Trump and The Coup Against The Coup

Donald Trump did not shred the “very bad” nuclear deal with Iran. He has strongly shaken it and trembled the image that Iran tried to market at the international level after the signing of the agreement.
 
He raised doubts and asked questions about what his predecessor, Barack Obama, considered the most important achievement of his era.
 
The deal was not the most important part of the president’s speech. It was rather the message that Iran’s problem with the world and the Middle East is about its role outside its borders, long before its nuclear dream; as if he wanted to say that the role is more dangerous than the bomb, and that thinking about the bomb may be aimed at protecting the ability to maintain this role.
 
The American president awakened memories and facts that Obama was keen to forget. He recalled the bloody events in the Iranian-American relations since the victory of the Khomeini revolution. He reminded the Americans of their diplomats being held hostage at their country’s embassy in Tehran as Iranians shouted “Death to America.” He has also mentioned the coffins of American soldiers returning from Beirut because of a bomb carrying the fingerprints of the Iranian intelligence.
 
Trump went beyond the aspect of bilateral relations. He accused Iran of being “the biggest supporter of terrorism in the world”, harboring al-Qaeda officials, and turning a destabilizing approach into a permanent policy. He also pointed to the Revolutionary Guard’s role and weapons in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
 
The US president seemed to be putting together accusations as a prelude to trial, or as someone preparing a complete file to justify the “new strategy” toward Iran.
 
This strategy contains a clear message to the people of the Middle East. He said: “We will revitalize our traditional alliances and regional partnerships as bulwarks against Iranian subversion and restore a more stable balance of power in the region… We will work to deny the Iranian regime … funding for its malign activities.” The Treasury’s sanctions against the Revolutionary Guard were the first fruits of Trump’s words.
 
Many points have to be considered in Trump’s position. He placed Iran back in the center of danger, after Korea occupied this place in the previous weeks. It became clear that Trump considers his first test to be in the Middle East, not along China’s borders.
 
Trump also re-emphasized the danger posed by the Iranian role, which is translated in a large-scale attack on the Middle East region – an area that concerns the world in terms of its wealth, stability and balance of power.
 
The third message is that America, which has signed the nuclear agreement with Iran, is not in a position, especially under the current administration, to consider violations that Iran has made in a number of Arab countries as a de-facto reality that must be recognized.
 
This practically means that Washington does not recognize Tehran’s right to have the last say in Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sana’a, and refuses that Qassem Soleimani becomes the chief of generals in the four capitals.
 
What Trump has publicly announced from the White House is what US diplomats say in closed rooms and private meetings. His position is also consistent with the stance of US generals who worked in Iraq and witnessed the size of the coup led by Iran in the region, especially after the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime…A coup that is waged “by militias, rockets and small mobile armies and by destroying the immunity of international borders,” as described by an Arab official.
 
Trump’s speech turning into policies on the ground will certainly reverse the approach Obama has taken in his last years in power. An American diplomat says he has asked Obama more than once to allow some weapons into Syria to restore balance that would force the regime to engage in serious negotiations. He adds that Obama’s consistent position was based on three rejections: No to war against Iran in Syria, no to a position threatening US special forces in Iraq, and no to a stance threatening nuclear negotiations with Iran.
 
The diplomat concludes that Iran was more interested in field expansions than its nuclear program, and thus succeeded in “changing the positions of countries and their political and sectarian balances and altering the environment of historic Arab capitals.”
 
America’s allies and friends had feelings of resentment when Obama insisted on reading the whole region’s file based on his desire to accomplish the Iranian nuclear deal. They considered his position a coup to the pillars of the US traditional policy, which was focused on the security of its allies and its commitment to address any threat to their stability.
 
Trump’s speech turning into a specific policy is aimed at containing the Iranian fiasco in the region. In coordination with Washington’s historic friends, this policy would certainly be the largest response to the great Iranian coup, which is aimed at besieging and destabilizing influential countries in the region and weakening their strategic importance.
 
There is no return to a degree of stability in the region unless the balance of power is adjusted by new regulations that require armies to be stationed within their own countries and that force militias to leave the territory of others.
 
Arab moderates do not see an opportunity of this kind without an American role that will revive the red lines in the face of successive coups and the spread of militias. In this context, it is possible to understand Saudi Arabia’s support for the “firm strategy” announced by Trump, and the phone call made by King Salman bin Abdulaziz with Trump after the latter’s speech.
 
Trump has returned the issue of the Iranian role to the international agenda. This was evident in the conversation between Angela Merkel and Theresa May. While the two officials stressed their adherence to the nuclear agreement with Iran, they underlined the need for the international community to face the Persian State’s destabilizing policies – an issue that will be discussed in the coming days on the European table.
 
It is obvious that Iran is angered with the new attention to its destabilizing role.
 
We must wait and see whether it would respond by its old means and where. It is certain that Trump’s speech turning into a policy represents a major coup against the Iranian coup, which has benefited greatly from the invasion of Iraq, Obama’s withdrawal tendencies, and the emergence of ISIS and its horrific practices.

A Must-Have Man

Russian President Vladimir Putin in Red Square, Moscow, Russia with St. Basil’s in the background.

In Moscow, you cannot miss visiting the Red Square. It will be a coincidence if you go there in October. This month marks the centennial anniversary of the “October Revolution”, which shook the last century and the world. The orchestrator of that revolution, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, is still lying there. If you happen to be there on the seventh of the month, you must remember that the Master of the Kremlin is turning 65 on that day. One can say that a part of history meets at this specific moment.

Lenin’s tomb is only hundreds of meters away from Vladimir Putin’s office on the other side of the square. Lenin certainly believed that Russia would live under the “comrades” party forever. Great victors have this habitude. They imagine that their successes are capable of fighting time and that their ideas cannot be killed or assassinated.

The mighty do not learn that history is addicted to destroying convoys. Perhaps it did not occur to Lenin that those who had grown up under his cloak would one day repress his victories through their indolence and obstinacy.

The clock does not turn back. Putin originally emerged from the Lenin party and from the ingenuity of the KGB. But Putin’s Russia keeps the vestige of the founding father only in his shrine.

The current Russian president has words that reflect the cruelty of the fate of the October Revolution. He sees the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century.” He even stated more expressive words: “Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart. Whoever wants it back has no brain.”

Before I go to the Square, I asked a Russian academic, joking: “Who will be the next president following the upcoming March elections?”

“We both know the answer”, he replied, smiling.

He meant that there was no president except The President. When I asked for an explanation, he said: “Russia cannot live without a strong state and a strong leader. It is the size of a continent and consists of 83 federal entities and includes 160 ethnic groups that speak about 100 languages. It includes Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews and areas of fluctuating growth. It neighbors 14 countries. Only a strong man can convince this wondrous mixture to co-exist or force them when needed.”

He continues: “At historical turning points, a strong man appears armed with will and vision. He advances, and everyone believes that the country has summoned him to stop its slide towards suicide. This is what happened with Putin.

The Russian Federation was on the brink of disintegration when he entered the Kremlin at the beginning of this century. He managed to speak to the ordinary Russian people and to repress all those who were preparing to leave or blow up the train. He restored the Russian sense of dignity. Russia was re-instated as a major international player. Look at Syria, where the Russian solution is the only proposed solution.”

Russia got tired of the indolence of the Communist Party’s cardinals. Then it feared the mess of Yeltsin era. Moscow has receded and the lost provinces were preparing to fight for the legacy. A man was waiting the day he will enter the Palace and History. At the right moment, he struck.

Perhaps Lenin imagined that he would run the country from his tomb after his death. This did not happen. The master of the palace does not listen to the late man’s advice. He only defended him when many called for removing his body from his symbolic stronghold off the Kremlin and laying him to rest next to his mother, like any ordinary citizen sliding into oblivion.

It is a different Russia, which is ruled by Putin today. In the Red Square, I remembered that Asharq al-Awsat has sent me to this land in 1992, one year after the fall of the Soviet Union. I went to Arbat Pedestrian Street. Suddenly I heard a Russian man shouting loudly. I asked my colleague, Sami Amara, what he was saying. He replied: “He says that the uniform of the colonel is on sale for $25 with its decorations. I approached a pile of uniforms of the Red Army officers for sale in a humiliating sight for that old army and its majestic country.”

When I returned to London, I wrote about the sick Russia under Boris Yeltsin, the colonel uniform on sale for $25, and Lenin, who is left to tourists.

Vladimir Putin was close to the Berlin Wall when it collapsed. He saw scenes of humiliation in the streets of Russia. He made his decision and made his way. He made his story and changed the fate of his country.

At first sight, Russia seemed far away, groaning under the snow and longing for its Soviet clothes. Putin launched his war. He reformed the Red Army’s spirit, budget and arsenal. He domesticated the governors of the provinces and barons, who came to the country with their wealth from Soviet rubble. He sought a truce with the West until he gathered his strength. He responded to NATO’s drawing near his country’s borders and began settling his scores. He took advantage of Barack Obama’s hesitation and struck. He intervened militarily in Syria and rescued the regime “whose fall was likely within two months.” And here is the Russian solution ahead of everything else.

The Syria crisis was his chance to respond to what he considered to be Western “treason” in Libya… his opportunity to avenge the colorful revolutions and human rights organizations… his golden opportunity to strike Islamists away from Russian soil… and his chance to remind that Russia is a mandatory and crucial partner.

There is a weakness that the tsar failed to conceal. The decline in oil prices revealed that his era did not achieve the desired economic progress. His country’s economy is still lingering far behind European economies. The US and European sanctions have doubled the sufferings. His hopes for an opportunity to forge a deal with the arrival of Donald Trump have evaporated. This is why the regime today is looking for partners and investors.

At the hotel, I asked the young man who brought the coffee for his favorite candidate in the upcoming presidential elections. “It is Putin because he is strong; whether you like it or not, he is a must-have man. He gives you a feeling of reassurance. We do not want chaos back.”

It is not simple that the exercise of power does not drain the balance of the president-leader. It is not simple that the majority feels that he is a guarantee… that he was able to sail in the midst of storms… It is not simple that the academic, businessman and hotel worker are convinced that a man who changed the fate of his country is a must-have man. While destiny makes most of men, some men make their own destinies.

After the Saudi-Russian Summit

Saudi Arabia's King Salman arrives at Vnukovo airport outside Moscow

Several factors push the journalist who headed to Moscow to cover the Saudi-Russian Summit to describe it as an exceptional event. It is the first time a Saudi monarch walks into the Kremlin Palace.

The keenness of Russian President Vladimir Putin to receive the king with hospitality reflected Moscow’s wish to make this visit a green light for solid and deep relations to serve interests of both countries.

It is not restricted to the symbolic value of King Salman’s entrance to Kremlin, but the date has its significance based on political and economic facts. We are talking about two major petroleum-producing countries that are also among the G20.

It is no secret that each state knows the significance and strengths of the other. Russia is a country that overcame the collapse of the Soviet Union and came back as a dynamic strong, influential power in the international arena.

Two years ago, Russia became a key player in the Middle East because of its military intervention in Syria, and it is now seen as the sole and compulsory passage for a resolution in Syria. Russia is a permanent Security Council member and has the ability to block resolutions through its veto power. Moscow didn’t hesitate in recent years to underscore its right to use that power.

Russia also possesses nuclear powers and is achieving significant technological and scientific progress, as it wants to outrun the West in invading space. We shouldn’t forget that this country that sleeps under snow every year, also sleeps on a wealth of cultural mines not restricted to the fascinating novels.

Federal Russia is also concerned with Muslims who represent part of its nation and history – it is concerned with Muslims who have become its neighbors after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In return, Russia is aware of the economic and political weight of the kingdom and its wide Arab, Islamic and international popularity — it is also aware that Saudi Arabia has the ability to take decisions in building ties based on its interests.

“Strategic Partnership” with the US and promising ties with China, Japan and many other states do not fend off tight relations with Russia. The Russian military intervention in Syria might have doubled Russia’s belief in the huge role Saudi Arabia could play in building a fair peaceful settlement.

In addition, Russia believes that a new and strong Saudi Arabia is under development and that Saudi Vision 2030 promises economic and social transformations whose impact will expand beyond the Saudi border. The Russian side doesn’t conceal its comfort towards the Saudi move, from confronting terrorism to waging a comprehensive war on extremism, its causes and roots. This builds a bridge between the two.

Matching policies are no more a condition for building ties in the current world. The Saudi-Russian cooperation to stabilize the oil market was encouraging. In the past two years, they discovered that modest trade doesn’t suit the available opportunities in the two countries willing to diversify economies and overcome dependence on oil.

A new approach became a must despite the different points of view towards Syria. Talks of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had their decisive role in launching the dialogue of interest and exchange. It is a policy of building bridges and discovering investment and cooperation opportunities in a way that serves both sides and reinforces the ability to tackle topics of disagreement.

The mutual desire to open a new page of cooperation was clear from the beginning. Saudi officials and investors brought with them persuasive, detailed and realistic studies that have left a positive impact on the Russian side and forecast further agreements.

The Russian keenness to let the summit be a success is pretty obvious. On the eve of the visit, Russian FM Sergei Lavrov expected – in an interview with with Asharq Al-Awsat – that the summit will be a turning point between the two countries and will take cooperation between them to a whole new level in a way that contributes to the stability of the Middle East.

Lavrov added that both states realize the fact that there are no alternative solutions for regional crises but political and diplomatic ways via a comprehensive national dialogue in line with international law.

Economy is the key and interests are the actual backbone. It is no more possible to build ties on wishes or matching circumstantial political stances. Russia’s Putin knows that the economy is the strongest general in upcoming battles and that a booming economy is a guarantor for status as well as stability and ability to compete and deliver military equipment.

Without a strong economy, military capabilities drop and major roles relapse as well. For that, opportunities must be discovered, ties must be established based on interests, education developed, modern technology possessed, expertise exchanged and development prospects opened.

The date in Kremlin was exceptional. Two countries discover dimensions of cooperation using the language of figures, mutual interests and the wish to build bridges. The essential question is about the level these ties will reach after the Kremlin date.

Lavrov on King Salman’s Visit to Russia: Turning Point in Bilateral, Regional Relations

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov speaks during news conference after meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang in Moscow

Moscow– Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov underlined the importance of Saudi King Salman’s visit to Russia, which will kick off on Thursday, describing it as a “real turning point in the relations between the two countries” to achieve fruitful contribution to stability in the Middle East.

In an interview with Asharq al-Awsat newspaper in Moscow, Lavrov said his country shared Riyadh’s conviction of the need to “further develop bilateral relations at various levels”, and to work towards the establishment of regional and global stability.

He noted that Riyadh and Moscow have maintained a high-level dialogue, which has translated into tangible results.

“We are intensifying efforts to strengthen trade ties and humanitarian relations with the Kingdom. Our common goal is to increase the volume of trade and expand the range of commodities, which both sides see as incompatible with the great potential of the two countries,” Lavrov said.

Touching on cooperation in the oil sector, the Russian foreign minister stated that: “Riyadh and Moscow are jointly working on the implementation of OPEC-Plus agreements to reduce global oil production. We consider it extremely important to continue to coordinate efforts with our partners in Saudi Arabia in this regard.”

Lavrov stressed that King Salman and Russian President Vladimir Putin would discuss the need to find sustainable and permanent solutions to the ongoing crises in the region, adding that the visit would represent “a true turning point in our relations and would take cooperation between us to a new level, achieving a fruitful contribution to stability in the Middle East and North Africa.”

Asked whether a political solution to the Syrian crisis would be reached soon, Lavrov said: “Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, Russia has insisted on a solution through peaceful means by holding an extensive dialogue between the various parties. We also called on the international community to extend a helping hand to the Syrian people to end the violence and bloodshed and to prevent the support of criminals and terrorists inside the country.”

The Russian official criticized the international community for exerting pressure to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“The Arab League and many regional and international parties have taken a decision to strip Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of his legitimacy for a variety of reasons. In doing so, they have effectively attacked the right of the Syrian people to decide who will rule Syria and in what way. We strongly disagree with this approach,” he firmly stated.

Lavrov went on to say: “In various international forums, we have always supported the independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic. We have reiterated that the fate and future of Syria must be in the hands of the Syrian people, in a fully legal manner and through national dialogue.”

He stressed that his country has responded to the demands of the Syrian government to help the country eradicate terrorism.

“At the same time, we continue to believe that the military campaign against extremists must be accompanied by the search for a political solution to the crisis. To this end, we continue to fight terrorist groups, while strengthening our efforts to stop the bloodshed, provide humanitarian assistance to the population and boost the political process as stipulated in UN Security Council Resolution 2254,” he noted.

Lavrov underlined the importance of the Astana meetings on Syria, during which he said the concerned parties have agreed that there was no alternative to a political and diplomatic settlement under the auspices of the United Nations and expressed their commitment to the ceasefire.

“Today, all actors must abandon their own geopolitical ambitions and contribute fully to the restoration of stability and security in Syria and throughout the Middle East and North Africa,” the Russian foreign minister said.

On the relations with Turkey and Iran, especially in the Syrian and Iraqi files, the senior politician said Russia “attaches great importance to cooperation with Turkey and Iran as part of the settlement of the Syrian crisis and to help Baghdad face ISIS terrorist threats.”

“We believe that the joint efforts between Russia, Turkey and Iran have succeeded in improving the situation in Syria, destroying the hubs of ISIS and Al-Nusra Front and other terrorist groups, and guaranteeing the conditions for a broad and constructive dialogue between the Syrian parties.”

Asked about the reason behind the deterioration of the Russian-US relations, despite ongoing consultations between the two countries, Lavrov said: “The Russians are not to blame for the current deterioration in US-Russian relations, but this is a direct result of the policies of [former President Barack] Obama’s administration that destroyed the foundations of our cooperation.”

“In addition, before its departure, the administration planted time bombs to make things more difficult for the new government,” he added.

The Russian minister noted however that his country “stands ready to seek new ways, in cooperation with the new US administration, to improve bilateral relations based on the principles of mutual trust and respect to each other’s interests.”

He said that the fabricated anti-Russian campaign inside the US, which included claims of a suspected Russian interference in last year’s US presidential elections “clearly hampers any attempt to normalize dialogue between the two sides.”

“There is an unmistakable impression that some in Washington are not happy with the way the American people have expressed their will, trying to blame us for their failures, and they do not hesitate to use the Russian paper in all their political struggles,” he stated.

Lavrov added: “As for us, we have been careful to exercise restraint, especially considering the complex reality of the internal political scene in which the new US administration must work. However, we cannot remain silent towards the hostile actions, which were translated in the adoption of the law ‘fight America’s enemies’ by imposing sanctions.”

The Russian foreign minister said there was still considerable unexploited potential for Russian-American cooperation in international affairs on many levels.

“We have long urged our counterparts in the United States to build real coordination with us in the fight against terrorism, as well as to deal with other serious challenges, such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the drug trade and cybercrime,” he noted.

On the other hand, he said, there are opportunities for mutually beneficial initiatives in trade and investment.

“It is remarkable that US companies attach great importance to their presence in the Russian market and wish to participate in projects that serve the interests of both sides,” according to Lavrov.

Asked to evaluate the US-led international coalition against ISIS and the extent of the Russian role in fighting the terrorist organization, Lavrov said: “I think one should start by saying that from perspective of the Syrians and international law, this alliance is prying on Syria. For its part, the Syrian government remains tolerant as long as the coalition activities are directed against terrorists inside the Syrian territory.”

“In reality, it was the air strikes by the Russian air force and the Syrian army that forced ISIS to retreat,” he stated.

From Barcelona to Irbil

Catalonia

My British neighbor has been anxious for days. He has been following up on the news on the television and internet. He has a feeling of imminent disaster. He has forgotten all about the Brexit and his current and future concerns. He ignored the conference of the conservative party and daggers hidden behind smiles. He is preoccupied by a much greater and more serious issue. What will happen to the Barcelona football club if Sunday’s referendum ended with the declaration of Catalonia’s independence? That would be a disaster. The prestigious team will no longer be part of the Spanish league and it will also no longer be part of the European league that has cemented its status as a major club.

My neighbor is very serious. He believes that a handful of Catalan politicians do not have the right to gamble with the fate of a club that is considered one of the symbols of their modern history. He also does not recognize the right of the voters to determine the fate of this success story. This issue is no longer about a city or a region. It is about those who loved the vision of generals, who brandished the club’s flag. He said that peoples should not be swept by national and popular tensions every time ballot boxes are opened. The Catalans should remember that some of those who achieved glories with Barcelona FC came from other nationalities and played under different flags.

I tried to persuade him that this issue is greater than the fate of a football club. He said that he is not worried about that. The Europeans have abandoned the habit of civil wars and of drawing borders with blood. The Yugoslav file was a passing incident and an exception to this rule. The institutions of the Old Continent have overcome world wars and the demise of the Soviet Union, whose remnants are gathering dust in museums. Furthermore, economic facts will soon cool the hotheads and break down the aura of the populists.

My neighbor does not believe that Catalonia will jump off the Spanish train that it has been riding for five centuries. Its previous attempts have failed. In addition, it is standing in a good position and it is the best among Spanish regions. It also stands out from among European provinces. Its popular differences do not need to be underlined. Its successes are clear in the industrial, economic and touristic sectors. Its culture is not under threat and its capital, Barcelona, is a jewel in the European crown and one of the most economically and culturally dynamic cities.

Catalonia’s story seems to be indeed odd. Have old wounds been reopened among its people? Have they coincided with the anti-centralism sentiment and the rise of the populists and their exceptional ability to influence followers through social media? Has globalization helped awaken small identities and this leaning towards isolation? Are these the same winds that have blown through Quebec and Scotland and which will blow again in Spain’s Basque Country if Catalonia indeed succeeds in gaining independence?

The Catalans can use the excuse that international laws speak of the rights of people to determine their fate. It is clear however that this right is granted to people who are suffering under occupation or to minorities who are threatened by genocide at the hands of a bloody tyranny. This definitely does not apply to Catalonia.

Of course, we cannot deny that Franco’s Spain weakened the Catalan voice and cracked down on their language and culture, but Franco is now languishing in the tombs of history.

Every population or group has a wounds left over from history. Catalonia cannot speak of exceptional suffering in the past decades. It cannot compare itself to the Kurdistan region that suffered through the Anfal operations that left 180,000 dead and the destruction of several villages. Barcelona cannot speak of suffering at the hands of “Chemical Ali.” Madrid has not and will not stop paying the salaries of the Catalan employees. Catalonia is lucky that it does not carry such wounds and scars.

Europe and the terrible Middle East cannot be compared to each other. We are part of the most fragile region in the world. We drink from the streams of fear and we teach that to our children. Our maps are weak as are our constitutions. If the winds blew away a dictator, the country will be overrun by countless militias.

Every time a Kurdish leader speaks of independence, an earthquake takes place. Border drills are staged. Fears that other minorities will follow their lead. The drums of war start beating.

Yesterday, European experts observed the Catalan referendum. They clearly said that Catalonia’s independence, should it happen, will not lead to the establishment of an independent state. Madrid considers the referendum unconstitutional and illegal. The European countries will not recognize any state that arises from it. Force is not the solution to confronting millions of voters. Force favors the extremists. Dialogue is the only option. Some experts believe that saving Spain’s unity deserves considering other options, such as a confederate system.

It is likely that Haidar al-Abadi and Masoud Barzani followed the Catalan referendum. The two men know that our culture does not believe much in the tango, where each dancer has to coordinate his steps with his partner. They know that our culture does not favor a marriage between equals or permits a smooth divorce. All this does not however merit threats or preparing for war. Iraq and the Kurds have suffered enough. New bold ideas are needed. Saving Iraq is worth searching for several options, including possibly a confederacy.

The story in Catalonia is greater than a match between Barcelona FC and Real Madrid. The story in Baghdad is greater than the tensions between Irbil and Baghdad. Admitting the failure of coexistence is a fatal blow to countries and their borders. Coexistence must be saved, even if that requires difficult decisions. It not yet too late in Madrid and Barcelona or in Baghdad and Irbil.

Barzani, the Independence and the Earthquake

People at a rally this month for an independent Kurdistan, in Erbil

Today, he will be the center of attention. He will be the star of discussions and media screens. Opinions will be divided about the storm that he triggered.

Some people will say that the man chose the wrong time. Others will say that he was quick to reveal his real program and misjudge his neighbors’ calculations. There are those who believe that he is risking gains that cost the Kurds a heavy price, that he escaped a problem and fell into a bind, and that his intransigence would lead him into an imposed siege similar to what Yasser Arafat lived in his last days.

Others will say that the establishment of a Palestinian State, despite its difficulty, remains easier than founding a Kurdish state.

His supporters will affirm that he is the guardian of the Kurdish dream and that at least this right is reinstated.

Once again, reactions have highlighted the consensus that Kurds should not be allowed “to leave the prisons they were taken into a century ago.”

Masoud Barzani does not need anyone to remind him of the gravity of geography. He fell in its fire too soon. He was born in the summer of 1946, in the “Republic of Mahabad” declared by the Kurds on Iranian soil.

His father, Mullah Mustafa, was the commander of the armed forces in that republic, which disappeared before it blew out its first candle. Mullah Mustafa will leave the defeated land of the republic with hundreds of gunmen. They will walk hundreds of days before reaching Armenia in the Soviet Union following clashes with Iranian and Turkish border patrols. In Iraq, Masoud will wait 11 years to see his father return at the end of the Iraqi revolution in 1958.

Masoud graduated from Al-Mararat School. In 1970, he was next to his father, who asked him to welcome a young man from Baghdad. His name was Saddam Hussein. He was a deputy at that time. The visit ended with the March 1970 statement that gave the Kurds autonomy. However, the wedding will not last long.

The following year, Mullah Mustafa received a delegation from Baghdad. Suddenly the delegation exploded and many were killed and injured. Mullah Mustafa survived as a tea distributor was standing between him and the bomb that was planted around a visitor’s waist.

Another lesson in geography: In 1975, the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein signed the Algiers Agreement as a result of efforts exerted by Henry Kissinger. Tehran stopped its support for the Kurds. Consequently, their revolution collapsed and the horrors of their tragedies unfolded. When Mullah Mustafa died, defeated in his American exile, Masoud had no choice but to find him a temporary grave in Iran until he is returned to his hometown.

The world after World War I issued a harsh verdict on the Kurds. It distributed them into four countries: Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. Since then, the Kurds have been in the custody of the Geography Court.

Past experiences show that historical judgments are reversible. They can also be revised or corrected. However, geographic provisions do not budge. The four countries differ on many issues, but they all agree on their rejection of the establishment of an independent Kurdish State.

Developments witnessed over the past decades have been very significant. Even though the rulers have changed in these four countries, their policy towards the Kurds’ dream remains unaffected.

Everything is possible, but not for the Kurds. There is an irony in this context. A ruler may support the Kurds in a neighboring state and use them to weaken the regime under which they live. His understanding of the injustice they face there has never affected his rejection to any serious change in the situation of the Kurds living in his own country.

Iran, under Shah’s term, supported Iraq’s Kurds against Saddam’s regime; then it abandoned them. Under Khomeini’s rule, Iran has once again backed the Kurds, and now it ditches them because Tehran has become so present in Baghdad and its decision-making process.

Tehran has also supported the PKK to weaken Turkey, but it does not show any tolerance towards the aspirations of Iranian Kurds.

Syria, under Hafez al-Assad, backed Iraq’s Kurds and the Ocalan Party to enfeeble Saddam and Turkey, then it abandoned them. Now Bashar al-Assad is preparing to face a not-so-simple confrontation with the Kurds.

Years ago, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in Erbil that the time when the existence of the Kurds could have been denied was gone. But Turkey does not tolerate its own Kurds, whether its president was General Kenan Evren or Erdogan.

Over a quarter of a century, Barzani tried to reassure Baghdad, Tehran, Ankara and Damascus, saying that the experience of Iraq’s Kurdistan is not a model to be spread in other countries.

He advised these countries to improve the situation of the Kurds, who are residing in their territories. He encouraged Erdogan to open the door of dialogue with a prisoner named Abdullah Ocalan. But time showed that the four countries were unable to accept the minimum required by the Kurds to get rid of the feeling of injustice and move forward.

Whenever a Kurdish leader utters the word “independence”, the line of earthquakes shakes. The Geography Court wakes up to remind the Kurds of the verdict handed down to them.

Iran has sent Qassem Soleimani to advise the Kurds and later to warn them. It then closed its airspace to Iraqi Kurdistan flights. This was preceded by Iranian military maneuvers along the region’s borders.

Turkey extended its army’s mandate to carry out operations outside the borders and Barzani heard the echo of Turkish army maneuvers.

However, this time, the international community is sympathizing with Baghdad rather than the Kurds. The United States and Western countries are keen not to divert attention from the war on ISIS. They are also keen not to threaten the chances of Haider Al-Abadi to stay in office after the parliamentary elections next spring.

Barzani does not need to be reminded of the gravity of geography. But he refuses to back down, perhaps because he has given up the hope of an understanding with Baghdad and he has had enough listening to the advice from international doctors.

Perhaps he wants to re-install the right to independence for the new generations of Kurds and for the new generations of world rulers.

It is a crisis of components within Iraq, a crisis of components within the terrible Middle East.

Persians have their own state. Turks have their own state. Arabs have their own countries. However, more than 30 million Kurds live without a state. Whenever a leader utters the word independence, he shakes the line of earthquakes.

Syria, Iraq and the Hurricane

A Syrian Kurdish refugee comforts her child after they crossed into Turkey, fleeing fighting around Kobani, Syria,

An Arab man is glued to his television. The scenes are spectacular and unprecedented. The most powerful country in the world stands alarmed and tries to salvage what can be saved. Nature’s anger is a beast that cannot be detained.

The hurricane speed exceeded 200 kilometers per hour. It uprooted everything: roofs, houses, power poles and advertising boards. The rain is cold and ruthless. Heavy floods have swept trucks and cars away. Public squares have turned into swamps with pieces from smashed houses floating over. Authorities declared a state of emergency. All state bodies were put on alert. Millions of people were evacuated.

Television stations broadcast images of families leaving their homes, wrapped only with tears, fleeing to safe shelters… Men grieving for their houses, which they put too much effort to build… As if enormous tusks had pounced onto a wide area and implanted into its depths… Blood, mud and horror poured. It is Hurricane Irma, which has quickly occupied a prominent place in world record books. Losses were estimated at USD 150 billion. Many houses will suffer from darkness, waiting for the start of reconstruction.

The next day, the Arab man skims through an issue of Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. It is the issue of this Thursday, September 14th. The source of the story is the National Agenda for the Future of Syria, which is supervised by Syrian and international experts under the umbrella of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

According to the report, the cost of the Syrian war amounted to USD 327 billion; including USD 227 billion due to lost opportunities and USD 100 billion due to destruction.

The Arab man delved into the details of the report. The housing sector was the most vulnerable to destruction as it incurred 30 percent of losses or about USD 30 billion. The proportion of destruction in the industrial sector reached nearly 18 percent, 9 percent for the electricity and water sector, and 7 percent for the agricultural sector. Statistics do not include destruction in the cities of Raqqa and Deir al-Zour.

The Arab man read the Syrian numbers as someone rubbing salt into his wounds. He was eager to search the Internet to know the cost of Iraqi storms, the tornado of Kuwait’s invasion, that of the invasion of Iraq and its consequences, the Sunni-Shiite strife and its aftermath… the fall of Mosul into the hands of ISIS, the hurricane of corruption, which is not less destructive than the blood hurricanes.

It is enough to hear an Iraqi politician say: “We have spent more than one hundred billion dollars to resolve the problem of electricity and the problem still exists”.

The Arab man disregarded the figures. He remembered that the Iraqi and Syrian hurricanes have produced more than one million deaths and much more wounded and disabled. The loss of lives is much more painful than that of walls.

He felt the enormous difference between hurricanes. As soon as Irma recedes, reconstruction works will begin to remove its effects. There is a state there. There are institutions; a public opinion that monitors, judges and holds accountable. Our hurricanes are different.

At the beginning of the hurricane that hit Florida, normal questions were raised: Are the rescue and civil defense bodies ready for their duty? What lessons can be learned to limit the losses when nature gets angry after years or decades?

Our hurricanes are different. They are more severe and terrifying: winds coming from outside clash with the internal gaps. The state is decomposed and the map is broken. The components are fragmented. The national fabric is torn down. The army is disintegrated and militias are in a state of war.

The national flag is isolated and a forest of foreign flags surrounds the country. Flags from distant and nearby states, with conflicting stories and differing grudges. A Chechen man comes to kill a Syrian in favor of the regime, or an Afghan comes to kill a Syrian in favor of the opposition…

The hurricane exposes us. Countries that used to boast about their cohesion are divided and fragmented. A country, which used to have a powerful role, has become very frail to the extent that seeing its population getting killed is no longer a shock.

The country, which used to be a main player on the regional map, has become a playground for small armies, which are drawing with Syrian blood tiny maps protected by international or regional powers… areas of influence… and a decision that is lost in nearby and distant capitals…

Hurricanes expose us. They reveal that we are futile countries, lost peoples, and wasted institutions. No army saves the country from outer dangers. Security does not save the citizen from criminals. The Constitution does not protect people’s rights. The courts do not dare harass the perpetrators.

The hurricane shakes us. Our country becomes a platform for all kinds of newcomers, as if we were a testing ground for bombs and knives, for those seeking alternative wars, and those carrying ideas that are more treacherous than daggers, for the promoters of policies of revenge, for those wanting to change the balance of powers by using people’s blood, for the promoters of injustice and darkness, and for cruelty in all its forms.

The fury of nature can uproot a roof, smash cars and break columns, but it cannot dismantle a state and fragment a map. The absence of a real state is what triggers hurricanes. Outside storms cannot uproot a nation that is built on the values citizenship and justice; a state with a constitution that guarantees the rights of citizens and defines mechanisms for the rotation of power and for improvement.

Internal gaps are the first ally for the poisonous wind coming from outside. Feelings of marginalization tempt some people to jump out of the train and plant bombs to blow it up or change its trajectory.

I am an Arab and I only want Iraq to be a stable, prosperous and natural country that plays its role in its surrounding environment and leads its citizens to the future. Who governs Iraq is a matter that must be left to the Iraqis on the basis of citizenship and democracy that guarantees rights of minorities before those of the majority.

I am an Arab and I only want Syria to be a stable and prosperous country that plays its natural role in its surrounding environment… A country, which does not live in the shadow of a forest of flags that have infiltrated from conflicting locations to deepen the wounds of the Syrian components… A state, which poses no danger to itself or to its neighbors…

The issue of who governs Syria must be resolved by the Syrian people under a constitution based on citizenship and justice.

The absence of a fair, modern state transforms minorities into buried mines. The absence of an actual state makes the land favorable to hurricanes. The first lesson learned from hurricanes is to re-install the idea of the state, which applies its constitution and practices on all citizens, as citizens of one nation; not guns to be used by the leaders at the moment of collapse.

Terrorism and Nuclear Dreams

Saddam

“I participated in battles and some shrapnel are still inside my body. But, I find today’s world far more scarier than any other day before. I am a military-man and it is not easy for me to admit that I am scared. Earlier, you knew your enemy and his location. You could attack him. Now, the enemy can emerge from anywhere. Every time my children travel to this capital or that, I impatiently wait their return. Never have never experienced this level of anxiety,” said a retired general.

The general reminded me that the September 11 attacks took place 16 years ago, and up until now the world has failed to put an end to the war that sprung from it. He stated that the expenses paid following that dark day are equivalent to a great war, taking into consideration the hundreds of billions of dollars the US spent in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

He noted that terrorism is not the only problem. He mentioned that some suicide bombers wear explosive belts and there are insane people, who turn their countries into explosive belts as is the case with Kim Jong-un.

The general’s statement bears the hint of truth. We live in a terrifying world. Who can count the lives taken in the September 11 world? Who can count all of those killed in an explosion here or there? It is a wandering war, killing people in several cities, countries and continents. Also, who can calculate the sums countries have paid to enhance security measures in airports, cities and on borders. And who can estimate the tremendous losses caused by terrorists when they occupied this village or city?

A scary world indeed. Predicaments whose solutions are tough to find.

What will the world do, for example, with the North Korean leader, who insists on sleeping on a nuclear pillow in spite of threats and sanctions?

Is it really in the world’s interest to appease this man and let him possess a nuclear and missile arsenal that would be difficult to deter with any restrictions or agreements? Does the world’s interest demand to address this man with destructive force that is only available to the US military machine?

What about China, which has its own very complicated calculations in the North Korean crisis. Beijing doesn’t want to cut off Korea’s last economic lifeline. It fears the system will collapse and millions of refugees will flock into its territories. Beijing is also concerned that a Kim-less North Korea will end up in South Korea’s arms, which will create a major regional US ally.

China doesn’t want to witness the toppling of the North Korean regime under US army strikes similar to what happened with Saddam Hussein’s regime. It is not in Beijing’s interest to have such a US victory near its border which would renew certain regional countries’ bet on US.

Currently, there are two major issues haunting the world: tyrants’ lust for nuclear weapons as an “insurance policy” against any foreign invasion or international military punishment, and the ongoing terrorist wars, which the September 11 attacks relaunched and expanded to new territories.

Unluckily for us, the Middle East is an arena for terrorist appetites and, occasionally, a place for anyone interested in owning an “insurance policy” that can be used in the ongoing process of establishing a local major power that violates its neighbors’ borders. Such nuclear dreams came to Saddam Hussein, Gadhafi and Khomeini’s disciples.

Often, both of these “appetites” got mixed together in the Middle East.

One of Saddam Hussein’s aides once knocked on his door. The man told Saddam that something was happening in the US and that airplanes crashed into residential towers. Saddam asked him to turn on the television and he turned it on CNN. Saddam then asked him to turn to an Arabic channel and they witnessed the horrific scenes on al-Jazeera.

The man then asked Saddam if this incident will affect Iraq. Saddam replied that they are far from that, adding that a crime of this kind is often committed by an organization, not a state, and probably al-Qaeda.

It did not occur to Saddam on that day that the second earthquake would take place in Baghdad and lead to his hanging.

I was once at a coffee shop in an Arab capital and the coincidence would have it that a man sitting next to me was Saddam’s aide, who knocked on his door. He asked if I was the journalist who sometimes wrote about Iraq and I answered, yes. He told me that he had some clarifications to make to serve the truth, not defend Saddam, who had committed major errors.

The man, who stayed with Saddam for over 30 years, told me dozens of stories, including one that is worth mentioning here because it is relevant to nuclear dreams. The man was not a member of Saddam’s tribe or sect. He informed me that on May 13, 1981, the French ambassador in Iraq called for an urgent meeting with Saddam. The man said that this was a bit strange since it was supposed to happen through the Foreign Ministry, which prompted Saddam to summon Foreign Minister Tarek Aziz to inquire about the issue. The minister denied his knowledge of the incident and eventually Saddam agreed to meet the ambassador in the presence of Minister Aziz.

At the meeting, the ambassador took out a letter from then French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, urgently asking Saddam to dispatch his Foreign Minister to a top-secret visit to the Elysee Palace to inform him of an important issue that concerns Iraq.

The minister went to Paris where President d’Estaing told him that France had accurate intelligence information about an eminent Israeli aerial attack within weeks to destroy Iraq’s nuclear reactor. The president added that intelligence services however failed to find out the exact date of the attack, adding that US intelligence is monitoring the Israeli preparations.

Aziz asked the president what France can do for Iraq in this case, to which the French president replied: “Nothing, we have informed you.”

At the beginning of the following month, Israel destroyed the reactor which Iraq had obtained from France.

The general was right. The world today is far scarier than yesterday’s. ISIS’ loss in Iraq will bring back its sleeper cells and lone wolf methods.

Once in a while, a new tyrant will pop up demanding his right to sleep on a nuclear pillow.

Kirkuk Joins Independence Referendum… ‘Kurdish Brexit’ Won’t Be Easy

Barzani attends a news conference in Erbil.

Kirkuk- Iraq’s oil-producing region of Kirkuk is cursed for having both wealth and diversity. It lies on oil wells and on the spines of frightened identities.

Its fate has been poisoned by Arab-Kurdish relations for decades and was the first cause behind costly wars.

Erbil can neither retake Kirkuk nor give up on it. For Baghdad, losing this city is unquestionable as this provides the Kurds with “a base to declare a state.”

A few days ago, Kirkuk decided to vote in a referendum on Kurdish independence on Sept. 25, its provisional council decided on Tuesday based on a suggestion by the city’s Governor, Najmuddin Kareem.

And because Kirkuk’s involvement in this unprecedented event in the history of Iraq and the Middle East foreshadows complexities that could turn into a war, Asharq Al-Awsat has visited the province, which is located on the line of contact between different races, nationalities, languages and sects.

Baghdad hastened to reject the idea of holding a referendum within the borders of the Kurdistan region. Its tone rose more when it found out that the referendum would also include “disputed areas, especially Kirkuk.”

Some believe that the referendum in these areas could ignite a confrontation between the Popular Mobilization Forces and the Peshmerga if Iran chooses to frustrate the establishment of a Kurdish entity that insists on staying “outside the Iranian crescent and any other crescent.”

For its part, Turkey opposed the referendum, which appears to be geographically bound while Washington has proposed a postponement.

However, President of Iraqi Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani has asked for written assurances from Baghdad, Washington, and the United Nations to accept the results of the referendum without hesitation if he approves to postpone the referendum for six more months or one year; it is clear that providing these assurances is impossible.

Fearing the possible repercussions of the post-referendum period and the launching of the Kurdish Brexit, the governor of Kirkuk proposed that the province constitute a temporary territory for four or five years during which normalization and understanding of guarantees for the components and future relations with Baghdad take place.

3 ISIS Members Recount to Asharq Al-Awsat their Journey with the Terror Group

ISIS

Irbil – The ISIS terrorist organization has created a series of catastrophes around the world. The tragedies have taken the form of persecuting minorities and massacres in cities near and far. The group has created tragedies in cities that were accused of harboring it and created tragedies when it justified the action of those who wanted to punish those places.

These are strange stories which is why I requested to return once again to the counter-terrorism center in Irbil. Perhaps I may hear new stories other than the ones about the Syrian or Iraqi ISIS member. This time I found a Chinese member of the terror group, a Kazakh and an American.

The Kazakh

I let Koblan Ozak Hassan recount his story with ISIS:

“I was born in 1982 and pursued by studies in the city of Aktau in Kazakhstan. I specialized in oil and chemistry. I am married with three children. I am a Muslim and in my environment, people speak of the conditions of Muslims in the world and what they suffer from in some occasions. We, like everyone else, used to follow the news on social media where we received images on the developments in Iraq, Syria and other places.

“In 2015, I was on a tourist visit to Antalya, Turkey and concluded that living in Turkey would be expensive. At this point, friends studying in Turkey told me that I could live in Syria, explaining that it was cheap and that I could find a job in regions controlled by ISIS. I also had some friends living in Mosul. We communicated through the internet and they encouraged me to live in the so-called Islamic State. They told me that I could work in my domain and earn some money.

“I was told to head to Turkey’s Gazientep where some Arab and Turkish youth were waiting for me. From there, they escorted me and my family to Syria’s Raqqa. I was dropped off at a house and my family was taken to another location.

“A number of men from various nationalities were living where I was staying. We underwent an eight-day Islamic Sharia law training in Raqqa. The training covered prayer, the nullifiers of Islam, jihad and combating the infidels. Afterwards, we were taken to Talafar where we underwent military training. I have long suffered from a back ailment that prevents me from becoming a military fighter.

“I asked to be sent to Mosul where I could meet up with my friends. This led to conflict between the ten newcomers and one of the ISIS officials. All ten of us were then returned to Raqqa where we were put under some form of house arrest. In the end, we were given the option to choose our destination and I was taken by bus to Mosul.

“The Iraqi city was calm and I lived there with my family. ISIS soon forced me however to head to Talafar that same year, meaning 2015. There I met a number of Uzbeks, Tajiks, Dagestanis, Chechens and Turkmen. There were hundreds of them and they either lived with their old or new families. I never heard them question ISIS. Most of them were there for religious reasons and they believed the group’s propaganda.

“I did not find a job in my specialization so I decided to buy horses to sell their meat. In 2017, a bus driver was killed in shelling and I was asked to take his place at a salary of 200 dollars a month.

“This is when I decided it was time for me to run away. We used to hear news of the battles in ISIS. I did not find a real job opportunity and I contacted security agencies in Kazakhstan. They told me that if I wanted to escape, I should bring with me any Kazakh who also wanted out. Based on a recommendation from the Russian consulate in Irbil, I contacted a man called Abou Mohammed al-Ramadani, who guided me on the route I needed to take to turn myself over to the Peshmerga.

“My children and pregnant wife were with me, as well as four women and ten children. It was a dangerous journey and we traversed 20 kilometers by car. It was an area planted with landmines. At one point, we left the car behind and hid in a farm. We knew that we would be killed if we were found. At the end, we walked two kilometers before turning ourselves over to the Peshmerga only 25 days ago.”

Koblan said that he did not take part in the fighting, but he suffered from the airstrikes that targeted the region. He added that he did not witness any of the executions or massacres committed by ISIS. I asked him about his religious position from these practices. He replied: “I do not know enough of Sharia to give a definitive answer.”

I asked if he believed in the so-called Islamic nature of ISIS’ state which he also avoided to answer, claiming a lack of sufficient religious knowledge on the issue.

The Chinese member

The Chinese member of ISIS asked me not publish his full name “because I will be killed as soon as I return, possibly at the hands of my family.” I will only mention his initials, S.K.K. This is his story:

“I was born in 1988 in Khotan in East Turkestan to a Muslim family and I have four children, the youngest of whom was born in Talafar. I left school after elementary school to work as a farmer with my father. I have three brothers and a sister.

“I don’t know if you are aware of how difficult life is for Muslims in East Turkestan. Wearing the veil is prohibited as is teaching the Qoran to children. Families are not allowed to have more than three children. The Chinese security agencies are not merciful. They believe that Muslim practices are a threat to the current Communist regime. They control everything, from the media to security to the universities. In China, you are not allowed to be different from the official stance of the state. You have to hide your feelings and convictions, but Muslims there also speak about what Muslims in the world have to endure.

“I heard from Muslims there that Turkey was ready to welcome Chinese Muslims like myself. This is why I decided to make the journey with my family. I left Turkestan to Shanghai and then to Laos, then to Thailand. From there I went to Malaysia and later to Kayseri in Turkey. The trip cost me 4,000 dollars and I sought to request asylum in Turkey.

“My savings ran out ten days after I arrived. A person then approached me and told me that he was prepared to give me all the money I wanted if I headed with my family to Syria, where Muslims live under Islamic law.

“The man took me to Gaziantep at the Turkish-Syrian border and I was escorted by other men to Raqqa in February 2016. I stayed at the ISIS center there and the man in charge was called Abou Abdullah. After a few days, they decided to transfer the Turkish-speakers to Talafar. There, I was sent to the al-Wahda area where I stayed for ten days. I then joined the base of Abou Hajar al-Turkestani. I spent 38 days there with some 15 people where we took courses on Sharia. We also received military training on the use of light and heavy machineguns.

“I was then deployed at the Seifeddine Battalion, under Abou al-Zabir al-Turki, which included 50 fighters. I remained at the battalion for a year and a half. I was then sent to the frontlines. Luckily, no battles erupted when I was stationed there. I earned 250 dollars a month during that period.

“One day, they told me to join an offensive on Mosul. I tried to get out of and was consequently imprisoned for four months during which I was tortured.

“I realized that living under ISIS rule was different than what I expected so I started to think about escaping. Twenty days ago, I succeeded in reaching a Peshmerga position with my family and turned myself over.

“I do not want to return to China. I would be grateful if Turkey takes me in. I will be happy if the US or Europe also take me in. Anything but China, because my punishment there will be severe and perhaps fatal. I did not kill. I can safely say that ISIS fooled the world. We believed what was claimed and we paid the price.”

The American

The meeting with the American ISIS member was not completed because the counter-terrorism officials asked me to halt the interview. They explained that publishing his story may help his partners escape. We will suffice in publishing information that will not harm the investigation:

R.K. was born in 1988. He later moved to Trinidad where he pursued Islamic studies. He said that he watched YouTube videos about the developments in Syria.

“I saw a Muslim women with her face covered in blood standing amid the rubble in Syria as she pleaded for help. She asked where all the Muslims were and why they were not running to help their brothers. I was moved by footage of mosques being shelled.

“I had graduated from medical school with my wife. We had one daughter. My wife suggested to me that we head to Syria for two months where could work with humanitarian organizations to help Muslims there. My sister decided to join us. We arrived in Turkey and a man called Tarek, who was later killed, and an ISIS member called Mustapha, helped us enter Syria.

“They took us from Gaziantep to a location in Syria. From there, we were transported on board an ISIS bus to Raqqa. I resided in one location, while my family lived in the women’s quarters. I received bread, lentils, rice and tuna where I was staying.

“After a while, Imam Abou Anas al-Azadi came to teach us about Islam. He taught us a list of who they believed to be infidels. They included the Syrian regime and others and all who operated outside a non-Muslim system.”

After that, the American mentioned a number of names that the concerned officials believed would compromise their investigation. I was therefore asked to stop the interview and I had no choice but to comply.