The Basque: Spain’s Effective but Expensive Antidote to Secession

Basque

As Spain and Catalonia head towards a constitutional collision over the region’s claim to independence, lawmakers on both sides of the crisis are pointing to a way out: north, to Basque Country.

Among the verdant mountains of Basque Country, which borders France, a once-violent campaign for independence has petered out, with generous fiscal autonomy from Madrid helping to keep popular agitation for independence in check, reported Reuters on Tuesday.

“We don’t have that economic resentment,” Aitor Esteban, organizer for the Basque National Party in Spain’s parliament, told Reuters in an interview at party headquarters in Bilbao.

“People don’t feel that need to act upon a grievance about money; that makes a big difference.”

The Catalan government is not calling for a Basque-style deal, insisting instead on independence after declaring overwhelming support for secession in an October 1 referendum banned by Madrid.

But the most moderate lawmakers in the region’s ruling coalition privately say they could drop independence claims if they were given the tax autonomy that Basque Country enjoys.

In Madrid, some socialists have suggested it could serve as a model for a compromise that would defuse Spain’s biggest political crisis since a failed coup in 1981, although the cost to the central government would be significant.

Basque staged modest protests over Madrid’s violent crackdown on Catalonia’s referendum, but the crisis has failed to rekindle secessionist fervor on the streets of Bilbao, the Basque capital nestled on the banks of the Nervion.

Catalan flags hang from balconies alongside the Basque flag in a sign of solidarity, but Bilbao is prosperous and peaceful. Where once unionist politicians needed bodyguards and car bombings were a constant fear, tourists now crowd the taverns of the old town and the world-famous Guggenheim museum.

Just 17 percent of Basques want independence and less than half would like to hold a referendum on the issue, according to a poll carried out by the university of Deusto.

Basque militant group ETA, which killed more than 850 people in a decades-long campaign to carve out a separate state, effectively ended its armed resistance this year when it surrendered its weapons.

The region now has one of the highest economic outputs per capita and one of the lowest unemployment rates in Spain.

“The independence debate is on standby in Basque Country because of great fatigue after years of violence and uncertainty after the economic crisis,” said Xabier Barandiaran, professor of sociology at Deusto University.

Basque’s fiscal autonomy is among the most generous of any region in Europe, dating back to the 19th century and enshrined in Spain’s 1978 constitution.

If it were to be extended to Catalonia, an economically more powerful region accounting for a fifth of national production, the Spanish state would lose about 16 billion euros, according to a 2014 study by research house CSIC.

That would equal about 13 percent of next year’s budget and affect Spain’s deficit and borrowing costs.

For that reason, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has ruled out such generous treatment for Catalonia.

Under Basque’s accord with Madrid, the region collects nearly all its own taxes, which are forecast to total 13 billion euros ($15 billion) this year.

It is due to return 800 million euros to Madrid in what is known as an annual quota to cover the costs of national expenses such as defense or infrastructure, said Reuters.

Rajoy has sweetened that arrangement since he regained power at the head of a minority government last year, as the price of securing Basque National Party support for his 2017 budget.

It has proved unpopular with other regions who would almost certainly oppose any similar deal for Catalonia, as it would mean cutting their share of state revenue.

Typically, regions pass taxes to Madrid which redistributes money back to them according to a formula that favors the poorer regions.

Former Catalan leader Artur Mas tried to hold talks with Rajoy in 2012 about granting Catalonia powers to raise and spend its own taxes, but the prospect of negotiations in the current climate look bleak.

Catalonia has long said it pays a disproportionate level of taxes to Madrid in relation to the central funding it receives.

A study backed by the Budget Ministry says Catalonia pays to the state 9.9 billion euros more than it receives. The Catalan economy ministry says this is even higher.

Economists say an overhaul of the fiscal relationship between Madrid and the regions is overdue because the current system has led to intense tax competition between regions. Some autonomous communities have become under-financed, resulting in cuts in public services.

“Now the situation is so critical, there might just be the political momentum needed to tackle it,” said Antonio Garcia Pascual of Barclays Capital.

Confronting ‘Lone Wolves’

terrorism

Cairo – The recent shooting in the US city of Las Vegas demonstrated that the terrorism of “lone wolf” attackers is a major and terrifying danger. The massacre, the worst in the US’ modern history, left an unprecedented number of people dead and injured and officials are still confounded as to what prompted Stephen Paddock to go on his horrific rampage.

Europe was not spared the danger of lone wolves with Marseille witnessing one that left two people dead. What we need to ask now is: What is the best way to confront this inhumane and very complicated phenomenon, especially since no one has so far been able to find out what pushes someone to commit such atrocities?

We should at first distinguish between the American and European lone wolves. The former have easy access to weapons, while the latter obtain weapons only for the intention of committing such terrorist crimes.

With the Las Vegas shooting, the US Congress will once again be faced with the debate over the freedom to purchase and own weapons. Any change to this reality would require an amendment of the country’s constitution, which no one at Congress has yet dared to demand.

In confronting lone wolves in the United States, we must distinguish between those who commit their crime out of national extremist and racist beliefs and radicalized others, who use the excuse of Islamic extremism.

Even though lone wolf attacks in the US are less common than those in Europe, they often claim the lives of more victims because the shooter has access to a more lethal arsenal. This therefore demands that the confrontation be waged against the legal regulations that permit the possession of arms. It also demands logistic, security and intelligence operations to counter these crimes. This second form of confrontation is similar to the one being wage against the phenomenon in Europe.

In previous articles, we had stated that lone wolf attacks were originally adopted by al-Qaeda and later ISIS. It was first born from the womb of the Islamic resistance of the Soviet occupation of Muslim territories in Afghanistan and later, with the emergence of ISIS, it was born out of the US military invasion of Iraq.

At this point, we can assert that major unjust policies around the globe and in the Islamic world are a factor that can produce more lone wolves, who believe that a life without dignity or independence is meaningless and not worth living. American and European policies in the Middle East, in recent years in particular, have had disastrous results in this regard.

These powers did not foresee the unexpected repercussions of and reaction to their destruction of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon and their random dismantling of systems that have been around for decades. This opened the door wide for lone wolves to run rampant and commit their crimes.

We are now faced with the equation: As long as injustices remain, lone wolves will continue to threaten the world and its security.

Tackling open humanitarian wounds and achieving international justice could be the main solution confronting this phenomenon.

Over the years, it became obvious that many of the lone wolves in Europe often are second generation Europeans, who were born there or who arrived there at a young age. They grew up and were educated in Europe. They all however have one thing in common, which was their major failure to integrate into the new societies that had adopted them. The massive degree of their failure was reflected in the extent of their criminality in their attacks.

Why did this failure to integrate take place and who is responsible for it? Are the migrant youths to blame or did Europe fail in providing the necessary cultural, social, political and economic environments to achieve this integration?

The emergence of lone wolves in Europe is enough indication that there is a flaw in the integration mechanism. There is no doubt that the host country should be blamed. The first step to addressing this flaw lies in bridging the mental divide that separates the lone wolves from their host societies. In return, respect and appreciation should be shown for Islamic and Muslim beliefs. This respect should be reciprocated by the new migrants and refugees.

Furthermore, European countries should exert greater positive efforts to support integration through free courses that are linked to obtaining residency permits and local nationalities. This means that the migrants should be helped to learn the local language. Authorities should also prepare camps where the new arrivals could mingle with the locals. The locals in turn should be encouraged to interact on a human level with the migrants and stand with them against extremists, who are seeking division between the two sides.

It goes without saying that this type of individual terrorism has nothing to do with the right form of Islam. The severity of the situation however demands a united stand and approach. There are several major Muslim authorities that can all take such a stand and unite against forces that are deliberately trying to distort the correct image of the religion.

These authorities should project the image of the tolerant Islam that believes in coexistence and the respect of human rights regardless of their faith, race or gender.

In this regard, European governments should open the door wide for these enlightenment efforts through providing all possible means for Islamic centers to achieve this purpose and allow the voice of moderation to be heard throughout the continent. This will help achieve coexistence and rapprochement against those seeking division.

One of the most important mechanisms to confront the lone wolves phenomenon is deepening dialogue. There should be a dialogue between different generations, between locals and naturalized citizens, and between different religions. This is undoubtedly one of the most important forms of dialogue that will help eliminate the misconceptions clouding people’s hearts and minds.

Arab Muslim and Christian authorities have a role in this regard. As roots of the Arab world, they have played a part in forming this civilization. Their voice is therefore invaluable on the European scene where they will likely be welcomed by moderate Christians, who honestly seek the integration of the migrants in their new societies.

In order to close the door against the preachers of hate, we recommend that these dialogues be based on the common characteristics shared between the followers of the monotheistic religions. Going into the theological details of the religions will not help anyone because the whole purpose of the dialogue is to find common factors, not differences.

Have we forgotten or overlooked something in our search for the best means to confront lone wolves?

The lone wolf himself remains at the heart of the problem. It is a stretch to say that this phenomenon can be eliminated permanently because no one can really know what lurks in the human psyche and what their real intentions towards others are. This is a complicated case for the sociologists and psychologists.

There are however several mechanisms that can isolate the lone wolf, meaning his chances of getting together with terrorist elements can be narrowed down. The less likely the chances of the would-be lone wolf meeting these elements, the weaker his threat becomes.

How can such an isolation take place in the world of social media, the internet and modern technology?

This places a major responsibility on the shoulders of those in charge of those sites. The first step lies in shutting down websites and social media accounts that are suspected to be terrorist, especially those that seek to recruit members and others that promote murder.

Another factor to look into when addressing lone wolves is the time they spent in prison. Jails have become a hatching plant for would-be attackers due to their negative interaction with radicals, who preach their hate speech. Prisons have become beacons for terrorist thought. Very dangerous inmates should be isolated and prevented from contacting others in order to halt the spread of their terrorist propaganda.

Joy and Concern as Pupils Return to School in Mosul

Mosul- After three years of forced truancy due to ISIS’ seizure of the Iraqi city of Mosul, teenager Ali Salem waited nervously outside school to sit an English exam.

Before heading out bright and early from a camp for the displaced in Hajj Ali, 60 kilometers away, he had had a last look over lessons that were interrupted in 2014.

“On the evening of June 10, 2014, we heard that ISIS had taken over the city. I had a maths exam the next day but school stopped,” Salem told Agence France Presse in front of the gate of the school in west Mosul’s Mansour district.

“I’m 18 now and I’ve lost three years because of ISIS. I’m so glad we’re back at school to be able to pass exams because all this will determine the course of my life,” he said, with disheveled hair and a schoolbag strapped across his shoulder.

Because of the disruption for the 300,000 pupils in Niniveh province of which Mosul is the capital, the education ministry has decided to set IQ tests for primary schools and general knowledge exams in secondary.

A block of houses away, also in the Mansour district, next to a building toppled by an air strike, another pupil was waiting anxiously to take the same English exam.

“I’ve forgotten everything, and I’ve only managed to get a photocopy of one chapter whereas they can question me on the whole book,” fretted Mahmud Abdel Nafaa, also 18, as workmen laboured to fix drains and pavements smashed by shelling.

“I’m really happy to be back at school but also worried because if I fail the exams I will be transferred to evening classes,” said the young man in a red T-shirt and with black slicked-back hair.

Abdel Nafaa said evening classes were held only twice a week, and they have become mandatory for pupils deemed too old to follow the syllabus.

The new academic year started in early October in the eastern part of the city, from where Iraqi security forces expelled ISIS militants in January.

But classes and exams will not resume in earnest until the start of November in west Mosul, where the battle dragged on until July.

Mosul’s education system, with its pre-war tally of 600 schools, has paid a high price for the months-long fight.

Only 210 schools are left standing on the east bank of the Tigris river that runs through the city, and 100 on its west bank.

In his office building with its completely burnt-out ground floor, the director general of the education ministry for Niniveh province faces a mammoth task.

“We’re the second line after the armed forces. They liberate, and we have to rehabilitate right after,” Wahid Abdel Qader said.

“Already back in January, when the east had barely been liberated, we noted that families were eager for school to restart,” he said.

But with bombardments rocking the west, schools in the east waited until May and June to gradually restore classes.

Mohammed Ismail, headmaster of the Zubayda school in east Mosul, said he languished at home for three years.

“In our district, only one school stayed open,” under ISIS supervision, he said. 

“Some of my colleagues worked with them,” he said, adding most of the pupils under ISIS were French, Russian and Chechen children of foreign militants.

In the playground of the Zeitoun school overlooking the east bank of the Tigris, six-year-old Yussef Razwan showed off his first reading book. 

“Playing at home is boring. I prefer being here,” the little boy in white uniform beamed.

Iran, Iraq and Turkey Seek Triple Military Alliance

Baqeri

London – Iran, Iraq and Turkey have agreed to create a triple military alliance as the first step towards growing cooperation in mutual defense and regional security.

The creation of the “military triangle” was highlighted yesterday in a report published by Fars News Agency, the principal news outlet for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

According to the report the idea of alliance was raised in the recent trip to Ankara by Iran’s Chief of Staff of Armed Forces General Muhammad Hussein Baqeri at the head of a 40-man delegation, during high-level meetings with Turkish leaders including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Baqeri’s visit was the first of its kind by the highest Islamic Republic military commander to a member-state of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Its historic importance was subsequently highlighted by the visit to Tehran of the Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar followed by President Erdogan himself. Within a few days of Baqeri’s visit to Ankara, his Iraqi counterpart Gen. Othman al-Ghanimi came to Tehran to discuss Baghdad’s role in the emerging alliance project.

According to sources, Iranian, Iraqi and Turkish senior commanders held a series of meetings to set out the rules for join staff conversation, exchange of military intelligence and targeted joint operations.

Since then, the three neighbors have held coordinated military exercises along their respective borders.
Initially, the composition of Baqeri’s team in his Ankara visit was kept confidential.

Now, however, Fars has revealed the names of some of those who accompanied the Chief of Staff in his historic visit. They included General Muhammad Pakpur, Commander of the Ground Forces of the IRGC, Gen. Qassem Rezai, Commander of the Border Forces and the deputy head of the regular army’s planning division. Gen. Rahim-Zadeh.

Also present in Baqeri’s team was Gen. Mehrabi, who heads the Khatam al-Anbia base, a conglomerate that runs the IRGC’s economic and business enterprises, indicating that the “triple alliance” may also include the sale of certain categories of weapons by Iran to Turkey and Iraq, as well as joint construction projects in border areas.

The presence in Gen. Baqeri’s team of Gen. Hassan Baqeri, in charge of the army’s training programs, indicated the intention to extend military cooperation into educational and academic domains.

The fact that Baqeri also met the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildrim, Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli and Security Chief Hakan Fidan underlined the broader political dimensions of his high profile role in reshaping Iran’s defense and foreign policies.

The “triple alliance” also envisages cooperation in training of the security forces of the three neighbors.

In talks with his Turkish and Iraqi counterparts, Gen. Baqeri proposed the development of plans for academic level “joint action” in the field of defense and security. That could allow for an exchange of students seeking military careers at higher academic levels.

Such an exchange would enable Iranian trainee officers to get familiar with the military culture of NATO, something that was available to Iran before the Islamic Revolution in 1979. At the same time, the program would enable the military in Iraq and Turkey to obtain direct understanding of Iran’s military doctrine, mindset, methods and practices.

It is not clear how many trainee officers would be exchanged among the three members of the proposed alliance.

However, according to Gen. Baqeri the putative allies would also organize joint courses for trainee officers from all three countries. That would allow the gradual emergence of a new generation of officers who have studied together and thus know each other’s way of thinking more closely, fostering an esprit de corps that could strengthen neighborly ties.

According to Fars, it was the Kurdish secessionist referendum in Iraq that speeded up a process that had been “in gestation at thought level for some time”.

In an unusually frank statement, Gen. Baqeri has asserted that Iran, Iraq and Turkey will not allow Iraqi Kurds to secede.

Iran and Turkey have a long history of alliance treaties.

The first came in 1639 when the two neighbors divided Mesopotamia on the basis of the Qasr-e-Shirin Treaty, ending centuries of conflict and war over who controls what is now Iraq. That ended centuries of wars between the Ottoman Empire and Iran in which, at times, Iranians allied themselves with European powers against the Turks.

After the collapse of the Caliphate in Constantinople, Iran and Turkey went through a period of “national redefinition” and in 1933 concluded the Saadabad Pact which even envisaged the creation of joint military units.

That was interrupted in 1941 when the Allies, Great Britain and Russia, invaded and occupied Iran for almost five years.

In 1955 Iran and Turkey created a new alliance with Iraq. Known as the Baghdad Pact it also included the United Kingdom.

The Baghdad Pact collapsed in 1959 when the new Iraqi pro-Soviet regime of Col. Abdul-Karim Qassem denounced it. That forced Iran and Turkey to create a new alliance known as the Central Treat Organization (CENTO) with Pakistan added as a new member and the UK retaining the place it had in the Baghdad Pact. The United Sates was included as an associate member, emphasizing CENTO’s close ties to NATO.

Right now Iran, Iraq and Turkey have a number of major concerns.

The Kurdish secessionist bid is highlighted as a major threat. In reality, however, such a threat could be no more than marginal in military-security terms. More urgent is the need to fully cleanse the region from the remnants of ISIS and find a way out of the quagmire that is Syria.

Iran and Turkey have been on opposite sides in Syria for seven years.

Now, however, Tehran is beginning to realize that it is losing its dominant role in Syria as Russia assumes the role of big power there. An alliance with Turkey and Iraq could help Iran regain part of its lost influence in Syria without risking a direct clash with Russia.

The forging of the triple alliance also boosts the prestige and authority of Gen. Baqeri as a top-level player in Iran’s macro-politics, eclipsing that of President Hassan Rouhani and his Cabinet who have been excluded from the entire process.

The 56-year old two-star general, whose full surname is Afshordi-Baqeri, took over as Chief of Staff last June and has hit the road running. Holder of a PhD, Baqeri is regarded in Iranian military circles as an intellectual soldier as opposed to his long-serving predecessor Gen. Hassan Firuzababadi, who was more of a bureaucratic figure.

Gen. Baqeri has also established direct contact with his Pakistani counterpart Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, who is visiting Tehran next week. According to sources Gen. Baqeri wants Pakistan to join the emerging “triple alliance” or, at least, to revive aspects of military cooperation it had with Iran and Turkey before the mullahs seized power in Tehran in 1979.

In a gesture of goodwill toward Baqeri, Gen. Bajwa ordered the deployment additional Pakistani military units on the border with Iran to prevent infiltration of “terrorists” and smugglers into Iranian territory.

Gen. Baqeri is also sending an indirect message to the United Sates at a time that President Donald Trump is reportedly pondering whether or not he should declare the IRGC a “terrorist organization.”

Gen. Baqeri’s message is clear: The IRGC and the Iranian armed forces are really important players in the nation’s politics. Antagonizing them would be bad policy on the part of the US, especially at a time that the new commanders, under Baqeri, are trying to establish links with NATO via Turkey.

“Iran has already entered a post-Khamenei transition period,” says Nasser Zamani, an analyst in Tehran.

“What is certain is that the mullahs cannot handle that transition and that gives the military an opening to offer an alternative narrative of the revolution, paving the way for normalization with the outside world.”

Gen. Baqeri’s efforts to make the “triple alliance” possible is an indication, albeit indirect, that his priority is national security and regional military cooperation rather than “exporting revolution”, a project that has already failed.

Analysis: Nobel Says to Korea Nuke Players: We are Watching

Nobel

They couldn’t award it to Kim Jong Un or Donald Trump. That much was certain.

But the granting of the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons opened itself to a clear interpretation across Asia: When it comes to the nuclear-saturated war of words on the Korean Peninsula, attention must be paid and treaties must be signed. And it must be done in a preventative way, at top speed, before something happens that can’t be undone, said an Associated Press report.

Looming in the background of the award announcement Friday was the sometimes scalding, sometimes tepid, never silent geopolitical scuffle this year between the young leader of the third-generation Pyongyang regime and the always voluble president of the United States.

Even the Nobel committee’s language keyed in on that. It sounded like a plaintive cry to push parties to the negotiating table — to fix something that’s already cracked before it’s completely, irreversibly shattered.

The head of the group listed an assortment of the world’s nuclear nations when she spoke after the win. But it was easy to find significance in the two she mentioned before all others — North Korea and the United States.

And this was the immediate assessment from a Nobel historian: “The panel wants to send a signal to North Korea and the US that they need to go into negotiations.” The prize, Oeivind Stenersen suggested, was also “coded support” of the Iran nuclear deal.

This year’s Geneva-based winner, known as ICAN, was cited “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.”

From the vantage point of the Korean Peninsula and its surrounding countries, where people shudder weekly at volleys of intemperate words and missile or bomb tests, such a treaty seems a distant dream. And few of the key players seem anywhere near a Nobel Peace Prize, said the AP.

North Korea just conducted its sixth and by far largest nuclear test, moving closer to its goal of mounting a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile. It has repeatedly threatened to obliterate the United States from the map.

Such bellicose language from the North is common. It has spent years issuing over-the-top dispatches through its propaganda apparatus promising to destroy the United States.

In recent months, however, Pyongyang’s invective has been matched almost blow by blow for the first time by equally aggressive language from Washington under the Trump administration, or at least Trump himself. The US president has shown no hesitation in cutting through the niceties of diplomatic lingo to excoriate the North and threaten to wipe it out of existence.

He has dubbed Kim “Little Rocket Man” and said his regime may not be long for this world. The US, of course, has one of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals, even after significant reductions since the Cold War. It remains the only nation on the planet to use nuclear weapons during a war.

In the past four weeks alone, Trump has used words like these, in a recent tweet: “Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at UN If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!”

And Kim, who bestowed upon Trump the rarely used insult “dotard” and pronounced him senile, has used words like these:

“Now that Trump has denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world and made the most ferocious declaration of a war in history that he would destroy (North Korea), we will consider with seriousness exercising of a corresponding, highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history.”

Public posturing, sure. But not exactly language that points the way toward common ground, either.
The tension in word and deed between Washington and Pyongyang has faded slightly in recent days as the in-the-moment news cycle marches forward, but history shows that to be temporary. Another early-morning missile test, another intemperate remark or worse will put it right back on center stage.

The awarding of the $1.1 million prize to ICAN helps that happen, too, though even the group’s executive director, Beatrice Fihn, said she “worried it was a prank at first” when she got the call from the Nobel committee.

Against this backdrop — and in Northeast Asia, a region that remains the only place where nuclear weapons were used against a civilian population during a war — the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize in this manner implies one key point.

The influential body, which often uses the prize to set the agenda of where the light gets shone, is saying to Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump, among others: We’ve got our eye on you, and the world needs to look harder, too.

Reform in Iran: Wetsminster Style or Imamate?

Iran

London- It was almost five years ago when Iran’s “Supreme Guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei launched the idea of constitutional reform to transform the Islamic Republic’s presidential system into a parliamentary one. The idea was to end election of the President of the Republic through universal suffrage and give the Islamic Majlis (parliament) the right to select a Prime Minister to head the executive branch of government.

Khamenei launched the idea in the wake of a public quarrel with then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who had wanted to replace the Minister of Security and Information but had been ordered not to do so by the “Supreme Guide”.

Ahmadinejad’s argument was that since the president is directly elected by the people, he should also have the right to choose his Cabinet colleagues. Khamenei’s counter argument was that under the Islamic Constitution, then “Supreme Guide” had the final say on all matters and could even suspend the application of basic rules of Islam.

Ahmadinejad reacted by 11 days of sulking during which he went on strike from his duties as President. In the end, however, he had to eat humble pie, and submit to Khamenei’s order.

Sources said the open quarrel led to Khamenei ordering small group of constitutional experts to prepare a report on adopting a parliamentary system. According to the sources, the report, which has not been made public, appears to have recommended three options to the” Supreme Guide”.

The first option is to keep the title of President but have the person who will occupy the post be nominated by the “Supreme Guide” and approved by the Islamic Majlis. Keeping the word “President” is deemed important to maintain the claim that Iran will remain a republic.

The second option, for a while favored by late President Hashemi Rafsanjani, would be a merger of the position of the President with that of the “Supreme Guide” with the person occupying the post selected by a Congress consisting of both the Islamic Majlis and the Assembly of Experts. Such a system would end the apparent contradiction between an elected political executive and a non-elected religious authority.

The third option is to have the head of the executive branch directly appointed and, when needed, replaced, by the “Supreme Guide” who could assume the title of Imam. In such a system, the heads of executive would be an administrator, not a policymaker, carrying out policies determined by the “Imam.”

“The Islamic Republic created by the late Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini was full of contradictions from the start,” says historian Parviz Nuri. “It wanted to appear democratic so as to seduce the Westernized middle classes. But it also wanted to establish absolute rule by the Shi’ite clergy.”

Initially, the Khomeinist system included both a President, directly elected by the people, and a prime minister named by that President and approved by the Islamic Majlis. But that was a source of tension right from the start as Abol-Hassan Banisadr, the Islamic Republic’s first president who remained in office for just over a year, was in constant dispute with Prime Minister Muhammad-Ali Rajai.

Banisadr was dismissed by Khomeini, then acting as “Supreme Guide”. But the quarrel between President and Prime Minister continue. For eight years Ali Khamenei, the present “Supreme Guide”, who acted as president was in constant dispute with Prime Minster Mir-Hussein Mussawi-Khameneh. In the end Khamenei formed an alliance with then Majlis Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani and pushed through a constitutional amendment that abolished the post of prime minister altogether.

Thus, the trend has been towards a gradual concentration of executive power in the hands of the “Supreme Guide”.
But why has the debate been re-launched now, just weeks after President Hassan Rouhani’s re-election for a second and final four years term?

One reason may be the growing concern over the consequences of Khamenei’s departure from the scene and the difficulty of choosing a successor who could pretend to the status he has gained over the past 30 years. A weak “Supreme Guide”, named by a club of second rate mullahs known as the Assembly of Experts, would wield little authority against a President elected by popular vote.

Such a president would wield immense powers that, given certain conditions, could be used to reduce the role of Shi’ite clerics in the nation’s politics. An even bigger risk is that the Iranian electorate, increasingly secular in mood and persuasion, may go for candidates who offer a policy of de-emphasizing, if not actually abandoning, the religious character of the system.

Having the head of executive named by the parliament could also lead to instability as majorities form and disintegrate within the Majlis.

“Islamic Majlis” member Abdul-Reza Hashem Zai says what matters is who controls the majority in the parliament at any given time. “It is also crucial to see which tendencies are behind the idea of a parliamentary system,” he says.

Another Majlis member Ezzat-Allah Yussefian insists that whatever change is to be introduced must reflect “the wishes of the Supreme Guide”.

Writing in the newspaper Etemad, a pro-Rouhani, daily, columnist Ali-Akbar Gorji, rejects the idea of a parliamentary system on the grounds that Iran does not have regular political parties that could ensure parliamentary discipline through stable majorities or coalitions. “Right now we should focus our attention on allowing the formation of political parties,” he insists.

Sadeq Ziba-Kalam, a prominent intellectual and supporter of Rouhani, goes further by asserting that introducing a parliamentary system in Iran at this time could be “a setback for democracy”. The reason is that hardline factions control the institutions, including the “Islamic Majlis,” leaving the direct election of a president as the only opportunity for ordinary citizens to express their wishes.

Ziba-Kalam speculates that in a parliamentary system Rouhani would not be chosen as President by the current “Islamic Majlis;” the post will go to Hojat al-Islam Radii’s, his more radical rival in the least presidential election.

However, the option of imamate may be more suitable for the Islamic Republic. In Jaafari theology, people should recognize no authority as legitimate unless it comes from the “Imam” who is “Massoum” (infallible). This was why late Ayatollah Khomeini adopted the title of “Imam” to put his authority above worldly, political and secular, consideration. In recent times a campaign has been launched to give Khamenei the same title of “Imam”. This was highly publicized when the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, wrote Khamenei a letter calling him “Grand Ayatollah and Imam” at the same time.

In Jaafari theology, the concept of ”infallibility” (‘ismah) is reserved for Ali, Faitmah and their 11 male descendants. However, a new campaign now aims at extending the concept to also cover Khamenei.

In a speech in Qom earlier this month Ayatollah Ali Ansarian said the concept of “Islam” also applied to all the 124,000 prophets plus many other “muqarrabin” (those close to God) and should apply to Khamenei as well.

“Introducing a full Imamate in Iran would fully reflect the true nature of the system founded by Ayatollah Khomeini,” says religious historian Nuri. “It would also resolve the inner contradictions of a system torn between imitating modern Western political practice and nostalgia for an imagery Islamic system under the Imams.”

A system of imamate existed in Yemen under Zaidi Imams for centuries. In Batinah, inner Oman, the Ibadhis also had an imamate with the last Imam, Ghalib bin-Ali al-Hanai, who died in 2009.

Khamenei seems anxious to introduce as yet unclear constitutional reforms as part of his legacy. For him, and for Iran, the clock is ticking.

New Theme Park in Mexico to Compete with Disneyland

Mexico

London – Lovers of the ancient Mayan culture can now learn and spend a good time in a new under-construction theme park on the Caribbean coast of Mexico inspired by the civilization.

The massive project, dubbed Amikoo, or “friend” in the Mayan language, is located about 55 km south of Cancun. It will house a museum, hotel, beach resort and recreation park, according to AUSA and Gala groups for properties development.

The two companies have invested $840 million in the new amusement park in the Riviera Maya district. The park is expected to compete with the famous Disneyland.

According to the German News Agency (dpa), the first phase of the project includes a museum, a 320-room hotel, flight simulators, a diving center, a leisure center, restaurants, a surfing pool and a ballroom.

The two investing companies said that the second phase will see the establishment of a 1,200-room beach resort and a theme park by 2020.

Iran Offers Nuclear Deal Compromise with US via Oman

Zarif

London – Iran has asked Oman to transmit to Washington a set of new proposals designed to prevent a showdown with the Trump administration over the controversial nuclear deal reached with six major powers, sources in Tehran confirmed yesterday.

Known as the Comprehensive Plan for Joint Action (CJPOA), the deal envisages the temporary lifting of some sanctions against Iran in exchange a freezing of aspects of the Iranian nuclear program.

The Iranian demand was put to the Omanis by Islamic Republic Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, during a “working visit” to Oman for talks with his Omani counterpart Youssef bin Alawi bin Abdullah.

President Donald Trump claims that Iran has violated the spirit of the deal and is reportedly planning to refer the whole issue back to the US Congress, effectively ending the periodic suspension of sanctions against Iran. Trump has three objections to the deal, all of which are expected to be addressed in the compromise formula Zarif has taken to Muscat.

The first of these is that the CJPOA includes “sunset clauses” that envisage the ending of all sanctions on Iran in periods of between 10 to 30 years. In the new Iranian formula, a mechanism will be agreed to end the “sunset” concept and link the full lifting of sanctions to certified performance by Iran.

Trump’s second objections is that Tehran has refused to ratify the Additional Protocols to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), thus keeping all options open for a full resumption of the military aspects of its nuclear project. What Zarif is offering now is to fast-track the arousal of the additional protocols through the Islamic Majlis, the Iranian parliament, before March 2018 when Iran and the 5+1 foreign ministers are due to hold a “revision conference” to assess mutual performance.

The third American objection is that Iran has tried to exclude its missile development project from the deal, thus ignoring resolutions passed by the United Nations’ Security Council. The compromise formula now suggested by Iran would provide for arbitration on the issue, allowing Iran to continue its project but offering guarantees that missiles thus developed would not be designed to carry nuclear warheads.

Before flying to Muscat, Zarif said that if the US wants “stringent inspection” of Iranian nuclear sites to continue, it must continue to abide by the terms of the CJPOA. The Islamic foreign minister also said the US “could be sure Iran would ratify the Additional Protocols.”

As an additional “sweetener,” Zarif renewed Iran’s offer of cooperation in the fight against ISIS and suggested that Iran’s regional policies be separated from the nuclear issue.

In a separate interview, Zarif said that despite Iran’s flexibility, chances of the US remaining committed to the CJPOA was “50-50”, adding that Tehran already had contingency plans to deal with any outcome.

Trump must notify the US Congress by October 15, leaving a narrow window of opportunity for any mediation by the Omanis.

Zarif, who will also visit Qatar after Oman, is using his mini-tour to put other “possibilities”, related to relations with neighboring countries, on the table.

Iran and Oman have already signed a security accord and demarcated their continental shelf in the Gulf of Oman. Oman has also offered “mooring rights” to the Iranian Navy, enabling it to expand its active presence right down to the Gulf of Hauf and the Gulf of Aden. Tehran now wants the accord “deepened” to include joint operations against terrorist threats, piracy and human-trafficking in the region. The establishment of a daily direct shipping line between the Iranian port of Chahbahar and the Omani capital Muscat is expected to facilitate security and trade cooperation.

According to sources in Tehran, in Qatar Zarif is expected to propose the creation of “joint organs” in a number of domains including environmental protection, and combating drug trafficking and smuggling in general. Iran and Qatar already have a security cooperation accord that could be expanded to cover other areas of mutual interest and, later, also joined by Oman. One area of concern is the rapid depletion of fishing resources in the Gulf where many foreign nations, notably China, are “plundering” fish resources with no regard for regeneration of stocks. Iranian fishermen have been engaged in a series of protests and strikes, calling on Tehran to curb unrestricted Chinese fishing activities. Tehran claims that effective action would not be possible without the cooperation of other littoral states; Oman and Qatar are expected to be the first to agree to joint action with Iran.

Both Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani have gone out of their way in recent weeks to describe an easing of tension with Gulf neighbors as a “top priority”. As always with the Islamic Republic, however, it is not clear whether their stance is endorsed by the “Supreme Guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on all issues or, whether as often in the past, they are asked just to buy time.

One calculation in Tehran may be based on the assumption that if they manage to keep the US committed to the CJPOA until next March, the Trump administration would then find itself too involved in the mid-term US elections to open a new front in foreign policy. Tehran also hopes that the Democrats, still committed to President Barack Obama’s legacy, would regain control of the US Senate, making it harder for Trump to pick up a fight with Tehran.

‘Lone Wolf’ Phenomenon Started in West, Adopted by Qaeda, ISIS

terrorism

Cairo – One of the most dangerous predicaments facing those confronting terrorism in the world, especially in Europe and the United States, is how to face the so-called “lone wolf” phenomenon. The phenomenon is in fact part of the greater map of what is known as “sleeper cells” that extremist groups use to carry out their operations in areas that are far from the main base of the terror organizations.

This raises several questions, most importantly: “Do the terrorist groups that have filled the world with terror recognize the lone wolves? If yes, how and why?”

As he sought answers to these questions, the researcher came across a document released by the terrorist ISIS organization in which it hailed the lone wolves. It described them as “heroes” for striking down the “infidels and those who supported them in combating Muslims.” The document resorted to the Quran to justify the acts of the terrorists, which they interpret as an “act of great worship that will bring them closer to God.” It blamed the West’s oppression of Muslims for the emergence of lone wolves.

Lone wolves: A western concept

Research has revealed that the “lone wolf” phenomenon originated in the West, not the Arab or Muslim world. Researcher Dr. Mahmoud al-Bazzi wrote about this in his work, “Lone Wolves … ISIS’ Last Resort.”

In it, he said that the term “lone wolf” became common in 1990 when two racist Americans Alex Curtis and Tom Metzger called on individual and small cells to spread terrorism through operating underground and in secrect, instead of working in the open and for large organizations.

Since 1990, racist attacks carried out by such groups emerged in the US. The cells were not part of any organization and they called for attacks against non-whites through all possible means. If arrested, the assailants were told to inform authorities that they “had nothing to say.”

Bazzi listed a number of attacks carried out in Europe and the US that bear the clear hallmarks of “lone wolf” Anglosaxon protestants, not Muslims.

A sample of this is the February 1992 attack by Constable James Allen Moore, who shot dead three Catholics at the Belfast office Sinn Fein, a republican party that calls for uniting Ireland.

In the same vein, terrorist Jewish physician Baruch Goldstein shot and killed 29 people and wounded 150 others in a machinegun attack at the Ibrahimi compound in al-Khalil in the Palestinian territories on February 25, 1994.

Perhaps the worst lone wolf attack in history was the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City in the US. The assailant, Timothy McVeigh, drove an explosives-laden truck into the building in an attack directed against the government. A total of 168 people were killed and 680 wounded in the bombing.

In 2011, Anders Breivik went on a rampage at a youth camp on Utoya island in Norway, killing 60 youths. He identified himself as a “secular Christian, who was seized by religious and racial intolerance and delusions of crusader wars.”

Qaeda before ISIS

A lot has been said over the past two decades about the United States’ ties with political Islamic movements and later al-Qaeda. The ISIS group later emerged from the Qaeda fold.

The question that should then be asked is: Had al-Qaeda adopted the lone wolf strategy before ISIS did?

Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported that al-Qaeda was the first to follow this strategy and it was later adopted by ISIS, which had spread the guidelines on lone wolf attacks on its followers.

The guidelines urged the followers to stay away from their places of residence after carrying out their attack. They are advised to avoid using their telephone and be wary of leaving behind any incriminating fingerprints. They should cover their face when they execute the attack and place a withdrawal plan before even thinking of putting a plot into action.

They were urged to cause as many casualties as possible. In addition, ISIS called on would-be lone wolf attackers to blend in society by shaving their beards, dressing up in western clothes and putting on perfume, even ones that contain alcohol. The attacker should blend in the local society to avoid appearing as a Muslim. They should also refrain from regularly heading to mosque for prayers.

Given the detailed guidelines, one has to ask: Are those behind it amateurs or do they have experience in international intelligence and can disguise themselves in their surroundings?

Road to recruitment: How and who?

Regardless of the minds behind the lone wolves, the vital question that should be asked is: How are they able to recruit new members despite the distance between the terrorists and what are the characteristics of the candidates?

The long distance between the plotters is no longer a major issue or obstacle as modern technology has made it easy to overcome geographic restrictions. The terrorists have access to satellite telephones that allow them to evade government and intelligence surveillance.

It is likely however that would-be lone wolf attackers are lured over the internet. Some studies revealed that ISIS has over 90,000 Facebook and Twitter Arabic accounts, as well as 40,000 accounts in other languages.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, “lone wolves” or “lone cells” are much harder to monitor. They pose an intelligence challenge more than terror networks operating on the ground. They can garner information on the latter through surveillance, but lone extremists emerge from spontaneous ideas that are difficult to control with traditional weapons.

The characteristics of the lone wolf has been the center of debates. The best candidate for ISIS are individuals who have mental and social problems and a criminal record. Figures that do not fall under this umbrella have, disconcertingly, started to appear.

They all however share the main purpose of attacking the “enemy and fragmenting it through individual acts that do not need great organization.” Organized armies face difficulties in confronting individual extremist elements because they are unpredictable.

Some observers believe that even though the lone wolves act alone, they ultimately cannot be separated from ISIS.

Professor Jytte Klausen, a scholar of politics who teaches at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, said in an article in the US “Foreign Affairs” magazine that after years of worrying about the terrorist lone wolf, it appears that the dangerous terrorists indeed cannot be separated. Understanding why suicide-bombers are ready to attack and kill at random in a small neighborhood can be understood through looking at the terrorist threat as a social virus that spreads through a complicated infection process.

“Dangerous terrorists cannot be separated.”

Is this really true?

It is certain that lone wolves receive direct instructions and this was revealed by a 2015 ISIS pamphlet called, “The Lone Wolf Strategy.” In it, the author, “Abou Anas al-Andalusi,” hails ISIS member Mohammed Merah, who committed the 2012 Toulouse attack. He said that Merah was not really a lone wolf, but a member of an extremist group called “Jund al-Khalifa.”

Given this reality, we should now ask how can we deal with the lone wolf phenomenon and avoid it in the future?

The Year After ISIS

Three members of a Sunni tribal militia stand near a road on the outskirts of Muneira, Iraq. After ISIS fighters were driven out last fall, militiamen set fire to houses belonging to residents accused of sympathizing with the militants.

Muneira- Soldiers descended on a gathering of villagers at a roadside kiosk and quickly drew their guns. An accusation led to words, words led to scuffles and finally, an act of humiliation that was expected and intolerable at once. The soldiers viciously dragged two young men from the village to a waiting car, slapping their heads as their fathers watched.

“They represent the government,” said Khalid Saleh, an aid worker, who stood among a seething crowd watching the soldiers a few weeks ago. “The problem is, they consider us all ISIS.”

The scene in Muneira, on the Tigris River in northern Iraq, offered a glimpse into the struggles of one Sunni Arab village in the year since the government drove the militants away: a place beset by suspicions, troubled by violence while coping, like much of the country, with death and loss.

A critical test for Iraq’s Shiite-led government is whether it can win the trust of the country’s Sunni minority in villages like this one, perched unsteadily on political and social fault lines. The nation, in turn, was demanding answers from Muneira about why some of its sons had supported a jihadist group dedicated to the bloody overthrow of the state.

In the 11 months since the village was liberated, its residents had become more isolated, impoverished and disparaged — by soldiers barely out of their teens, no less — than before the militants had arrived. Muneira was impatiently awaiting Iraq’s embrace.

The defeat of ISIS in its Iraqi strongholds, including the nearby city of Mosul, has presented this splintered country what many hope could be a moment of unity. At the very least, there has been a sense of shared sacrifice after thousands of soldiers and police officers were killed in the government offensive that freed millions of Iraqis, regardless of sect, who were trapped by the militants’ rule.

In April, a poll by the Almustakilla for Research group found that a majority of Sunnis were hopeful about the country’s direction — a startling finding given their longtime complaints about marginalization by the government.

But during multiple visits over the past year to Muneira, where 440 families live on a series of dull desert hills, expressions of optimism were tentative or fleeting, the hope seeming to evaporate by the day.

The legacy of a long conflict was etched into the village’s geography. Houses were destroyed — by ISIS or the Iraqi forces sent to vanquish them. Others were torched by a vengeful mob.

Bodies still wash up on the riverbanks some days, the human runoff of a hidden, dirty war between the security forces and its enemies still raging in Mosul and its surroundings.

Shepherds have found bullet-ridden corpses in their fields.

After the fight in the village, as he watched the soldiers drive off with his 21-year-old son Namir, Saadi Khalaf recalled a sense of possibility, long ago, before ISIS arrived. Men found jobs as police officers and soldiers or in other coveted government posts. “Young men got married. They bought cars. They built houses,” he said, ticking off the hallmarks of accomplishment here.

Now, the state was absent but for the soldiers standing sentry on the edges of the village.

Only a handful of police officers have returned to their posts, residents said. Jobless men have taken up cigarette smuggling or send their children off to sell bottles of water to the passing drivers.

Trucks roared through the village on a skinny dirt road that the military had recently transformed into one of the region’s main traffic arteries — yet another slight leveled against this place that left it choking under a cloud of soot and dust.

His son was released by the military a few hours after he was detained, but his father’s anger lingered.

“We see no bright future in Iraq,” Saadi Khalaf said.

Almost as soon as militants fled Muneira last fall, the place was shaken by revenge. Five houses belonging to members of an extended family accused of supporting ISIS were looted and torched.

In November, a group of men from the family walked through the rooms of one of the homes, which was emptied of most everything except a child’s bicycle, a melted washing machine and a singed coat rack. The men said they were falsely accused and blamed the arson on a Sunni tribal militia that was tasked at the time with the village’s security.

As the residents told their story late last year, three of the militia’s members watched from up the road. Rather than deny responsibility for the fire, they insisted that the destruction of homes had not been punishment enough.

“They are still breathing air,” said Shaker Atallah Helal, a former police officer and militiaman who wore dark sunglasses over a jagged scar on his face.

Their crime had been to join demonstrations against government abuses three years ago that were held in Sunni areas across Iraq. ISIS militants infiltrated the protests, exploiting the anger as they began their terrible march across the country.

Many in Muneira had sympathized with the aims of the protests, even if they did not participate. That nuance was lost in the frenzied climate of revenge that followed the ISIS defeat. “They are the ones who brought Daesh,” Helal said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Areas around Mosul were full of similar stories of house burnings and more violent retaliation in the early days of the government offensive. The source of the anger was no mystery. The countryside was dotted with mass graves containing the bodies of policemen and other security personnel who were executed by the militants, often with their hands bound behind their backs.

The graves lent the area an unshakable misery and powered the quest for revenge.

“We will not let them forget,” said Helal, who belonged to one of the unruly, ad hoc local militias that were given responsibility for securing areas recently liberated from the Islamic State. Helal’s militia — the Knights of Jabbour — was named for one of the region’s biggest tribes.

Within months, the men accused of attending the protests had disappeared from Muneira. “No one knows anything about them,” Yasser Ibrahim, a school principal, said at his house a few weeks ago.

The men’s families had stayed behind the village, he said. So had the militiamen who burned down their homes.

Conversations about Iraq these days often focus on the worry that disaffected Sunni Arabs will someday be tempted, out of frustration, to welcome the militants back. But that did not seem to be a danger in Muneira, where residents spoke about the Islamic State era with a mixture of horror and regret.

Some had been police officers in Mosul, stationed there on the fateful morning in June 2014 when ISIS easily captured the city, after the men trusted to guard it retreated en masse. “We all fled. I had to swim across the river,” said Ibrahim Jassim Mohammed, a police officer. “It was a black day for us.”

The militants kidnapped at least 24 people from the village, including the father of Ibrahim, the principal, who has not been heard from in three years, he said.

Rather than maintain a constant presence, the militants would drive through Muneira a few times a week. Ibrahim said that parents kept their children from attending classes to insulate them from the jihadists’ teachings. He would sit in the schoolhouse, every day, waiting for the gunmen to arrive, then lie about why the place was empty, he said.

But the efforts of its residents to resist the militants had won Muneira no favors.

The village was lucky if it received a few hours of electricity a day. Officials had not distributed food vouchers, residents said. Water was scarce, too. The trucks that rumble along the dirt road had exposed and ruptured the water pipes underneath.

Reflexively, the villagers believed that Iraq’s endemic government corruption had prevented the paving of the road.

And now no one knew whose responsibility it was to fix things.

With nothing to do, the men of the village could be found most days near a kiosk along the busy road, watching the traffic pass. Barefoot children, selling snacks to the truckers, had replaced their fathers as family breadwinners.

“We are hoping for good things for the government,” said Ammar Mohammed, a former soldier who these days carved out a living by smuggling cigarettes into Kurdish areas to the north.

“We have nothing but patience,” he said.

The fate of Muneira seemed to hang, in some way, on whether Hazem Khalil, a lifelong resident, would be able to stay.

Khalil’s older brother had been a senior Islamic State leader and was missing and probably dead. Two other brothers, accused of being associated with the militants, were in prison. Khalil’s elderly parents had fled after their house was burned to the ground in payment for the sins of their extremist son.

“I swear to God, I am the only one left,” Khalil said as he sat in his house with his children as they watched morning cartoons on television, reflecting on the calamity that had befallen his family and his town.

At the center of it was his older brother, Shaker, who had studied French literature, served as a school headmaster and was an imam at a local mosque.

He was recruited by the militants largely because of what they considered to be sterling credentials: He had been imprisoned for two-and-a-half years and tortured while in custody, his brother said. When ISIS captured Mosul, he served there as its minister for real estate.

In Muneira, people joked darkly that the militants did not destroy a single house without Shaker’s approval.

But it was not prison that had radicalized his brother, Khalil said.

“He was the product of extremism. He went too deep into religion,” he said.

It was also true, though, that resentment swirled around Muneira and other Sunni areas in the period before the militants took over. “Political agendas caused sectarian tensions,” Khalil said, referring to the government’s policies at the time. “There was no relationship between the security forces and citizens. There was a vacuum. That made it easy for ISIS,” he said.

With that legacy in mind, he added, “I was afraid of liberation.”

In the year that followed ISIS, his worries had yielded to guarded optimism. In his experience, the security forces had treated people well. The fearsome local militias had been disbanded. His neighbors refused to blame Khalil for his brother’s sins. For whatever reason, his corner of the village received regular electricity.

He had kept his job, at a nearby cement factory. Khalil had even decided to renovate his house.

He had received threatening text messages about his brother, but they had stopped about six months ago. Khalil was determined to stay in Muneira, and savor the humble graces.

“No one has questioned me about anything,” he said. “My house was not burned down.”

(The Washington Post)