Monday, December 21, 2015

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The Saudi-led ‘Islamic Antiterrorist Coalition’ was formed in response to the Russian and Iranian operation against ISIL terrorists in Syria, and Algiers has no plans to join in, an Algerian political analyst said on Saturday.
“The many countries joining the Saudi-led coalition, which supported the terrorists in Algeria during the 1970s, never helped us fight the terrorists on our soil… The new coalition has a pronounced Sunni-tilt and came in response to Russia’s and Iran’s role in Syria,” Zine al-Abidine Bouazza told Sputnik.
“They do not differentiate between terrorist groups and popular resistance movements and the coalition essentially is not aimed against Daesh (ISIL),” he added.
Zine al-Abidine Bouazza also said that Algeria had refused to join the “Islamic Coalition” primarily because its goals are at variance with the country’s constitution, which bars the use of the Algerian military and security forces in overseas operations.
Saudi Arabia has formed a coalition of 34 mainly Muslim countries — including powers such as Egypt and Turkey — to coordinate a fight against "terrorist organizations".
In an earlier press statement issued by the Saudi Press Agency, officials said the group would be led by Saudi Arabia, which would host a "joint operations center to coordinate" efforts.
Besides the 34 Muslim nations, Riyadh said more than 10 other countries expressed their support for the new bloc, while several so-called member states, including Pakistan and Lebanon, have already objected that they have never been informed of their inclusion in any such grouping. Islamabad even summoned Riyadh's envoy in protest at the inclusion of its name in the list.
Absent from the list was predominantly Shiite Iran—the kingdom’s main rival for leadership in the Muslim world — as well as Shiite-led Iraq and Syria.

Saudi Arabia 'jails reformist writer Zuhair Kutbi'

A Saudi writer who has called for political reform is reported to have been sentenced to four years in prison.
Zuhair Kutbi's lawyer and son said half the sentence was suspended, but that he was also banned from writing for 15 years and travelling abroad for five, and fined $26,600 (£17,900).
It is not clear on what charges Mr Kutbi was found guilty.
He is believed to have been detained in July after saying Saudi Arabia should become a constitutional monarchy on TV.
The 62-year-old is the latest in a string of human rights activists, reformists, journalists, and dissidents to have been jailed in the Gulf state.

'Necessary reforms'

Before Monday, Mr Kutbi had been sentenced to months in prison and fined at least three times since the 1990s for calling for reforms and criticising prison conditions in Saudi Arabia, according to Amnesty International.
He had also reportedly been made to sign a pledge not to discuss public issues with the written or broadcast media, or on his social media accounts.
However, during an appearance on the satellite TV channel Rotana Khaleejiaon 22 June, Mr Kutbi spoke about "what he regarded as necessary reforms in Saudi Arabia, including transforming the country into a constitutional monarchy and combating religious and political repression", Human Rights Watch said.
The comments attracted considerable attention on social media, and on 15 July security officers arrested Mr Kutbi at his home in the city of Mecca.
On 10 August, HRW said Mr Kutbi was being held without charge, but that investigators had suggested to members of his family that he might face trial for inciting public opinion, insulting the judiciary, or offending symbols of the state.
Mr Kutbi's lawyer, Ibrahim al-Midaymiq, and his son Jameel confirmed his latest prison sentence in separate posts on Twitter on Monday, but gave no other details.

National Post View: We have no true friend in Saudi Arabia

The Middle East, incredibly, just got more complicated, with Saudi Arabia announcing an “Islamic Military Alliance” to combat terrorism.
It is hardly surprising that such a thing should happen. Geopolitics abhors a vacuum as thoroughly as nature herself. And the failure of American leadership in recent years, combined with the failure of European leadership over recent decades, made it inevitable that someone or something should rush into the void.
Saudi Arabia’s new military alliance claims it will fight terrorism. We have a hard time believing that
Indeed, several somethings. Russia under Vladimir Putin has charged into Syria, seeking to displace Western leadership, attacking minor military targets with its latest weapons, from submarine-fired cruise missiles to T-90 tanks and SU-34 “Fullback” strike aircraft. And now here come the would-be Saladins of Riyadh.
The Saudi ploy raises a series of obvious questions starting with: is it serious?
The Sunni Saudis are certainly eager to counterbalance their Shi’ite rivals in the region given America’s feebleness of late. But the alliance of 34 Islamic members includes many whose capacity to fight terrorism is as dubious as their desire. The response of the Palestinian Authority,  on learning of the Saudi initiative through the media, was a baffled and plaintive, “How can we fight terrorism? We need someone to help us.”
The question of seriousness has two aspects.  First, does the coalition have operational effectiveness? The track record of Arab military efforts is extremely poor, fortunately so given that their main target has been Israel. It is not clear that these 34 allies (not all of which are Arab, we grant) are willing to put troops in the field under Saudi operational control, nor that they would have the capacity to defeat ISIL, or Russian troops in Syria, or whatever they intend to do.
Second, does the alliance intend to confront “terrorism” as that term is understood in the West? Does the PA, for instance, want help fighting Hamas/Hezbollah/PLO-style terrorism, or help committing it against Israel, which both the PA and the Saudis regard with loathing?
The Saudis are playing a dangerous double game, not just in this initiative but in their foreign policy generally. Though they pose as a friend of the West, they have for many decades energetically spread the noxious extremist Wahhabi ideology through the world by heavily financing radical mosques and academic programs. Germany’s intelligence service recently warned that Saudi Arabia was a destabilizing factor in the Middle East, a warning echoed by Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who accused Riyadh of funding extremism. Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, expressed deep frustration at the Saudi government’s reluctance to stem the flow of cash directly to terrorist groups.
This reluctance stems partly from fear that the tiger they are riding might turn on them if they try to dismount. But it also stems from the very radical Wahhabi ideology that has driven the House of Saud intellectually and politically since the late 18th-century alliance between preacher Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and sheikh Muhammad bin Saud.
The statement announcing the coalition declared that Islam forbids “corruption and destruction in the world” and called terrorism “a serious violation of human dignity and rights, especially the right to life and the right to security.” At a news conference, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman said, “Currently, every Muslim country is fighting terrorism individually … so co-ordinating efforts is very important.” The new alliance would tackle “any terrorist organization that appears in front of us.” But these words almost certainly do not mean what they seem.
Typically, the Obama administration is spinning the initiative as a welcome response to its call for Arab nations to do more to combat radicalism and terrorism. Supposedly the coalition will take the place of the Syrian “moderate rebels” who have so signally failed to materialize during the conflict. Britain has offered air support, information and command-and-control assistance for the troops it will supposedly deploy.
We remain unconvinced. Various renditions of “freedom fighters” in the Muslim world have disappointed the West again and again, from Taliban opposition to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, to sectarian squabblers in Iraq, and the Muslim Brotherhood that took power in Egypt’s version of the “Arab Spring.” None has shared western goals or capacity for effective action. The ultimate dream of the Saudis would be to rid the Middle East of all non-Muslims, which to them includes Shi’ites as well as Jews and Christians. In 2004, when a former Archbishop of Canterbury complained to the Saudi ambassador to the UK that it was against the law to build a church in Saudi Arabia, and was told Christians should embrace Islam and pray in mosques. In the Middle East, our enemies’ enemies are generally not our friends.
In considering the new Muslim army, consider whether it would be appropriate to assemble a similarly armed Christian coalition. That is precisely what ISIL, Al-Qaeda and other such groups claim is already happening, with their endless diatribes and threats against “Crusaders.” But if a Christian army is shocking, sectarian, divisive and so forth, why is not a Wahhabi-inspired Muslim one regarded with at least equal suspicion and dismay?

Turkish-ISIL Oil Trade: Did the Turkish Military Enter Mosul to Protect its Oil Trade?

A few weeks after shooting down a Sukhoi Su-24M tactical bomber jet operating in Syrian airspace, Turkey sent a heavily armed battalion into the Zilkan military base in Iraq. The move can be seen as a compensation for the weakening of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS/IS/DAESH) and the ISIL’s oil smuggling infrastructure. It can also be viewed as a Turkish preparation for the aftermath of the future defeat of the ISIL in Iraq.
Ominous Timing: Turkish Dispatch to Mosul
Amidst the Russo-Turkish row, the Turkish government dispatched a Turkish battalion of twenty-five M-60 Patton tanks to the Mosul District of Iraq’s Ninawa Governorate. The Turkish press even announced that Ankara had declared that it was establishing a permanent military base inside Iraq’s Mosul District. The Iraqi federal government reacted immediately by calling the Turkish move a hostile act that violated international law and Iraqi sovereignty.
Ankara tried to justify its military deployment to the Iraqi town of Bashiqa, in the close proximity of 30 kilometers to the northeastern outskirts of the ISIL-controlled city of Mosul, by claiming that it was a routine rotation of military personnel. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu claimed that the Turkish military had been dispatched to the area to train and reorganize Iraqi locals to fight the ISIL at the request of Baghdad. The Turkish deployment was presented as part of an ongoing process of security cooperation between Iraq and Turkey by Davutoglu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
At first the Turkish government claimed that the deployment was approved by the Iraqi federal government and military, but this was quickly rejected as untrue in Baghdad by President Mohammed Fouad Masum, Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, and Defence Minister Khaled Al-Obeidi. Not only was the Turkish deployment rejected by the Iraqi government, it was also described as much too big for a training mission and Erdogan was derided as an outright liar by Iraqi authorities and parliamentarians. Then Ankara tried to defend its actions by absurdly claiming that it was approved by Iraqi Kurdistan’s autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government.
The Turkish-Kurdistan Regional Government Alliance: Dividing Iraq?
It turned out that the senior diplomat Feridun Sinirlioglu, who was Turkey’s foreign minister at the time, in violation of international law had made an illegally agreement with the corrupt Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani for establishing the base in the Mosul District on November 4, 2015. As a regional government, the Kurdistan Regional Government has no constitutional authority to make defensive agreements without the Iraqi federal government in Baghdad. Nor does it have legal jurisdiction over the area the Turkish military deployed to. Bashiqa is in disputed territory in the Nineveh Governorate that the Kurdistan Regional Government claims. Other territorial claims include Diyala Governorate, Kirkuk Governorate, and Saladin Governorate. In June 2014, Massoud Barzani took advantage of the ISIL offensive on Mosul to send his forces to take control over these territories while the Iraqi military was busy fighting. Thus, in parallel to the ISIL offensive against Iraq from Syria, the Kurdistan Regional Government opportunistically used the ISIL attacks to send its Peshmerga troops into the energy-rich Kirkuk Governorate, to gain control over part of the Mosul District, and unilaterally take control of the territory that the Iraqi federal government administrated.
The excuses from the Turkish government continued as tensions with Iraq increased. Instead of removing the Turkish military unit that was sent to Bashiqa, Ankara pledged not to send anymore military reinforcements until Baghdad’s concerns were placated. Indirectly meaning Iran and Russia, Davutoglu would write in a letter to Baghdad saying the governments «who are disturbed by the cooperation of Turkey and Iraq and who want to end it should not be allowed to attain their goal» on December 6, 2015.
Dragging his feet, Erdogan would add that it was «out of the question» and «impossible» to remove the Turkish military units and that the Turkish unit had been sent to Iraq to protect Turkish military trainers and advisors who he argued were posted 15 to 20 kilometers from the ISIL’s positions. Interestingly, there has been no record of the Turkish forces ever facing a serious attack by the ISIL, during the zenith of the terrorist organization’s full strength, before the Russian strikes in Syria commenced on September 30. Speaking on Turkish television, President Erdogan would blame Iran and Russia for engineering the crisis between Turkey and Iraq, and then ingenuously argue that his government’s soldiers had entered Iraq to defend Turkish security interests and that Ankara did not have the luxury of waiting for the invitation of the central Iraqi government while Turkey was under threat from the ISIL. Mohammed Ali Al-Hakim, the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, would eventually deliver a letter from Baghdad to the UN Security Council on December 11 asking the UN to get Turkey to withdraw its military from Iraq.
Ankara’s deployment to the outskirts of Mosul is a reaction to the successful campaigns by Iran, Russia, Syria, Iraq, and Hezbollah – the security alliance also referred to as the «4+1» – in weakening the ISIL. For the first time ever, the Turkish military had entered Iraq’s northern region without the justification of fighting Kurds. Calculating that the Iraqi federal government will be able to refocus its attention on the territorial dispute with the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Turkish deployments are meant to help the Kurdistan Regional Government consolidate the territory and energy reserves it opportunistically annexed from the Iraqi federal government in 2014; it was also revealed by Ankara that it intended to dispatch Turkish soldiers and military equipment to Soran and Qala Cholan near the Iranian border.
Iraqi parliamentarians, like Awatif Nima, have accused Turkey of entering Iraq to help the ISIL in Mosul and working to partition Iraq. Turkey has been cultivating ties with the clans of Mosul, particularly the Nujaifis. Turkish support for Iraqi Kurdistan’s separate oil export capacity has also weakened the unity of Iraq and the finances of both Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Speaking to Al Jazeera in Orwellian language on December 9, Erdogan claimed that the governments in Iraq, Iran, and Syria were executing sectarian policies and then himself justified the Turkish deployment to the Mosul District in sectarian language. He told Al Jazeera that Turkey had elevated its military presence to protect Iraq’s Arabs, Turkomans, and Kurds that are Sunni Muslims. He then added that the Sunni Muslims all need be armed and trained to fight, which is the objective of Turkey’s mission. In this regard, not only has Turkey been planning to train and arm the Kurdistan Regional Government’s security forces, but also planning on doing the same with local volunteers in Zilkan that the Kurdistan Regional Government and Peshmerga Major-General Noorudeen Herki supportively claim are part of the Hashad Al-Watani in the Mosul District. Regardless of any affiliation to the Hashad Al-Watani, the «volunteers» in Mosul may end up being like the so-called «moderates» that that the US and its allies trained and supported that later joined the ISIL in Syria.
Preparing for the Aftermath of the Future ISIL Defeat in Iraq?
Despite Erdogan’s assertions that the Turkish forces in the Mosul District could not leave, they were redeployed northward inside Iraq into territory administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government on December 14. Prime Minister Davutoglu’s office commented that this was a part of a «new arrangement» where ten to twelve of the tanks were being relocated northwards. While Turkey attempted to get some legal backing from the Kurdistan Regional Government for its military presence, the redeployment from Bashiqa is an admission that both Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government understand that the latter has no jurisdiction to okay Ankara’s deployment into the Mosul District.
The Turkish redeployment is the result of coordination between Ankara and the Kurdistan Regional Government. Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani went to Turkey on December 9 for meetings with Erdogan and Davutoglu. Subliminal messages were being sent: very tellingly the Iraqi flag was absent and only the flag of Iraqi Kurdistan was put alongside the Turkish flag during the meetings. Ankara and Barzani are trying to salvage the situation and sidestep the Iraqi government in Baghdad. A few days earlier, in this context, Erdogan announced that a trilateral meeting between the Turkish government, the Kurdistan Regional Government, and the US would take place on December 21.
The Turkish military movements inside Iraq are additionally tied to petro-politics and the protection of energy supplies from Iraqi Kurdistan. The Turkish deployment to Bashiqa took place right after Russian airstrikes weakened the ISIL’s oil smuggling infrastructure. Undoubtedly, the subject of oil was mentioned between Barzani and Turkish leaders, because of Bazani’s involvement in Turkey’s illegal oil exporting business.

Swept Under the Carpet: EU Ignores Refugees' Rights Violation in Turkey

Last month the European Union "bribed" Turkey with three billion euros for stemming the tide of asylum seekers; Brussels is not bothered about how exactly Ankara intends to keep its promise, turning a blind eye to severe human rights violation against refugees in Turkey, Stephen Lendman stresses.

It goes without saying that Turkey is a valued NATO member; Western countries tolerate Ankara's corruption, abuse of power and human rights violation.
"Last month, the EU bribed Turkey with 3 billion euros and promised help to join the bloc in return for accepting refugees from Syria and other war-torn countries its member states don't want. EU leaders called the deal a key way to stem the tide of asylum-seekers. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said it marked a new beginning in Ankara/Brussels relations," US author and syndicated columnist Stephen Lendman writes in his article for Global Research.
Lendman refers to the fact that Turkey remains the main destination for refugees from the Middle East and Central Asia. According to the International Organization of Migration over 700,000 migrants have entered the EU from the country.
Turkey hosts over 2.2 million Syrian asylum seekers as well as around 230,000 desperate migrants from other countries.
Although the terms of the EU deal require Turkey to treat refugees humanely, NGOs are banging the drums over hideous violations of human rights of asylum seekers in Turkey.
"A new Amnesty International (AI) report titled 'Europe's Gatekeeper' accuses Turkey of arresting, beating, painfully shackling and otherwise abusing refugees in isolated detention centers, many then deported back to war-torn Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere, their homeland countries," Lendman narrates.
"They're [refugees] rounded up in large numbers, bused over 1,000 km to desolate locations best described as concentration camps, grossly mistreated and held incommunicado — many then forcibly deported back from where they came," the US author points out.

Citing AI, Lendman stresses that all asylum seekers are forcibly detained, denied outside contact and then transported to desolate outposts.
Furthermore, many have been pressured to sign some documents in the Turkish language, which refuges do not understand. A lot of migrants are being forcibly deported from Turkey to Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
"By engaging Turkey as a gatekeeper for Europe in the refugee crisis, the EU is in danger of ignoring and now encouraging serious human rights violations. EU-Turkey migration-related cooperation should cease until such violations are investigated and ended," AI's Europe and Central Asia director John Dalhuisen noted in an official statement.
Has Brussels already responded to the challenge? Not yet. And there is a suspicion that the problem will remain swept under the carpet.
"EU officials have done nothing to intervene responsibly. They're complicit with Turkey and Washington — their wars causing the human flood in the first place," Lendman concludes.

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UN refugee chief says Trump-style rhetoric helps Islamic State

People who reject Syrian refugees are the “best allies” of Islamic State militants and other extremists, the United Nations refugee chief said on Monday after US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed an entry ban on foreign Muslims.
More than 4.3 million Syrians have fled a nearly five-year civil war. UN High Commissioner for refugees Antonio Guterres told the Security Council they cannot be blamed for the terror they are risking their lives to escape.
“Those that reject Syrian refugees, and especially if they are Muslim, are the best allies of the propaganda and the recruitment of extremist groups,” Guterres said in a swipe at Trump and some US state governors and European leaders.
Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said on Saturday that Islamic State is using Trump’s rhetoric to enlist fighters to radical jihad. Trump rejected her claim and called her a “liar.”
Amid the chaos of Syria’s war, Islamic State has seized swathes of territory and proclaimed a caliphate. The group claimed responsibility for the deadly 13 November attacks in Paris and also said a married couple who carried out a mass shooting in Southern California on 2 December were its followers.
The attacks sparked warnings from politicians in Europe and North America that countries could face big risks by admitting refugees without rigorously determining if any could be dangerous extremists.
Several US states said they would close the door to Syrian refugees, while Trump - currently the Republican Party’s front-runner for the November 2016 election - called for a ban on foreign Muslims entering the United States.
“We must not forget that - despite the rhetoric we are hearing these days - refugees are the first victims of such terror, not its source,” Guterres said. “They cannot be blamed for a threat which they’re risking their lives to escape.
“Yes, of course there is a possibility that terrorists could try to infiltrate refugee movements. But this possibility exists for all communities - and homegrown radicalisation is by far the biggest threat, as all recent incidents have shown,” he said.
He said a UN survey of 1,200 Syrians who had fled to Europe found that 86% of them had a secondary school education and almost half had gone to university.
“Syria is experiencing a massive brain drain,” said Guterres, who will step down at the end of the year.
“One can only imagine the disastrous consequences of such an exodus on the future post-conflict reconstruction of Syria.”

China - US actions prompt islands militarization

The Pentagon said that an American B-52 bomber "unintentionally" flew over the South China Sea within two nautical miles of an artificial island built by China. Chinese authorities described the move as "provocation."

The US military has adopted a mild tone this time, but its action is aggressive. The B-52 flew within two nautical miles of the islands built by China, which severely threatened the security of the islands.

The moves of the US will undoubtedly propel China to accelerate militarizing its newly built islands and make them capable of coping with direct military threat from the US. As the Chinese mainland is far from this area and China only has one aircraft carrier, it would be too late for China to send fighter jets from the mainland when US jets intrude into the airspace of the islands. The only choice is to deploy the fighter jets on these islands.

China has stressed that these islands serve a peaceful purpose, but the premise of such assertion is that no external military force threatens their security. The US military is undermining this premise, and China should carry out corresponding security deployment.

Nowadays US warplanes and bombers fly over nearby waters and airspace at will. If China does not take due measures, it can be implied that it tacitly approves such hostile actions. This in turn will jeopardize the country's South China Sea strategy. China therefore has no other options, but to build up its military capability on those islands. In that case, next time when the US warplanes come over again, there will be Chinese military planes taking off and safeguarding our sovereignty. 

There is worry that militarization of the islands will bring more pressure on China from the international community and some Southeast Asian countries will especially be unhappy about it. But it is the US military provocations that are propelling China to do so. China's countermeasures will be morally correct. They may further complicate the situation in the South China Sea, but will not tarnish China's international image.

The Southeast Asian countries have no reason to oppose China's countermeasures against US provocations. Instead, countries such as the Philippines and Singapore should realize that their support for US military bases contributes to regional tension. 

If all parties wish for a peaceful South China Sea, they should fulfill their responsibilities rather than providing assistance to the US which intends to intrude China's island de-militarization.

The island militarization doesn't mean a significant rising potential for military clashes. Neither Beijing nor Washington wants a war.

The US' exercise of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea should not threaten the security of Chinese facilities. In view of China's overall military capability and national strength, the US should renounce its arrogance. 

Video Report - China rejects arbitration on South China Sea sovereignty issue

Data from Black Box of Downed Su-24 Impossible to Retrieve — Russian Defense Ministry

The information from the damaged black box of a Russian fighter-bomber shot down by Turkish fighter jets last month is impossible to decipher, the RIA Novosti news agency reported Monday, citing the Russian Defense Ministry.
The decoding of the data is not possible yet because of internal damages, Lieutenant General Sergei Baynetov, deputy head of the air safety service of the Russian Defense Ministry, said, according to RIA Novosti.
Thirteen of 16 microchips are nearly destroyed, and the remaining three are damaged, Baynetov said, RIA Novosti reported.
The ministry will recruit specialized scientific institutions that can read information directly from the crystal chip, Baynetov said, adding that this process will require a lot of time,the news agency reported.
The Russian Su-24 was downed by Turkey near the Syrian border on Nov. 24. The incident, which President Vladimir Putin called "a stab in the back," was followed by a package of economic measures imposed on Turkey by the Kremlin.

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Video - 60% of Syrian rebel groups share ISIS ideology - report

'Bound to fail': Dividing Syrian rebels into moderates & extremists is useless, study says

Attempts to divide Syrian rebels into moderates and extremists are “bound to fail," according to a think-tank run by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. The groups banded together based on pragmatism, not ideology, the report suggests.
The report, published by the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics on Monday, states that groups form coalitions when they share objectives – regardless of ideology. It cites examples of Islamists and non-Islamists battling Assad and Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) together.
“Syrian nationalists and Kurdish separatists fight ISIS together in the Syrian Democratic Forces coalition in the east,” the report states, adding that “groups also tend to be spread out all over Syria; some fighting each other in one part of the country while other members are in coalition elsewhere.”
Because such overlaps are “endless,” attempts by international powers to distinguish between “acceptable” moderates and“unacceptable” extremists are flawed, the report says.

'60% of major rebel groups are Islamist extremists'

The think-tank studied 48 rebel factions in Syria, finding that 33 percent – nearly 100,000 fighters – follow the same ideology as IS. If account Islamist groups (those who want a government run according to Islamic law) are taken into account, the number of Islamist extremists within the rebel ranks in Syria increases to 60 percent of major rebel groups. 
The report says those groups which do not follow IS ideology are often affiliated to the Free Syrian Army and are “defined largely by objectives.” It notes that “many are willing to fight with extremists, and would probably accept an Islamist political settlement to the civil war.”
In addition, the document states that extremism continues to grow due to the “world's inaction.” The think-tank stresses that “six coalitions still active in the conflict today” were established in just over a year, after there was no international intervention following a 2013 chemical weapons attack in Ghouta.
“This indicates that, in lieu of significant global support, the rebel groups consolidated to strengthen their hands against the regime,” it states.

'Ousting Assad is only way to end war'

But the civil war has no hope of ending unless President Bashar Assad is ousted from power, according to the think-tank.
“A full 90 per cent of the groups hold the ousting of Assad as a major goal. This finding makes it clear there can be no peace deal that keeps Assad in power,” the report states.
It noted that the West is currently focusing more on IS than addressing what prompted the uprising in the first place – toppling Assad. As long as this continues, “extremists will continue to use [Assad's] rule as a recruiting pitch,” the report stated, adding that defeating IS was a goal shared by just 38 percent of those studied.
Meanwhile, the second-most dominant objective in the sample was the establishment of some sort of Islamic law. However, views on applying such law vary greatly.
“Salafi-jihadi groups seek to implement a single interpretation of Islamic law on the state, according to a literalist reading of scripture. Islamists want a dominant role for an interpretation of Islamic law in legal, economic and political spheres. Other groups simply wish to follow the lead of many Muslim majority legal systems, in which ‘sharia’ is the guiding principle of legislation,” the report stated.

'65k jihadists ready to replace Islamic State'

The report notes that the 16 Salafi-jihadist groups fighting in the Syrian civil war have some 96,000 fighters in their ranks, and that IS only accounts for 31,000 of those, according to the latest CIA figures.
It goes on to say that if IS is defeated, there are “at least 65,000 fighters belonging to other Salafi-jihadi groups” who are ready to take its place.
“In our study alone, there are 15 Salafi-jihadi groups, many opposed to ISIS, which share the group’s vicious ideology and will benefit from its defeat. Of these, eight have explicitly committed themselves to international jihad, making them highly likely to support attacks on the West,” the report says.
Run by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics aims to present “informed analysis on the interaction of religion and conflict globally,” according to its website.

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'Hell No' Hillary Clinton Won't Apologize to Trump Over ISIS Recruitment Claims, Spokesman Says

  • "Hell no."
    A spokesman for Hillary Clinton said that she won't apologize to Donald Trump for her comments at Saturday night’s debate that he is being used as a recruiting tool for ISIS and is featured in ISIS videos.
    Trump said Monday on the "Today" show that he “demands an apology” from Clinton.
    “You can be the messenger," Trump told Matt Lauer on the "Today" show. "I will demand an apology from Hillary. She should apologize.”
    "She lies about emails," Trump continued. "She lies about Whitewater. She lies about everything. She will be a disaster as president of the United States."
    On Monday, Clinton's spokesman, Brian Fallon said "hell no" -- she won't apologize.
    "Hillary Clinton will not be apologizing to Donald Trump for correctly pointing out how his hateful rhetoric only helps ISIS recruit more terrorists," he said.
    Clinton came under heavy criticism from fact-checkers when she said at Saturday night's debate that ISIS is “showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists.” White House and National Security Council officials told ABC News they are unaware of any examples of ISIS including Trump in the terrorist group's videos.
    Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton's communications director, clarified the candidate's remarks yesterday on "This Week With George Stephanopoulos."
    "She’s not referring to a specific video, but he is being used in social media by ISIS as propaganda,” Palmieri explained.

    Obama Accuses Trump of Exploiting Working-Class Fears


    President Obama said in a radio interview airing on Monday that Donald J. Trump, a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, is exploiting the resentment and anxieties of working-class men to boost his campaign. Mr. Obama also argued that some of the scorn directed at him personally stems from the fact that he is the first African-American to hold the White House.
    Demographic changes and economic stresses, including “flatlining” wages and incomes, have meant that “particularly blue-collar men have had a lot of trouble in this new economy, where they are no longer getting the same bargain that they got when they were going to a factory and able to support their families on a single paycheck,” Mr. Obama said in the interview with National Public Radio.
    You combine those things, and it means that there is going to be potential anger, frustration, fear — some of it justified, but just misdirected,” the president added. “I think somebody like Mr. Trump is taking advantage of that. That’s what he’s exploiting during the course of his campaign.”
    The comments were Mr. Obama’s most pointed response to Mr. Trump since the Republican candidate suggested that Muslims be barred from entering the United States after the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. The attack was carried out by a couple who apparently were radicalized Muslims, one of whom had entered the United States on a fiancée visa.
    In the wide-ranging interview, conducted the day before he left Washington on Friday for a two-week holiday vacation with his family in Hawaii, Mr. Obama defended his approach to taking on the Islamic State. He dismissed the notion that the militant group is an existential threat to the United States even as he conceded that he had received “legitimate criticism” for failing to adequately explain his strategy for confronting it. He also described his view of the anxiety on which Mr. Trump has capitalized, arguing that some voters who voice fears about his presidency and doubts about where Mr. Obama’s loyalties lie are reacting to the fact that he is the first black president.
    “If you are referring to specific strains in the Republican Party that suggest that somehow I’m different, I’m Muslim, I’m disloyal to the country, etc. — which unfortunately is pretty far out there, and gets some traction in certain pockets of the Republican Party, and that have been articulated by some of their elected officials — what I’d say there is that that’s probably pretty specific to me, and who I am and my background,” Mr. Obama told Steve Inskeep, the host of “Morning Edition” on NPR. “In some ways, I may represent change that worries them.”
    “That’s not to suggest that everybody who objects to my policies may not have perfectly good reasons for it,” the president added. He noted, as an example, that voters living in coal-dependent areas may blame him for the loss of their jobs.
    Mr. Obama has struggled to appeal to white voters who do not have a college education, carrying only 36 percent of them when he was re-elected in 2012. Republicans perform particularly well among that group, although it represents a shrinking share of the electorate.
    On the Islamic State, which is also called ISIS or ISIL, Mr. Obama pushed back against criticism of his approach and said he was “confident that we are going to prevail.” “This is a serious challenge — ISIS is a virulent, nasty organization that has gained a foothold in ungoverned spaces effectively in Syria and parts of western Iraq,” Mr. Obama said, referring to attacks the group organized in Paris and apparently inspired in San Bernardino. “But it is also important for us to keep things in perspective, and this is not an organization that can destroy the United States.” He also suggested that heavy coverage of the media-savvy extremist group by news outlets chasing viewership had contributed to the public anxiety that has dragged down his approval ratings on the issue. “If you’ve been watching television for the last month, all you have been seeing, all you have been hearing about is these guys with masks or black flags who are potentially coming to get you,” Mr. Obama said. “And so I understand why people are concerned about it.” Asked whether news organizations had been manipulated by the Islamic State, he added: “Look, the media is pursuing ratings. This is a legitimate news story.”
    He rejected critiques from Republican presidential candidates who have suggested “carpet bombing” the group, as well as the suggestion by Hillary Clinton, his party’s leading presidential candidate, that the United States establish a “no-fly zone” over Syria. He argued that doing so would require substantial ground troops and would fail to damage the Islamic State, which does not have an air force.
    Still, the president said his administration had not done enough to explain its strategy and promote its successes in carrying it out.
    “There is a legitimate criticism of what I’ve been doing and our administration has been doing in the sense that we haven’t, you know, on a regular basis, I think, described all the work that we’ve been doing for more than a year now to defeat ISIL,” Mr. Obama said. On domestic matters, Mr. Obama said he was concerned that a recent uptick in campus protests around the country, in which students have shone a spotlight on racial misunderstandings, has in some cases shut down important debates.
    “I think it’s a healthy thing for young people to be engaged, and to question authority,” Mr. Obama said. “I do think that there have been times on college campuses where I get concerned that the unwillingness to hear other points of view can be as unhealthy on the left as on the right.”
    He cited as examples student protests last year of planned appearances by Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, at Smith College, and Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, at Rutgers University that led both women to withdraw.
    “Feel free to disagree with somebody,” the president said, “but don’t try to just shut them up.”

    Video - President Obama's Interview With NPR's Steve Inskeep - December 2015

    Video - Steve Harvey mistakenly crowns the wrong Miss Universe 2015 (Epic Fail)

    Afghan music Video - Hafiz Karwandgar

    The futile, tragic war in Afghanistan achieved nothing

    It's that time of year when we draw a breath and think back to our accomplishments over the past year. Framing our lives in periods of 365 days seems natural. That's unfortunate, because sometimes it's necessary to choose another frame of reference if you want to make sense of the world. So let's change our perspective and see if it makes a difference. 
    On this day two years ago, the headlines were full of hope for Afghanistan. Aussie troops had just pulled out of the provincial capital of Tarin Kowt​ and our last commander, Wade Stolhard, was upbeat. He can still be heard, on a defence video, insisting the Afghan soldiers were effective, ready, and in the lead conducting independent operations. Have a listen. You'll see how otherwise sensible, intelligent people can get sucked in by what they want to believe. 
    We know he was speaking rubbish because a United States think-tank has now confirmed that rebels effectively control the province. The Institute for the Study of War insists that, with the single exception of the provincial capital, the territory outside the wire is completely dominated by the Taliban. The report suggests not only do the militants "likely exercise de facto control in the vicinity of the provincial capital" but also the central government has no chance of recovering territory. It faces too many internal threats. 

    The situation is now so dire that the government is reduced to boasting about its ability to withdraw. It recently trumpeted a "complex operation" by four special forces helicopters flying under cover of darkness to evacuate a beleaguered outpost in Khas Uruzgan​. The mission was successful and reported to sound like a triumph, yet it seems unlikely that the Taliban were fooled. They occupied the village. 
    In fact most of the fighting in the province over the past two months has been between rival Taliban factions, one loyal to the movement's new titular commander, Mullah Akhtar Mansour​ and the other reporting to an Islamic State-aligned affiliate. This group's former leader, Mullah Rassoul Akhund​, was killed by the Taliban when he was discovered in a village to the south of Uruzgan in mid-November. Unfortunately his faction lives on and peace is as far away as ever. It's a complex narrative of small, deadly squabbles and missed opportunities. 
    The War Memorial received just under $13 million in the last budget to produce an official history of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the intervention in East Timor. Director Brendan Nelson hoped the official history would be of "a standard befitting the service of the men and women whose service it records". 
    Nelson thinks the Diggers deserve a history. I do too, but I reckon we owe them the real truth: there have been too many myths. This war has been a futile, tragic, waste. Perhaps there was a time when something could have been salvaged and stability could have been restored, but that would have required a political solution, not a military one. This was never going to happen: George Bush made sure of that. He believed the West would prevail; his team brushed aside the traditional Afghan way of doing things. No shura (councils) or consensus for him. He applied a Western, US framework to a Central Asian situation – why were we surprised it didn't work?
    And we Australians made the same mistake in Uruzgan. We backed a corrupt, illiterate hard-man as police chief because we thought it was better to have him on our side than against us. He eliminated his rivals and became indispensable, the most feared (and hated) man in the province. It was, of course, just a matter of time before someone got rid of him and earlier this year he died in a hail of bullets. If the history is written properly, some reputations are going to be badly bruised. This won't be a simple story of mateship and heroism. It's a story of how, a century after Gallipoli, we've now graduated to making our own blunders. 
    As recently as December, 2013, the defence video clips were wildly optimistic. The propaganda suggested the deployment was "mission accomplished". Perhaps the fact no independent media was present to report the ceremony should have alerted us to the fragile, transitory nature of the gains. Tony Abbott insisted the terrible cost of the involvement in the Middle East – 40 Australian dead and 261 wounded, together with the "thousands who will carry the psychological injuries for many years to come" – had been worth it.
    "That sacrifice has not been in vain", he said, cataloguing a list of accomplishments such as schools built, roads opened and medical facilities operating. "Uruzgan today is a very significantly different and better place than it was a decade ago," he said. You couldn't say that and maintain your credibility today. It's not really possible for a reporter to assert the former PM's wrong. We assume they have more information and expert advice. They do. But they also have their own agenda and sometimes truth gets in the way of whatever yarn it is they're trying to spin. That's why politicians and journalists are both actually in the same business: attempting to make up plausible stories to convince people (voters; readers) that we understand what's going on. But we're still stumbling around in the dark because often the only way you can make sense of what's happening is when you look backwards. 
    That's the case with Afghanistan. More than 25,000 Australians served in Afghanistan at a total cost of more than $7.5 billion. There's no body count for the Afghans but thousands must have been killed in our area of operations alone. All for nothing. It's no wonder the government dragged its feet in appointing a war historian for the conflict. The story of a loss is always difficult to explain away. 

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