rendered for crimes that are not crimes, cannot go unremarked upon any longer by the president of the United States.”
It asked Mr. Obama to urge King Salman, the Saudi ruler, to “grant them unconditional and immediate release.”
The international community has welcomed Saudi Arabia’s initiative to create a coalition against terrorism. However, its “military and ideological” role has been met with confusion even among members, some of whom didn’t know they were included.
On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia announced the creation of an ‘Islamic military alliance’ with a mission to fight terrorism. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the coalition of 34 Muslim states would fight the scourge in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan.
The coalition members are to share intelligence, train, equip and possibly even provide forces to fight against militants such as Islamic State and al Qaeda, said Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.
"Nothing is off the table," he stated regarding the possibility of deploying boots on the ground.
Pakistan got to know of its participation via news
A day after Riyadh announced the formation of the coalition, some of its members said that have been caught off guard and never agreed to take part in the alliance.
Pakistan, one of the coalition members announced by Saudi Arabia, has denied its participation. Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry told journalists that he got to know of the coalition through news reports, adding that Pakistan was not consulted about it, Dawn newspaper reported on Wednesday. He added that Islamabad was seeking details about the misunderstanding.
Malaysia denies taking part
Malaysia, another Muslim country which was put by Riyadh in the list of the 34 participants, also denied taking part in the military alliance. Malaysian Defense Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein told journalists that Kuala Lumpur will not join Riyadh, however it will continue to be part of the international fight against terrorism, the Rakyat Post reported.
Indonesia skeptical about ‘military alliance’
Indonesia, a country with the world’s largest Muslim population, said that it was approached by Saudi Arabia concerning anti-terrorism cooperation, however it needs details before considering to join a ‘military alliance.’
Armanatha Nasir, Foreign Ministry spokesman said it is “important for Indonesia to first have details before deciding to support” any military actions, he said.
Armanatha Nasir, Foreign Ministry spokesman said it is “important for Indonesia to first have details before deciding to support” any military actions, he said.
However, Indonesian Chief Security Minister Luhut Pandjaitan said later, as quoted by Reuters: "We don't want to join a military alliance."
US wants to know more
The US, which is leading its own bombing campaign in Syria targeting IS militants, has welcomed the initiative. However, Washington seemed rather puzzled in terms of how the coalition’s operations would work.
"We look forward to learning more about what Saudi Arabia has in mind in terms of this coalition," US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Tuesday.
Russia expects details
Russia said that it expects a more detailed account from Riyadh of its initiative. “We expect to receive more detailed information from the initiators of this process as well as we would want to know more about what was discussed in Paris yesterday,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying on Wednesday.
Foreign ministers from the US, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Qatar and Turkey met in Paris on Monday to discuss the Syrian crisis ahead of the talks in New York on Friday that would include Russia.
Russia has been conducting its own airstrikes targeting IS and other terrorist groups in Syria since September 30. The strikes were launched at the formal request of Damascus. The Russian-led operation also involves coordinating its efforts with regional governments, including those of Syria, Iran and Iraq, which is known as the RSII coalition.
Turkey welcomes Riyadh-led military coalition
Ankara, the only NATO state in the alliance, has agreed to take part in the Saudi-led initiative.
“The best response to those striving to associate terrorism and Islam is for nations of Islam to present a unified voice against terrorism,” said Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Tuesday.
However Turkish role in the fight against IS has been put to question. Russia’s Defense Ministry has recently claimed that Ankara is the main consumer of oil smuggled by IS from Syria and Iraq, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his family are involved in the criminal business.
Meanwhile, Turkish MP Eren Erdem has told RT that IS terrorists in Syria received all necessary materials to produce deadly sarin gas via Turkey.
Washington has been urging Ankara to secure its Syrian border, which has been partially in the control of IS on the Syrian side. However Turkey has expressed skepticism, saying that it would be extremely difficult.
Iran, Iraq, Syria not invited by Saudi to the block
Despite Riyadh’s initiative to possibly involve the alliance’s ground troops in the fight against IS, Iraq and Syria have not been invited to the bloc.
Iraq said it was confused by the role of the alliance in the fight against terrorism in the region.
“This makes it very confusing for us. Who will be the one leading the fight against terrorism in the region?” asked Nasser Nouri, spokesman for Iraq’s defense ministry, as quoted by the Wall Street journal on Tuesday. “Will it be the larger international coalition, and if so, what will be the point of having this new alliance.”
By Joe Klein
Hillary Clinton on Wednesday picked up the endorsement of the billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who gave his backing to her while calling for increased taxes on the country’s highest wage earners.
Mr. Buffett began his remarks at an event in Omaha with some stark statistics. In 1992, the top 400 wage earners in the United States made an average of $48.6 million each, compared with $335.7 million in 2012, Mr. Buffett said, using the most recent statistics available based on income tax returns.
“This group,” which includes Mr. Buffett, who is worth an estimated $66.7 billion, “had their income increase sevenfold,” he said, adding, however, that “their tax rate has fallen to 16.3 percent, so they got a one-third tax cut as their income went up 7 to 1.”
Mr. Buffett did not support a candidate in the 2008 Democratic contest, despite being courted by Mrs. Clinton and Barack Obama, who were then senators. (“I told both of them that if they ran for president, I’d support them and here we are,” Mr. Buffett said during that heated battle.)
But on Wednesday, Mr. Buffett, the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, said he was endorsing Mrs. Clinton because she “will make sure that those people who are having to work two jobs to barely get by will not have that kind of world for themselves and their children moving forward.”
Mrs. Clinton nodded in agreement. “I want to be the president for the struggling, the striving and the successful,” she said.
To do that, she has proposed a wide and varied agenda of domestic policies including tax-credits for middle-class families that are caring for sick or elderly relatives or are sidled with steep healthcare costs; a $350 billion plan to make college more affordable; a $250 billion plan to improve the country’s infrastructure while creating jobs; and a plan for universal prekindergarten that could cost tens of billions of dollars, among other proposals.
Aides have said that those plans would be paid for by tax increases on the wealthy, the closing of corporate tax loopholes and other changes in the tax code. Last week, Mrs. Clinton released a plan to crack down on “inversions,” or the practice of United States corporations to merge with smaller foreign companies in order to pay a lower tax rate.
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign used the event Wednesday to signal to the national news media that she would eventually call for an additional tax increase on Americans who earn more than $250,000 a year. (“Clinton to propose further tax increases on wealthy Americans at Buffett event,” a headline on CNBC read.) But other than praising Mr. Buffett’s remarks and expressing support for the “Buffett rule,” which calls on the richest American to pay more taxes, Mrs. Clinton did not discuss taxes in any detail.
Aides have long signaled that she would not shy away from raising taxes on the wealthiest earners. “She will make sure the wealthiest Americans finally start paying their fair share, not force the middle class to pay even more than they already do,” Brian Fallon, a campaign spokesman, said last month.
But on Wednesday, Mrs. Clinton, with a major new supporter at her side, recited her recurrent theme of trying to connect financial turmoil to Republican policies. “Our economy does better when we have a Democrat in the White House,” she said. “That is just a fact.”
She was quick to add: “I am not running for my husband’s third term. I am not running for Barack Obama’s third term. I am running for my first term.
“But I am going to do what works for our economy.”