Abdulhakim Bel­hadj’s Journey from Extremism to Political Life

Istanbul- Abdulhakim Bel­hadj has shed his combat fatigues for gray sport jackets and crisp white shirts. He has given up his AK-47 rifle for an election ballot.

“My thinking of that time is not a reflection of the way I think now,” the compact 51-year-old said, referring to his fighting days in Libya.

But in a war-divided nation, penetrated by ISIS and struggling to forge a new identity, Libyans have not forgotten who Belhadj once was.

They remember that he fought alongside Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. They remember that he led the Libyan Fighting Group (LIFG), an obscure, al-Qaeda-linked militia that the United States branded a terrorist organization. Belhadj was considered so dangerous that he was arrested and interrogated at a secret CIA rendition site in Asia after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Later, he was tortured in a Libyan prison.

Today, as key players in the contest between Islamists and their rivals for the soul of the new Libya, Belhadj and his comrades represent a rare instance of former militias associated with al-Qaeda achieving not just legitimacy but the ability to shape the course of a nation.

“These guys are very involved in the political landscape of running things in Tripoli,” said Claudia Gazzini, senior Libya analyst for the International Crisis Group. The worry for some, she said, is: “Have they really shed their extremist upbringing?”

The trajectory they followed is a winding — and uniquely Arab — one. The group dates to the battlefields of the Cold War and blossomed under the oppression of Libya’s autocratic leader, Moammar Gaddafi. During the Arab Spring, Belhadj and his comrades played crucial roles in the revolt that led to the strongman’s ouster and killing, six years ago next month.

Now, as he navigates Libya’s regional and tribal schisms, Bel­hadj enjoys power, influence and wealth. But he remains a widely feared and controversial figure, viewed as a warlord and a terrorist mastermind, even as his supporters paint him as a misunderstood idealist.

“Belhadj represents a threat now and will do so in the future,” said Abdullah Belhaq, a spokesman for Libya’s eastern-based parliament. “He is followed by a number of armed militias, and they will always be against the establishment of a state, to safeguard their interests.”

I first met Belhadj, a civil engineer by training, in May 2010 in the Libyan capital, Tripoli. He and several LIFG leaders had recently been released from prison under an extremist-rehabilitation program conceived by Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. In exchange, they vowed to renounce violence and work to discredit al-Qaeda.

Many Libyans and Western diplomats were skeptical. Belhadj and his comrades were among scores of Libyans who had traveled to Afghanistan to fight the occupying Soviet forces. They met bin Laden in a training camp, an LIFG co-founder, Sami al-Saadi, told me at the time. He was impressed, he said, by bin Laden’s “devoutness.”

Belhadj returned to Libya in the early 1990s. There, he launched the LIFG to overthrow Moammar Gaddafi and transform Libya into an Islamic emirate. A low-level insurgency followed, as well as three failed attempts to assassinate the dictator. By then, Belhadj was known by his nom de guerre, Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq.

Gaddafi’s regime crushed the LIFG, and by the late 1990s Belhadj and his comrades had fled to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where they forged alliances with leaders of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, according to Libyan authorities and analysts. Belhadj, while acknowledging the links, denied he was close to either group.

In the months before the 9/11 attacks, bin Laden urged the LIFG to join his efforts to target the United States and its allies. Belhadj balked. His group’s sole mission, he said recently, was to topple Gaddafi, not attack the West — “and I told it to the al-Qaeda leaders.” But the LIFG split over that choice, and some senior members joined bin Laden.

In late 2001, with the Taliban decimated and bin Laden on the run, many LIFG commanders fled the region. Three years later, Belhadj and his pregnant wife were arrested in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and taken to a CIA site in Thailand. Saadi and others were arrested elsewhere in Asia.

They were handed over to the Libyan government. Gaddafi, once a sponsor of terrorism, had become a counterterrorism ally of the West.

For six years, the LIFG leaders were held in the notorious Abu Salim prison in Tripoli. “I was beaten, hung from walls by my arms and deprived of food and sunlight,” Belhadj recalled. He has sued the British government for allegedly playing a role in returning him to Libya.

Human Rights Watch investigators, citing documents unearthed in Libya, corroborated Belhadj’s accounts of the CIA rendition and torture in Abu Salim.

Encouraged by moderate Islamist preachers and the younger Gaddafi, Belhadj and his comrades crafted a 400-page manifesto denouncing al-Qaeda’s beliefs and attacks on Western civilians.

Still, waging “jihad” against US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan was “a sacred act,” they maintained. “When America invades a country, the insurgency is legal,” Belhadj told me in 2010.

A year later, a violent uprising, echoing similar ones sweeping the Arab world, began. Belhadj and his comrades, with their anti-Gaddafi credentials, were catapulted into leadership roles.

Belhadj became the commander of the Tripoli Brigade, a rebel militia, and on Aug. 22, 2011, he and his men entered the Bab al-Aziziya compound, Gaddafi’s fortress and nerve center.

For the past several months, they had helped lead the battle against Gaddafi’s forces, aided by NATO airstrikes. On this day, they were close to seizing control of Tripoli, and Gaddafi had fled east.

Belhadj was named the leader of the Tripoli Military Council, the committee in charge of keeping order in the capital after Gaddafi was killed by rebels less than two months later. He would also join the rebels’ Supreme Security Council. Other LIFG members joined Islamist movements and ran religious youth camps, advocating strict Islamic sharia laws.

Saadi founded a political party. Khalid al-Sharif, the deputy emir of the LIFG, was appointed deputy defense minister in two post-Gaddafi governments.

In 2014, Belhadj and other LIFG members backed Libya Dawn, a collection of armed militias that briefly seized control of Tripoli and proclaimed their own government. Their actions split public opinion.

Even though he holds no official position in government, his well-armed loyalists wield power in the capital. But because he has moved out of the public spotlight and kept his political and business dealings secret, he remains an enigma to many Libyans.

While some Libyans now view Belhadj as a businessman, others beg to differ. They believe “he’s just pretending to be all about business but he’s still calling all the shots,” said Gazzini, of the International Crisis Group.

Belhaq described Belhadj as exercising immense power largely through ill-gotten money, noting that within two years of his release from prison he owned an airline company. “Where did he get these billions from?” the eastern parliamentary spokesman said.

Belhadj resigned from the Tripoli Military Council to launch his own political party, al-Watan, or “Homeland.” He believes in democracy, he said, and ran unsuccessfully in national parliamentary elections in 2012. He insists he no longer controls a militia. He supports the UN-backed government, he said, because “we don’t want to be out of the international community.”

The Washington Post

Khamenei Orders New Supervisory Body to Curtail Government

London- In a move designed to further curtail President Hassan Rouhani’s scope for policy-making, the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei has ordered the creation of a new supervisory body to “hold all branches of government to account in the implementation of their policies.”

Khamenei unveiled his plan at a special meeting Thursday in Tehran of the Assembly of Experts, a 92-member outfit initially formed to surprise the performance of the “Supreme Guide” himself. However, in a lengthy speech Khamenei made no mention of that task which is enshrined in the very Constitution of the Iranian Republic.

Instead, he said the Assembly must “assume grand supervisory mission designed to ensure the direction and progress of the Islamic revolution.”

“The three branches of government are in charge of administering the country in a revolutionary manner,” Khamenei said. “But the Assembly of Experts must supervise the branches to make sure they move in the direction set by the revolution, and to hold to account when there is a lacunae.”

Split between a vision of Iran as a vehicle for Khomeinist revolution on the one hand and an ordinary nation-state on the other, the Iranian Republic has faced deep contradictions from the very beginning. For radical elements the risk in seeing Iran normalize itself and start behaving like a nation-state is almost as great as that of “foreign plots for regime change.”

The current Constitution is already designed to limit the powers of the official government represented by a President and a Council of Ministers. This is done through three existing organs.

The first such organ is the Council of the Ascertainment of the Interests of the System (Majlis Tashkhis Maslehat al-Nizam). This Majlis is supposed to arbitrate disagreements between the President and his Cabinet on the one hand and the Islamic Majlis, Iran’s ersatz parliament, on the other.

Worse still, as far as the official government is concerned, in 2015 Khamenei extended the powers of the Majlis al-Maslehat by ordering it to work out 20-year plans for all key aspects of national policy. In other words, whoever forms the government at any given time would not have to freedom to work out any policy unless it fully conforms with the plans already fixed.

Since all members of the Majlis al-Maslehat are appointed by the “Supreme Guide” it is safe to assume that it is ultimately his view that would prevail.

The second control organ is Guardians of the Constitution which could veto any government decision even if approved by the Parliament.

Again, Khamenei’s control over the Guardians Council is almost total. He directly appoints six of the 12 members but would also have to approve the six others named by the Parliament.

The new organ decreed by Khamenei is to be composed of “a team of thinkers”.

It is not clear whether the “thinkers” in question will be members of the Assembly of Experts or recruited from other fields. But since the nominees would have to be approved by Khamenei, it is clear that the new proposed organ will add a third layer to the control already exercised by the “Supreme Guide.”

Even then, the “Supreme Guide” is not satisfied with formal control over the official government which he clearly does not fully trust. His fear is that the President and his Council of Ministers, although appointed with the approval of the “Supreme Guide”, may be tempted to sacrifice the interests of the evolution in order to protect the interests of the nation-state.

This is why some “sensitive areas” are kept outside the remit of the President and the Council of Ministers from the start. For example, Iran’s regional policy is directly controlled by the office of the “Supreme Guide” known as “Beit rahbar” (Leader’s Household) with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ task limited to protocol and ceremonial occasions. All of Iran’s ambassadors to Arab countries, for example, are chosen by the Quds Corps, the organ charged with the task of “exporting the revolution” and directly accountable to the “Supreme Guide.”

The Iran policy adopted by former US President Barack Obama was partly responsible for Khamenei’s decision to reduce the power of the official government and increase that of revolutionary organs under his control. Obama publicly spoke of “supporting moderate elements” in what he thought would be a “change of direction in Iran.”

With US policy apparently now moving in the direction opposite to that set by Obama, Khamenei is anxious to consolidate the position of his revolutionary organs before another US administration is tempted by a new version of Obama’s love-affairs with “Tehran moderates.”

Two events dramatically illustrated Khamenei’s decision to clip the wings of Rouhani’s “moderate” administration.

The first was Khamenei’s four-hour long tete-a-tete with Russian President Vladimir Putin from which Rouhani was excluded. Since then, Iran’s Russia policy, dubbed by Khamenei as “Looking to the East” is handled by the office of the “Supreme Guide” with such emissaries as Quds Corps Commander General Qassem Soleimani and Khamenei adviser Ali-Akbar Velayati running errands to Moscow instead of the official Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

The second event was the historic visit to Ankara by the newly appointed Chief of Staff General Muhammad Baqeri establishing direct contact between the military of the Iranian Republic and that of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Once again, the official government played no role in the dramatic event. Since then, General Baqeri has also established direct contact with the top brass of the Pakistan Armed Forces, once again by-passing the Cabinet nominally headed by Rouhani.

The decision to test a new ballistic missile, named Khorramshahr, jut 48 hours after Rouhani’s return from New York, was equally noteworthy. In his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Rouhani had sounded moderate and conciliatory and ready to comply with Iran’s obligations under UN resolutions, the most recent one of which forbids such missile tests. Khorramshahr was designed to tell the world that what matters is not what Iran promises as a country but what Iran does as a revolution.

Khamenei’s message is clear: Iran must be in the service of its Revolution, not the other way round.

Iraqi Kurdistan Referendum Beats Drums of Ethnic War


Irbil, Beirut – Unprecedented tensions have been building between Iran, Turkey and Iraq and between the Iraqi Kurdistan Region’s staging of an independence referendum, the consequences of which may lead to a regional conflict against the Kurds.

The Kurds have been aspiring for their own country for a century and the first step to achieving that goal took place in 1992 when they garnered autonomous rule in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. They followed that up in 2005 by gaining federal privileges in the constitution and in 2008, then expanded their control in the region by reaching Kirkuk. Their power was further cemented by their success in combating ISIS in the region since 2014 and with western backing.

The referendum, scheduled for Monday, will likely awaken separatist sentiments in Kurds in Iran and Turkey, which is what Tehran and Ankara are trying to curb through diplomatic means. The Iraqi government in Baghdad has meanwhile warned that it may resort to military force to combat the independence vote. This has sparked fears of an ethnic conflict in Iraq after the defeat of ISIS, meaning the country may be headed to a new bloody phase, this time with nationalist undertones.

The Iraqi Kurdistan Region has stuck to its intention to hold the referendum on September 25, despite international and Iraqi demands to postpone it. This sent a message to the world that it will head towards independence regardless of the conditions and pressure.

“There is no longer time to postpone the process,” it stressed, especially after it denied that it had received a better alternative to the referendum that would appease the Kurdish people.

On June 7, all Kurdish parties, except the Change Movement and Kurdistan Islamic Group, had voted in favor for holding the referendum. The decision was made following failed negotiations between Iraq and Kurdistan on resolving pending issues between them.

Baghdad had rejected the referendum from the moment it was announced. This stance was also adopted by Iran, which had called on Irbil to cancel the vote. The United States, according to Kurdish and American officials, “does not stand against the referendum, but it believes that the timing is not right for it” because it affects the war against ISIS. This position was echoed by Russia, France and Britain, all of which had called on Kurdistan to postpone the vote, urging it to resolve problems with the Iraqi government within the framework of a unified Iraq.

Kurdish accusation against the Baghdad government

For its part, the Kurdish government believes that the independence referendum is a right granted to it by the international community and Iraqi constitution. It also accuses Baghdad of violating, since 2005, 55 constitutional articles related to the Kurds and their rights. It said that Iraq has rejected partnership, marginalizing them from all aspects of the Iraqi state.

The Kurdish political leadership has alleged in its meetings with international delegations, which have intensified their visits to Irbil recently to persuade it to delay the vote, that Baghdad and its policies have pushed Kurds to pursue independence.

Head of the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party Mohammed Haci Mahmoud told Asharq Al-Awsat that the US, Britain, France and United Nations had proposed discussing the autonomous region’s affairs, including tackling the referendum at the UN, in exchange for postponing the vote for two years.

Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, Brett McGurk, as well as the ambassadors of the US, Britain, France and the UN delegation in Iraq, had made this proposal to Kurdish President Masoud Barzani on Thursday, but he had rejected it. They warned that the region will have to suffer the consequences of this refusal. Kurdistan had however said that it will not turn away from dialogue and negotiations with Baghdad and the international community over gaining independence in the post-referendum phase.

Kurdistan Democratic Party MP Farhan Jawhar told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The idea of holding a referendum was born the moment the Iraqi government violated the rights of Kurdistan and its people. It then cut the region’s budget, as well as the salaries of employees, and it did not commit to the constitution. We therefore had no choice but the referendum.”

Asked if all Kurdish political parties backed the vote, he replied: “All the people of Kurdistan support this operation and the political parties as well, except the Change Movement and Kurdistan Islamic Group, who have asked that it be postponed. They added however that they will support the referendum if it is held.”

A statement for the higher referendum council issued on Thursday voiced its commitment to the independence vote, explaining that Kurdistan did not receive the “desired alternatives to it.” The referendum will therefore be held as scheduled.

Jawhar revealed that if the Baghdad government boycotted Kurdistan after the referendum and refused to negotiate with it, then Irbil will immediately announce the establishment of a Kurdish state. He ruled out however that Iraq or any other neighboring country would take such a measure against Kurdistan.

Disputed regions

The independence vote will not only include the Kurdish regions that enjoy autonomous rule, but also disputed areas that are covered by article 140 of the Iraqi constitution between Kurdistan and the Iraqi government. The disputed regions include the Kirkuk province and a number of cities and provinces in Mosul, Diyala and Salaheddine. These areas enjoy Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen and Christian populations and they have been under Peshmerga control since 2003. The Iraqi Kurdistan Region had assured the disputed regions that the upcoming Kurdish state will not be a nationalist one, but it will be based on a civic basis.

Fears remain however among the Kurds in the autonomous region and the disputed areas over the eruption of problems and violence as a result of the threats of the Iraqi government and Shi’ite militias. They also fear that Tehran and Ankara may close their borders with Iraqi Kurdistan and impose an economic siege against it.

Kurdistan Islamic Union MP Haji Karwan told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We have not ruled out any possibility and we are prepared to deal with them. Some threats were made by some unofficial sides. We are dealing with the Iraqi government, not the Shi’ite militias, which we consider illegal.”

“Our borders are fortified by the Peshmerga and no force, whether Shi’ite or Sunni, will cross them,” he stressed.

Baghdad, Tehran and Ankara

It appears that the Kurdish referendum has allowed Iraq, Iran and Turkey to overcome their differences and they have been united in confronting the vote. They vowed in a joint statement released on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly earlier this week that they “will take measures against the Iraqi Kurdistan Region if it went ahead with the independence referendum.”

They expressed a concern that the vote may squander the gains achieved by Iraq against ISIS, warning that the referendum may spark new conflicts in the region that would be difficult to contain.

Dr. Sami Nader of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs in Lebanon said that the joint statement was like a “declaration of a cold war in the Middle East.”

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that the war will pit Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Russia against the US, Israel and Kurds in the region. Arab countries that have an interest in Turkey expanding its influence in the region and Iran limiting its power will also be involved in this cold war.

Iran and Turkey fear that the independence vote will lead their own Kurdish minorities to demand a similar vote. Russia has meanwhile adopted a cautious approach, while Saudi Arabia urged the Kurdish leadership to abandon the vote, warning of its consequences. The only regional power to support the referendum was Israel, which has long backed Kurdish goals because they represent a non-Arab buffer zone in the confrontation with Iran.

Lebanese researcher on regional and Iranian affairs, Dr. Talal Atrisi ruled out to Asharq Al-Awsat the possibility of the eruption of a direct military confrontation as a result of the Kurdish referendum. He also said that the vote for independence does not mean that independence will be automatically achieved because such a goal needs complicated procedures.

Common interests

Kurds make up a fourth of Turkey’s population of 80 million. Kurds believe that they are the largest national population in the world that has been deprived of their right to establish a state after decades of displacement in Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria in wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I.

Turkey currently hosts the largest Kurdish population and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has since 1984 been leading a separatist movement there. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned before the UN on Tuesday Kurdish authorities against “ignoring the clear and firm Turkish stance” on the referendum.

Turkey is not alone in its fierce opposition to the establishment of a Kurdish state, but it is not clear whether it was willing to take the risk of making a tangible response to the vote.

Ankara’s stance meets that of Tehran, which has faced various rebellions led by Kurdish groups. Turkey and Iran have long cooperated in suppressing nationalist Kurdish movement.

Atrisi predicted that Ankara will likely take economic measures against Irbil. Turkey is in fact Iraqi Kurdistan’s closest ally in the region as it has allowed it to export oil through its territories and they both share an opposition to the PKK. Iraqi Kurdistan in turn has become one of the greatest importers of Turkish consumer products. Furthermore, the alliance between Turkey and Iraqi Kurds has allowed the former to expand militarily in Iraq and set up a military base in Bashiqa in the north.

Dealing With Iran, Trump Has Many Options


A year ago, the annual General Assembly of the United Nations in New York was the setting for what looked like an Irano-American love-fest as the two erstwhile foes multiplied gestures of sweetness towards each other.

The key symbol of their affection was what they called Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action (CJPOA), a 176-page list of desiderata linked to the Islamic Republic’s controversial nuclear program.

This year, however, the old demons were back as the United States’ new President Donald Trump described the Islamic Republic in Tehran as “a criminal regime” bent on exporting terrorism. His Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani returned the compliment by labeling Trump a “rogue politician.” Once again, the CJPOA, or Plan, in short, was the point of reference for both. Trump vowed to scrap it while Rouhani almost upgraded it to the status of a sacred untouchable text.

“We shall not accept any change in the text of the Plan,” Rouhani told whoever cared to listen in New York.
Despite the Mch-2 rhetoric on both sides, one thing is certain: as far as the Plan is concerned the status quo is so destabilized that trying to maintain it might prove futile if not dangerous.

Trump cannot swallow his incendiary words and tell his people that he has decided to stick to the Plan after all. For their part, Tehran’s mullahs cannot denounce the Plan, the fig leaf that covers the nakedness of their foreign policy or to force the US to continue the charade started by former President Barack Obama.

For both sides, the key problem is that the Plan is not a legally binding document. Neither a treaty nor an agreement, the Plan was negotiated by an ad-hoc group called 5+1 with no legal existence and a team of Islamic Republic diplomats with no clear legal mandate.

It has not been ratified by any national parliament or international authority. A resolution passed by the Islamic Majlis in Tehran refers to it obliquely only to reject its key features. The UN Security Council Resolution 2231 “endorses” the Plan and stipulates a suspension of sanctions decided in six previous resolutions.

However, the resolution does not make it clear which of the many versions of the Plan it endorses. The Islamic Foreign Ministry has provided at least three versions in Persian and the US State Department two in English.

Because the Plan isn’t a treaty or a classical international agreement it has no mechanism for amendment let alone abrogation. This means that no one, including President Trump, can abrogate a non-existent treaty.
So, what can Trump do?

Under a deal made between Obama and the US Congress, the US President is authorized to suspend some sanctions against the Islamic Republic for periods of 90 to 180 days, each time certifying to the Congress that Iran has fulfilled its obligations under the Plan.

So far, Trump has issued the certifications on a regular basis. He could, of course, decide not to issue further certifications. In that case, he would have to provide justification for his decision within 10 days, providing evidence that Iran has reneged on its obligations under the Plan.

If the Congress accepts the evidence provided the whole issue will revert to Congressional authority. That may seem attractive from Trump’s point of view because he would wash his hands off a thorny issue, but entails the risk of fudging the whole matter in a quagmire of Congressional partisan politics.

With relations between the White House and the Republican Party strained, to say the least, there is no guarantee that the Trump administration would master enough support in the Congress to promote an entirely new approach to the “Iran problem.”

The best option for Trump, therefore, would be to continue signing regular certifications while keeping the suspense about the future of the Plan. Such suspense has already prevented major international banks and corporations from normalizing relations with Iran let alone providing it with the massive injection of capital and technology it needs to avoid economic meltdown.

Uncertainty about what the US might do about Iran has been the most effective weapon Washington has in its efforts to curb the mullah’s ambitions.

At some point, that uncertainty may prove too hard to bear for mullahs, now under fire inside Iran for the failure of the Plan to provide any of its promised fruits. In such circumstances, the mullahs may be forced to denounce the Plan, if only to save face. And that would save Washington the trouble of picking a quarrel with European allies and Russia over a Plan rejected by Iran itself.

Another option that Trump has is to ratchet up measures taken against the Islamic Republic in relation to other problems, including violations of human rights, exporting terrorism, seizure of foreign hostages, notably US citizens, Tehran development of ballistic missiles, and direct or indirect military intervention in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen.

Measures based on such concerns may well even attract support not only from the European allies but on a broader international scale. Almost all the sanctions suspended under the Plan could be refigured and re-launched through new legislation related to other areas of conflict with the mullahs.

Such action could be complemented with a more energetic application of measures already envisaged under seven UN resolutions, including stop and search operations aimed to prevent the import by Iran of dual-use material and technology.

A brochette of measures known in diplomatic parlance as “proximity pressure” could further complement such actions, making life more difficult for the Islamic Republic.

Finally, there is the option suggested by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian: launching a new process of negotiations to amend and extend the Plan and, maybe, even morph it into a proper legal agreement.
Such a process could have three aims.

First, it would remove the so-called “sunset” clauses under which some of the measures against the Islamic Republic will automatically expire in 2025. Under the existing Plan, the mullahs have ceded large chunks of Iranian sovereignty, especially with reference to the nation’s industrial and trade policies, to the 5+1 group until 2025.

Secondly, the French idea is to extend that ceding of sovereignty beyond that limit, in fact making it permanent by putting Iran under 5+1 tutelage.

The French scheme also envisages the extension of the existing Plan to other areas of interest by committing Tehran to specific measures regarding its regional policies and, in time, even its domestic politics.
In other words, why not a CJPOA number 2 on human rights and another CJPA number 3 on the Islamic Republic’s economic system?

Finally, at some point one could envisage a CJPOA on military matters, bringing Iran into the international fold through semi-official dialogue with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The first such contact, established earlier this month by Iran at the highest level of its military with Turkey is seen as a promising development.

There is, however, a fundamental difference between the American analysis under Trump and the European one promoted by the new French President Emmanuel Macron.

Key members of the Trump administration believe that the Islamic Republic, lacking mechanism for reform, change within the regime is not possible.

That leaves the choice between accepting the Islamic Republic warts and all and trying to bring about regime change.

According to the European analysis, however, the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei’s rule has entered its final “natural phase” providing a potential for “evolution” led by “moderate elements” anxious to adopt the “Chinese model” or repression at home and accommodation with the Western powers.

A coalition of moderate mullahs and modernizing military figures could discard the North Korean model, favored by Khamenei, and nudge Iran toward reconciliation with the outside world.

President Trump has promised to let us know soon what he has decided. His unorthodox UN speech, however, has already ignited a new phase in the debate inside Iran between “Islamic North Koreans” and “Islamic Chinese” ideologues. Not a bad picking for a single speech.

US Expands Kabul Security Zone

Kabul- Soon, American Embassy employees in Kabul will no longer need to take a Chinook helicopter ride to cross the street to a military base less than 100 yards outside the present Green Zone security district.

Instead, the boundaries of the Green Zone will be redrawn to include that base, known as the Kabul City Compound, formerly the headquarters for American Special Operations forces in the capital. The zone is separated from the rest of the city by a network of police, military and private security checkpoints.

The expansion is part of a huge public works project that over the next two years will reshape the center of this city of five million to bring nearly all Western embassies, major government ministries, and NATO and American military headquarters within the protected area.

After 16 years of American presence in Kabul, it is a stark acknowledgment that even the city’s central districts have become too difficult to defend from Taliban bombings.

But the capital project is also clearly taking place to protect another long-term American investment: Along with an increase in troops to a reported 15,000, from around 11,000 at the moment, the Trump administration’s new strategy for Afghanistan is likely to keep the military in place well into the 2020s, even by the most conservative estimates.

No one wants to say when any final pullout will take place, because the emphasis now is on a conditions-based withdrawal — presumably meaning after the Afghan government can handle the war alone. But President Trump has kept secret the details of those conditions, and how they are defined.

“Until he says what the conditions are, all that means is we’ll be there as long as we want, for whatever reason we want,” said Barnett Rubin, a longtime Afghanistan expert who advised the Obama administration. “And they don’t have to lie to do that, because the conditions will never be good enough to say we’re absolutely not needed.”

In practical terms, it means that the American military mission will continue for many more years, despite its unpopularity with the American public. Many military strategists, in America and Afghanistan, have already penciled in plans well into the ’20s, and certainly past any Trump re-election campaign.

At the NATO summit meeting in Warsaw last year, the allies, including the United States, agreed to fund the development of the Afghan security forces until the end of what was termed “the transition decade,” meaning from 2014, when Afghan forces began to take charge of their own security, until 2024.

“I would guess the US has to plan on being inside Afghanistan for a decade or more in order for there to be any type of resolution,” said Bill Roggio, editor of Long War Journal. “It’s definitely past his first term in office, no two ways about it.”

The Green Zone expansion is aimed at making it possible for America and its NATO allies to remain in the capital without facing the risks that have in the past year made Kabul the most dangerous place in Afghanistan, with more people killed there than anywhere else in the country — mostly from suicide bombers.

Kabul’s security area had long been a Green Zone-lite compared with its fortresslike predecessor in Baghdad, where there are massive blast walls and a total separation from the general population, enforced by biometric entry passes.

In Kabul, thousands of Afghans still commute to jobs and even schools inside the zone, with only light searches for most of them, mindful of the resentment stirred by the Soviets’ heavily militarized central zone during their Afghan occupation. And the Green Zone in Baghdad has, its critics maintain, created an out-of-touch ruling class and Western community, and provided a magnet for protests while just moving enormous bombings elsewhere, further stoking popular discontent with leaders and foreigners.

The Kabul Green Zone expansion, which will significantly restrict access, was prompted, according to both Afghan and American military officials, by a huge suicide bomb planted in a sewage truck that exploded at a gate of the current Green Zone on May 31, destroying most of the German Embassy and killing more than 150 people. The loss of life could have been far worse, but Germany had evacuated its embassy a week before the bombing, apparently tipped off by intelligence sources.

The military recently appointed an American brigadier general to take charge of greatly expanding and fortifying the Green Zone. In the first stage of the project, expected to take from six months to a year, an expanded Green Zone will be created — covering about 1.86 square miles, up from 0.71 square miles — closing off streets within it to all but official traffic.

Because that will also cut two major arteries through the city, in an area where traffic congestion is already rage-inducing for Afghan drivers, the plans call for building a ring road on the northern side of the Wazir Akbar Khan hill to carry traffic around the new Green Zone.

In a final stage, a still bigger Blue Zone will be established, encompassing most of the city center, where severe restrictions on movement — especially by trucks — will be put in place. Already, height restriction barriers have been built over roads throughout Kabul to block trucks. Eventually, all trucks seeking to enter Kabul will be routed through a single portal, where they will be X-rayed and searched.

The New York Times

Amr Moussa Reveals Scenes from his Journey with Diplomacy

Cairo– Prominent Egyptian Diplomat and Political Figure Amr Moussa has recently published his first memoirs, recounting his long journey with diplomatic work.

The book, entitled “Kitabiyah”, is the first volume of the veteran diplomat’s memoirs, that will be issued successively, and presents stages of his biography and work on the Egyptian, Arab and international arenas.

The first part of the biography recounts Moussa’s birth in 1936 until his departure from the Egyptian foreign ministry in 2001.

The book consists of 655 pages, including the cover, in which the author narrates various topics and encounters with different personalities from the Egyptian, Arab and international scenes.

Perhaps the most remarkable of these are the fact that they are almost exclusively revealing the characteristics of a number of Arab leaders and politicians.

The book says that in November 1994, while Israel was looking to establish an economic group called the “Middle East Market” to bring Arab and African countries closer to Israel, Moussa – then Egypt’s foreign minister – sought to activate coordination between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria, to respond to “Israel’s attempt to strike at the entity of the Arab League.”

“I went to Saudi Arabia and met with the late King Fahd bin Abdulaziz, and informed him that Shimon Peres seeks to end the era of the Arab region, and this requires coordination between Cairo and Damascus and Riyadh… The King replied: I agree to hold the conference, but it must take place in Egypt; because it is our great sister,” Moussa recounts.

“I replied to the king that I had come under the direction of President Mubarak to propose that the meeting be held in Saudi Arabia. I would then go to Syria to coordinate the conference. The King replied: It must be in Egypt.”

On the relations between Egypt and Qatar, Moussa says: “There was a great deal of cooperation between me and Hamad bin Jassim, the former foreign minister of Qatar”.

“And I was always teased him by saying: “Enough gathering wealth!” And he replied: “I want to become the richest man in the Arab world,” according to the memoirs.

“Once I asked former Emir of Qatar Hamad bin Khalifa: Did Hamad bin Jassim achieve the billion or not? Bin Khalifa replied laughing: “The son of the… will not rest until he becomes the richest Arab man.”

Egyptian-Iranian relations were among the topics addressed by Moussa, especially during the Mubarak era.

He recounted in his memoirs an incident that revealed how sensitive Mubarak was to this issue.

“In May 1992, as I was about to complete my first year at the head of Egyptian diplomacy, I met with then-Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati on the sidelines of a conference of non-aligned countries in Jakarta at one of the social events held during these summits,” Moussa recounts.

“We shook hands and talked, and then agreed that the matters of mutual interest required a bilateral meeting between us. The Iranian minister was puzzled as to where we could sit together, as there were no diplomatic relations between our two countries. I asked him to have the meeting in a cafeteria in the lobby of the hotel, and I said: There is no reason to hold our discussions in secret.”

But immediately after his return to Cairo, Moussa presented a detailed report on his talks with the Iranian minister to Mubarak and said it was time to discuss relations with Tehran.

“Mubarak strongly opposed … and he refused to open the file of normalizing relations with Iran based on his keenness to preserve good relations with the Gulf States,” Moussa says in his memoirs.

Moussa moves to stories about late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his controversial positions. He says that in one of the visits of Mubarak and former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Boutros Ghali to Libya, and while the latter was speaking fluently in front of Gaddafi on the situation in Africa, the Libyan leader highly acclaimed Ghali and offered him a big bag of macaroni (pasta). Whenever he met Ghali, Mubarak was joking and asking him whether he gained weight by eating the pasta.

The first volume of the memoirs is only available in Arabic for the time being and is available at Al-Shorouk publishing house and other leading bookstores around Egypt.

There is no scheduled date for the second volume, but sources at Al-Shorouk say that work is in progress.

Is It Even Possible to Protect a Public Transit System from Terror?

London- As Friday’s attack on the London Tube reminds us, public transit is a plum target for terrorists.

That’s true around the world. In Israel, Hamas routinely calls for suicide bombers to destroy public buses. The Irish Republican Army regularly attacked the London Underground and British trains during the Troubles. In the 1990s, Algerian extremists from the Armed Islamic Group set off a handful of bombs in the Paris subway, killing eight and wounding 100 more. And in 1995, a doomsday cult in Japan released sarin gas in the Tokyo subway system, killing 12 and wounding 5,000.

More recently, a 2004 bombing on the London subway killed 52. An attack on a Madrid train in 2005 caused the same number of deaths.

Public transit attracts terrorists because it’s hard to secure (unlike airports, most cities can’t set up massive checkpoints and bag scans) and easy to access. It’s also, quite often, packed, particularly around rush hour.

That might explain why there have been at least 387 attacks on trains, buses and passenger ferries in North America and Europe since 1970. South Asia has faced 1,287 public transit assaults; there have been 801 in the Middle East. Trains and train stations are the most common target; attacks in enclosed environments like subway stations are the deadliest. In Europe, about 75 percent of casualties from terrorist attacks occur in underground train stations, even though these account for just 13 percent of attacks overall.

And assaults on public transportation are on the rise in Europe and the United States.

There is good news though: Those terrorist attacks are also becoming less lethal.

“Today’s terrorists want to run up high body counts,” a recent report on terrorism in public transportation found. “But they rarely succeed.” Researchers say that’s thanks in part to increased security. As Next City explained:

Some evidence does suggest that increased television surveillance, “See Something, Say Something” campaigns and quicker authority response times did gradually reduce attacks in London between 1970 and 2000. But those same measures could not prevent the 2005 bombing, in which attackers had no fear of being seen and left no parcels to report, because they themselves were the bombs.

But that doesn’t mean ordinary citizens and transit employees are helpless. Of 300 incidents worldwide in which devices were discovered before they could detonate, transit employees discovered the devices 11 percent of the time, by passengers 17 percent of the time, by police or military 14 percent, and security officials 15 percent.
Other cities employ different strategies.

Beijing boasts the world’s busiest subway network, shuttling 10 million passengers each day. After a terrorist attack in western China in 2014, riders were forced to line up for a system that resembled airport check-in. (Police promised it wouldn’t take more than 30 minutes.) Riders and their bags went through metal detectors. Additionally, helicopter fleets took surveillance pictures from above, and police patrolled with guns, unusual in the country.

London has pioneered anti-terror infrastructure. For example, the city has mostly done away with metal garbage bins, which could create deadly shrapnel if a bomb was planted inside. Instead, the city offers transparent plastic bags hanging from hoops, which make it easier to spot a bomb and less dangerous if one goes off. (The city has also removed many public garbage bins, particularly in the Underground.)

Israel makes use of metal detectors and X-ray machines at some bus stations. Buses, too, are bullet-resistant. Some also come with GPS tracking systems and video cameras so army officials can hear what’s going on in an emergency.

In the United States, cities have tightened security in airports and on public transit.  In New York, for example, extra New York Police Department officers and state troopers patrol crowded transit stops. In Washington, D.C., extra K9 sweeps and patrols are deployed when there’s an increased terror risk. Chicago, Los Angeles and other cities use similar techniques. And of course, riders are reminded that “if they see something, say something.”
Five plots against public transportation in New York City were foiled between 2003 and 2009; an American was arrested for plotting a strike against the D.C. Metro in 2010.

But experts warn that it’s not nearly enough to stop an attack. As a Council on Foreign Relations report explained:

Many metropolitan transit agencies have increased both undercover and high-profile police patrols and have refined their emergency response plans to consider terrorism. In Washington, D.C., subway trash receptacles are being replaced with bomb-resistant cans. The Washington Metro has also conducted smoke tests to study air flows within the subway system and has installed a chemical detector in one subway station to provide early warning of an attack. In New York, suspicious packages are now regularly investigated and X-rayed and passengers’ bags are subject to random searches. But experts say bringing airline-style security to US subways would be virtually impossible, and the above measures would be useless against suicide bombers.

The Washington Post

Questions on al-Qaeda’s Possible Return


Cairo – In mid-August al-Qaeda threatened to derail Britain’s train system, urging its supporters to heed its call. This brought up the debate about whether the extremist organization was on the rise again, 16 years after the United States declared war against it.

There are many factors that support this possibility, starting with the defeats that the ISIS terrorist group has been dealt on the ground and also with the Taliban regaining some of its foothold in Afghanistan. Contrary to his pledges during his electoral campaign, US President Donald Trump vowed to send more forces to combat al-Qaeda in Afghanistan to prevent it from returning to power. So have Washington and the world failed in confronting al-Qaeda throughout a decade-and-a-half?

Al-Qaeda threats

Security agencies in Europe took seriously al-Qaeda’s threat to target the British railways. They consequently upped security at train lines throughout the country, which shows, in one way or another, that al-Qaeda’s plotting has not weakened in recent years. In fact, it may have taken advantage of the world’s preoccupation with the fight against ISIS to quietly regroup to build resources and alliances to continue its eternal war against the United States.

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy released one of the best reports to address al-Qaeda’s future and reawakening in light of the consecutive ISIS failures. It examined the extremist group’s ability to rise again from the rubble of the war against it in Afghanistan. It also tackled the recent crises in the region and the emergence of ISIS, which was originally a dogmatic and more radical branch of al-Qaeda itself.

Al-Qaeda and new host environments

It is perhaps ironic that the years of the so-called Arab Spring would produce new host environments for al-Qaeda and provide it with new allies that would allow it to continue its approach, as un-innovative as it is.

Syria was without a doubt the prime background for the reemergence of al-Qaeda. Since the beginning of the conflict, the extremist group has looked for new allies there and it appears to have found them in al-Nusra Front, which boasts thousands of fighters that believe in al-Qaeda’s ideals and goals. There is no doubt that al-Qaeda took advantage of the civil unrest in a number of Arab countries to gain new followers.

Some of the new host environments for al-Qaeda lie in Libya. The whole world saw how one country, Qatar, had the sole purpose to spread al-Qaeda’s forces in the North African country to seize control of it.

Perhaps the Libyan national consensus government security agencies’ unveiling of a terrorist plot to target with chemical weapons officials in the country’s capital spurred western circles to action. The plot was to be carried out by one of al-Qaeda’s branches in the Arab Maghreb. Revealed in August, the plan raised questions among European security agencies about whether these lethal chemical weapons are still in al-Qaeda’s possession in Libya. Are these weapons being used locally or will they cross the Mediterranean to be used in a terrorist attack in Europe?

Al-Qaeda: From Yemen to Africa

In early August, the US Department of Defense dispatched special forces to Yemen to help the pro-legitimacy forces in their operations against al-Qaeda in the country. Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis stated that the special forces’ operations will be focused in the Shabwa province where the extremist group is particularly active in the Arab peninsula. So what can we interpret from this statement?

Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups have certainly taken advantage of the situation in Yemen, which is on the verge of being declared a failed state. The country today is divided between pro-legitimacy forces, led by President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, and a fragile alliance between former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Houthi insurgents.

Amid the complexities of this scene, al-Qaeda has found ways to recruit new members and spread its network beyond the Arab peninsula and reach the Arab Gulf. The organization may be weak in Yemen, and not as powerful as the media, especially western ones, claims. This does not mean that the group is not any less active in the absence of the state. Its power grows as the state weakens. The equation is simple: As long as the civil war in Yemen rages on, al-Qaeda will be able to strengthen itself and defeating it will be difficult.

The catastrophic spread of al-Qaeda in Yemen will have consequences on Africa, where the group is seeking to spread, through Libya and Yemen’s coast that is near several African countries.

In fact, al-Qaeda has not stayed away from the spotlight in Africa and it has claimed responsibility for violence there. The latest of its terrorist crimes was an August 10 attack against a restaurant in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou. The country itself has been a target of al-Qaeda attacks and it boasts the very active Ansar al-Islam group, led by Ibrahim Malam Dicko, as one of its affiliates. Established in 2016, this group’s ideology is more in line with al-Qaeda than ISIS.

The question about al-Qaeda’s future was best answered by former aide to US forces in Afghanistan, Seth Jones. Now a political scientist at the RAND Corporation specializing in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism, Jones published an article in the American Foreign Policy magazine in which he discusses al-Qaeda’s future.

In it he quoted Daniel Byman of Georgetown University as saying that the extremist group will weaken due to its poor popular support and the effective international efforts to combat terrorism. In addition, he said that resentment has grown against the group due to its killing of Muslim civilians

Others in Jones’ article shared a different view. Former FBI agent Ali Soufan said that al-Qaeda will undoubtedly make a comeback. He explained that the group is now transforming itself from a small terrorist organization to a powerful network. He asserted that it has grown in numbers, developed its fighting ability and is spreading in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Jones examined many hypothetical scenarios where al-Qaeda either returns to power of weakens.

One of the most dangerous scenarios is the probability that with ISIS’ demise, its members would join al-Qaeda and form a new organization. Al-Qaeda is different from what it was a decade ago and its movement is less centralized, meaning loyalties to it are changeable and therein lies the catastrophe.

Al-Qaeda welcomes Trump’s plan

On August 21, Trump announced a new plan on Afghanistan that sees the deployment of more US troops there in an attempt to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Has this plan come as the kiss of life for al-Qaeda, in Afghanistan in particular, and its supporters across the globe?

The truth is that prior to Trumps’ announcement, al-Qaeda saw in him and his former aide Steve Bannon a new lifeline to return to spotlight. How is that?

Very simply, before he was sacked, Bannon was the screaming voice of the US administration that claimed that “the power of Islam cannot be stopped by peaceful means.”

Bannon here gave al-Qaeda an opportunity to re-portray the West as being at an existential war with Islam. This is the way that the organization justifies its violence and fundamental ideology.

Now Trump is planning to start a new military war against Taliban and the remaining al-Qaeda affiliates, which will undoubtedly redraw the world map between peaceful and war-torn countries.

The New York Times recently said that even if all the world’s terrorists were killed tomorrow, they will come back again as long as both religious and racial fundamentalism and the lucrative heroine trade on the Afghanistan Pakistan border remained.

So does the solution in Afghanistan lie in leaving the country like Barack Obama did?

Of course not, because that will transform it into a new ISIS hub even if the name of the group changed. Perhaps Trump’s new strategy will provide a temporary solution.

Is there an end?

The extremism embodied by ISIS and al-Qaeda will not suddenly disappear for good. The hostile ideologies will remain in one way or another – whether in the wars in Africa or Asia or the Middle East and as long as central issues are unresolved and preachers of hatred, the end of the world and the clash of civilizations remain.

World Bank: Reforming Education in Arab World Must Be Priority


London – The quality of education in the Arab world has dropped in comparison to other regions in the world, which demands immediate reform to tackle development needs and employment in the future, said a recent World Bank report on education in the Middle East and North Africa.

The report urged Arab countries to set education as a priority because it is the basis for any future economic and social development process.

The Arab region has not achieved remarkable progress in recent years in reducing illiteracy, compared to Asian and Latin American countries. The worst in this regard were Djibouti, Yemen and Egypt. Furthermore, the region is still behind from the rest of the world in erasing illiteracy among people above 15 years of age. The numbers of students enrolled at high schools and universities has also not improved.

The World Bank report did acknowledge that the gap in education between the genders in the Arab world is becoming smaller.

One of the compilers of the report said that the time has come for Arab countries to focus their energies on the quality of education and preparing students for the modern job market. They should also train students on problem-solving and critical and innovative thinking. Teachers themselves should also be re-trained in these skills.

Unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa lies at 14 percent, which is higher than the rest of the world, excluding some parts of Africa. The greatest levels of unemployment were registered in the Palestinian territories. A third of the population of 300 million is also illiterate.

Young society

The need for reform in the Arab world is highlighted by the youthful society, where 60 percent of the population is younger than 30 years of age. This means that the region will need to create 100 million job opportunities for the youths over the next two decades. Economic development in region relies heavily on educational reform.

The World Bank report hailed the efforts of Jordan and Kuwait to that end, but it did remark that the reform did not reach the desired level. It explained that the relation between education and the workforce remained weak, adding that the quality of education did not improve.

Investment with poor resources

For 40 years, Arab countries spent about five percent of their general domestic income on education and they have achieved several results from this investment. At present, the majority of children benefit from mandatory education and a good percentage of them reach the levels of higher education. The region has also improved in raising fertility and lowering mortality rates.

Despite this improvement, the general progress in the Middle East and North Africa region remained less than others. In addition, educational curricula still produce more graduates in the theoretical sciences than practical ones.

The region has also failed to take the best advantage of its available human resources. Unemployment remains high among graduates and many of them find work in the government The relationship between economic growth, the distribution of income and lowering levels of poverty remains weak. The current educational system in the region does not produce graduates with the necessary skills and experience to compete on the global level where knowledge is the key to progress.

Employment crisis

Despite government attempts to provide education to the greatest number of students through construction of schools and hiring teachers, they have failed in assessing the connection between the efforts of the teachers and the accomplishments of the students and monitoring the educational process.

The World Bank report also spoke of the gap between what educational institutions provide and what the job market demands. This gap does not simply revolve around failing to produce graduates with the demands of the market, but the market itself has not grown enough to accommodate those graduates. In some countries, this is reflected in high levels of unemployment.

The next level of developing education in the region appears difficult to achieve in that it needs to develop an accountability and assessment mechanism. It should also focus on reforming education and the job markets.

This process will not be the same in all of the countries in the region because some of them have taken great leaps in achieving educational reform. All these countries need, in one way or another, to set incentives and systems of accountability that will yield results in the reform process.

Facts and figures

UNESCO estimates that 76.9 percent of the Arab world is literate. The literacy levels in some countries, such as Lebanon, Jordan and the Gulf area, is above 90 percent, while it is less than 50 percent in Mauritania and Yemen.

Other education facts in the Arab region:

– About 100 million people are illiterate, two thirds of them women.

– A UN survey found that the average Arab reads only four pages a year.

– An Arab Thought Foundation report found that only eight percent of people in the Arab world want to improve their level of education.

– The Arab woman still suffers from a lack of education opportunities.

– There is no incentive system to encourage older illiterates to continue their education and improve their academic skills.

– Women face challenges in leaving the house and pursuing an education at schools due to social pressures.

Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims Once Again Under the Spotlight

New Delhi- The modern world has in recent days expressed concern over the atrocities committed by the Buddhists in Myanmar against Rohingya Muslims. The latest round of violence has forced tends of thousands to flee to safer areas on the border with Bangladesh.

Human Rights Watch has said that new satellite data is consistent with widespread burnings in Myanmar’s Rakhine State where the violence is raging.

According to Matthew Smith, the Chief Executive of Fortify Rights, a human rights organization, villages are burning and people are getting killed. The Rohingya are running for their lives, he said.

Myanmar’s authorities are claiming to be dealing with “terrorists” who are carrying out armed attacks in Rakhine, blaming the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) for the latest round of violence.

They say only 450 people have been killed since August 25. But human rights activists have a different count of no less than 1,000 people, mainly unarmed civilians, dead.

The refugees and their horrendous stories

Nearly 400,000 refugees have poured across the border into Bangladesh. They have carried a handful of their personal belongings on their backs as they witnessed horrendous acts of violence, including rape, murder and organized looting.

UNHCR spokesperson Vivian Tan has lately said that a lot of women and children, including newborns, have been victims of violence and they need medical care for being very weak. The numbers are rising, she added.

Barefoot and running for her life, Rohingya Dilara, 20, reached Bangladesh in recent days clutching her young son, her family torn apart by violence in Myanmar.

“My husband was shot in the village. I escaped with my son and in-laws,” Dilara, 20, told the UNHCR as she trudged on mud-caked feet into Kutupalong refugee camp. “We walked for three days, hiding when we had to. The mountain was wet and slippery and I kept falling.”

Dilara lost track of her in-laws during the journey and followed her fellow villagers to the camp. “I don’t know where I am … I just knew to run to save my life,” she said in a daze, carrying her 18-month toddler and nothing else.

Who are the Rohingya?

Currently, about 1.1 million Rohingya who live in Myanmar. They are an ethnic group who have lived for centuries in the majority Buddhist Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. They are mainly concentrated in Rakhine, which is one of the country’s poorest states.

They are not considered one of the country’s official ethnic groups and have been denied citizenship in Myanmar since the 1980s which has rendered them stateless.

As a result, the long-running tension between the Rohingya and the Buddhists led to bloody violence in the country’s west in 2012, causing casualties and forcing tens of thousands of the minority group to flee to Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, India and Indonesia.

Accusations against International Organizations

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s office has accused international aid workers of helping “terrorists”, a claim that has prompted fears for their safety.

The US Ambassador to Myanmar Scot Marciel rejected suggestions by the Myanmar government that international aid agencies—including the US Agency for International Development (USAID)—are supporting the Rohingya, describing the accusations as “absurd.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that ethnic cleansing is taking place in Myanmar.

A Role for Kofi Annan

Former UN chief Kofi Annan is now in Myanmar to hand over the final report of a commission on Rakhine that he leads.

Suu Kyi established the nine-member Advisory Commission on Rakhine State on August 23, 2016.

The commission recommends that the government take concrete steps to end enforced segregation of Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims; ensure full and unfettered humanitarian access throughout the state; tackle Rohingya statelessness and “revisit” the 1982 Citizenship Law.

Suu Kyi’s Silence

Human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, believe that the de-facto leader’s silence on the spiraling abuses against the Rohingya Muslim minority is unjustified and completely wrong.

An Indian analyst on Myanmar relations said however that Suy Kyi, who is known to be active in the field of human rights, is facing a dilemma. “She does not want to lose the support of the Buddhist majority in announcing her support for the Rohingya.”

“The situation will be very complicated,” he said.