Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corruption Empire

Iran

London- Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps is being forced to shrink its sprawling business empire and some of its senior members have been arrested as part of President Hassan Rouhani’s attempts to curb the elite force’s role in the economy, the Financial Times reported.

In the past year, the guards, who have interests in sectors ranging from oil and gas to telecoms and construction, have had to restructure some holding companies and transfer ownership of others back to the state, a regime insider and a government official told the British daily.

At least a dozen guards members and affiliated businessmen have been detained in recent months, while others are being forced to pay back wealth accrued through suspect business deals, the officials said.

One manager of a large holding company affiliated to the guards was arrested a few months ago and cash worth millions of dollars was confiscated from his house, said a businessman who has worked with the guards. A brigadier general — described as the corps’ economic brain — was also arrested this year, but released on bail, the regime insider said.

The crackdown, which is being conducted discreetly to avoid undermining the guards — one of the most powerful arms of the regime — began last year. It started after Rouhani, a pragmatist who has criticized the guards’ role in the economy, told supreme leader Ali Khamenei about the vast wealth individuals affiliated to the 120,000-strong force had accumulated, the officials said.

“Rouhani has told the supreme leader that the economy has reached a deadlock because of high levels of corruption and the guards’ massive control over the economy,” said one regime insider, who is a relative of the supreme leader. “Other than economic concerns, Khamenei feels the need to save the guards [from corruption] and has naturally thrown his support behind the move.”

Khatam-ul-Anbia, the guards’ economic arm, declined to comment.

The Financial Times quoted Iranian analysts as saying that corruption involving politically connected individuals and entities is hampering economic development and efforts to boost growth as the country grapples with high unemployment.

Two months after he secured a second term in May elections, Rouhani said the guards had created “a government with a gun,” which “scared” the private sector.

The president has been seeking to open up Iran and attract foreign investment since he signed a nuclear accord with world powers in 2015. But he has faced resistance from hardliners within the regime, including the guards, who critics say want to protect their interests.

Under the nuclear accord, many sanctions were lifted and Iran agreed to scale back its nuclear activity.

There are few public details available about the Revolutionary Guards’ business interests. But some companies are known to be affiliated to the force.

According to the FT, these include Sadra Iran Maritime Industrial Company, which builds oil tankers and is involved in oil and gas projects, and Shahid Rajaee Professional Group, one of Iran’s biggest construction companies.

One of the guards’ consortiums, Etemad Mobin Development Company, bought Telecom Company of Iran, a state company, for $7.8bn in 2009. Other companies linked to the guards include Ansar Bank and Sepanir Oil and Gas Engineering.

The forces’ interests stretch across many other sectors, such as health, agriculture and petrochemicals.

But the US has retained financial sanctions related to Tehran’s alleged support for terrorism. The Trump administration has also imposed new sanctions on companies and individuals affiliated to the guards. The measures have put off international investors who fear they could inadvertently end up doing business with entities linked to the guards’ opaque empire.

There is little public information about the force’s business interests. Khatam-ul-Anbia’s website makes references to the areas it works in, including mining, petrochemicals, health and agriculture, but does not name companies. Some economists and businessmen estimate that the corps’ network of companies could be valued at around $100bn.

The guards involvement in the economy is traced back to the end of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s when commanders were rewarded with contracts to build roads, dams and bridges to help reconstruct the country.

The force’s business interests rapidly spread during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a populist hardliner, as the corps was awarded state projects in strategic sectors, including oil and gas. The Telecom Company of Iran, a state entity, has since 2009 become a cash cow to fund the corps and its allies, political observers say.

Ahmadinejad’s rule from 2005 to 2013 was tarnished by widespread allegations of corruption. International sanctions against the country were also tightened during his presidency, but that presented those linked to the regime’s centers of power with the opportunity to use their networks to get involved in murky sanctions-busting deals, including selling crude, analysts say.

The government official said the guards have so far been complying with Rouhani’s efforts to scale back their economic interests.

“Whether he will succeed or not, Rouhani is standing firm and determined to bring the guards under the general umbrella of the economy and give them projects only under certain competitive conditions,” the official said. “The country’s economy is in such a critical state that there is no choice but for the guards to go back to its main military task.

Breitbart … Rose with Trump and Claims to ‘Protect’ him

Breitbart

London – It is usually the custom of businessmen and groups to pressure newspapers and website to portray them in a positive light, whether politically or commercially. It is rare however for a media outlet to succeed in infiltrating the political realm, the most powerful administration on the planet no less. This is exactly what the Breitbart media network did in a relatively short time after it was initially shunned by the majority of the political elite in Washington due to its views that leaned towards violence and discrimination.

Its executive chairman Steve Bannon had even served as director of Donald Trump’s electoral campaign before he was later appointed White House chief strategist for a period that did not exceed eight months. Bannon was behind many of Trump’s electoral slogans and he helped in devising his presidential priorities. These are the same priorities that were adopted by Breitbart.

While this right-wing news site does not enjoy the popularity and credibility of other media, such as the New York Times, Washington Post and even Buzzfeed, it has become the most popular conservative site after Trump’s election as president.

But what is Breitbart and has it really become an indication of the US administration’s policies? Is it really the White House’s unofficial spokesman?

Israeli idea and American birth

Conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart chose in 2007 to establish his own news website. He had previously worked with famous media pioneers, such as Arianna Huffington and Matt Drudge.

Co-founder of Brietbart, Larry Solov revealed in a 2015 article that Andrew Breitbart had the idea to establish his website while they were on a media trip to Israel in 2007. He said that Breitbart got the idea to set up a media network that “backs freedom and Israel.”

Solov said: “Andrew turned to me and asked if I would de-partner from the 800-person law firm where I was practicing and become business partners with him.”

“Maybe it was the impact of the historical place that we were in, but I agreed,” he said.

“I remember that we discussed that night our desire to set up a site that supports freedom and supports Israel,” recalled Solov.

Andrew Breitbart, who realized the importance of digital media, first set up a website that offers news from various agencies, such as Fox News. He republished them on his website before establishing in 2008, 2009 and 2010 three related news websites that reflect his editorial policy. A number of journalists who shared an opposition to the left, moderate right and traditional media soon joined these outlets.

Breitbart gained notoriety in 2010 and 2011 for publishing a series of false stories that relied, on several occasions, on manipulating videos. One such incident involved USDA official Shirley Sherrod. The site aired a video of her that showed her making racist comments. This led to her sacking from the USDA, but the video was later revealed to have been tampered with.

In 2011, Breitbart restored some of its credibility when it reported New York Representative Anthony Weiner’s scandal involving sexually explicit photographs. The scandal eventually led to his resignation.

The right’s Huffington Post

Breitbart gained further notoriety by publishing a series of scandals involving liberal and bureaucratic politicians and organizations. It became shunned by the Democrats and centrists, and even some Republicans, who said that the website sought to create political sedition and hate to promote its misleading stories.

After joining Breitbart, Bannon declared that he wanted the outlet to become the right’s Huffington Post. Bannon did not rise to prominence until after Andrew Breitbart died of a heart attack in 2012. He continued in his predecessor’s footsteps and worked on expanding and updating the website. It now has offices in Texas, Florida, California, London, Jerusalem and Cairo.

Bannon, Breitbart’s godfather

Bannon served four years in the navy in the 1980s as he pursued his studies in national security from Georgetown University. Given his admiration of then US President Ronald Reagan, he pursued business management at Harvard University. He worked at Goldman Sacks before leaving it to establish a small investment bank, Bannon & Co., which was later purchased by Societe General in 1998.

Bannon then shifted careers and turned his eyes on the media and Hollywood. He soon produced a documentary that highlighted the political development during the Reagan years. He followed that with more movies that reflected his right-wing interests.

He met Andrew Breitbart in 2004 and they discussed forming a news website. After Andrew’ death, Bannon took over the site, which many said became a mouthpiece of the Tea Party, especially in wake of Barack Obama’s election as president.

Even though Bannon managed to develop the website, many among Andrew’s team criticized him because he had steered away from the “founder’s legacy.” Ben Shapiro, a major editor and one of Andrew’s friends, said that the founder sought to confront the bullies in politics and he used Breitbart to do so. He eventually resigned from the site in objection to Bannon’s leadership and direction he was taking.

Protecting the president from his enemies

Bannon’s return to the media after his brief stint in Washington sparked controversy in the media and political fields because he was privy to top secret meetings at the White House. His return was also seen as an opportunity to detect Trump’s interests and leanings.

Shortly after his departure from his White House post, Bannon held an editorial meeting at Breitbart after which he held a rare press conference during which he declared that he will “fight his enemies alongside President Trump.” He made his statement in reference to the so-called “fake” media, as labeled by the US president.

Many believe that Breitbart is leading media wars that the president cannot take on himself. It has even gone after some of Trump’s closest aides due to their “vague” positions. Breitbart attacked Trump’s daughter Ivanka and later her husband Jared Kushner, both of whom it described as the “Democrats” at the White House. The website also attacked Trump’s strategy in Afghanistan, but it soon came back to support him when it came to his goal to build a border wall with Mexico and end the Obamacre health program.

Bannon asserted once again that he will continue to protect the American president from his “enemies”. He focused on immigration and defended Trump’s views, accusing the Catholic church of backing immigration for economic purposes.

Conditional White House ally

The number of readers of Breitbart rose from 2.9 million in 2012 to 17 million in 2016, revealed data published by the Washington Post, making it the most popular conservative American news site. The massive jump in readership can be attributed to exclusive interviews it made with Trump during his electoral campaign.

This has not gone without criticism, as Shapiro explained that he decided to resign from Breitbart after it became clear that the website had become more loyal to Trump than its own employees.

Bannon responded to the claims, saying that “our loyalty is not to Trump, but our readers and values.”

Abbas Ibrahim … The Eyes and Ears of the Lebanese State

Ibrahim

Beirut – In the few years that followed his appointment as general director of the Lebanese General Security, Major General Abbas Ibrahim managed to prove himself to be a major sponsor of successful internal and foreign mediations, especially in regards to the fierce war his agency is waging against terrorist groups. He has, at the same time, managed to persuade these groups to accept deals, taking advantage of their ambitions and fears.

Ibrahim’s name rose to prominence in successful swap deals with terror groups where he played the role of “achieving the greatest possible gain, while paying the lowest possible price.” These prices were usually paid to the “pockets” of others, not the Lebanese state, which has never paid a dime in these deals that have involved its citizens and its territory.

Ibrahim’s special ties with the contradictory sides have made him an acceptable negotiator and an in-demand mediator in several internal and foreign affairs.

Based on his position as head of the General Security, Ibrahim plays the role of the “eyes and ears of the state.” He is the president’s aide on security files and is also tasked with working on several sensitive affairs, whether through special appointment or through the nature of his work. The reality on the ground however sees him playing a central role in combating terrorist groups through the General Security, which is working at a remarkably effective rate, in cooperation with the other security agencies. He is also in charge of the Palestinian and Syrian files in Lebanon, as well as the administrative role his institution plays in managing foreigners in Lebanon, whether they are artists, expatriates or terror groups.

Some believe that since his appointment to his post in July 2011, Ibrahim succeeded in avoiding being politically affiliated to a certain party. He stayed close to the side that named him – AMAL and “Hezbollah” that appoint all Shi’ite public employees to their posts – while convincing their rivals of his centrist mediator role. This therefor enabled him to maintain his position at a distance from the rival parties in Lebanon, giving himself ample room to maneuver to fulfill his security-political role.

Despite all this, Ibrahim has had his fair share of criticism from both rival parties, whether in his counter-terrorism duty that saw him work closely with the Syrian regime and “Hezbollah” or in his adherence to official institutions and accompanying the interior minister on visits and conferences.

As usual, Ibrahim treated each side with remarkable balance. On the one hand, he repeatedly hailed the role of the “resistance”, which shuts down his critics from the pro-”Hezbollah” camp, and on the other he also praised the official security institutions, which prevents the armed group’s rivals from going too far in criticizing him.

Those close to Ibrahim acknowledge the difficulty of the centrist role he is playing. Editor-in-chief of the “General Security” magazine Mounir Akiki said that Ibrahim has more than once “called on the Lebanese to steer clear of political disputes … stressing that all sides operate under the constitution and Taef Accord.” Lebanon unfortunately, lies in an arena of regional contradictions that affects everyone, but they are all ultimately bound to return to national principles, he noted.

At the General Security, Ibrahim sought to develop the agency and eliminate corruption, which he said usually comes from the head of an institution. If the leader lacks the necessary abilities to manage the institution, then it is doomed to fail.

Upon his appointment to his position, said Akiki, Ibrahim devised a set of programs and goals under the umbrella of the law and jurisdiction. This saw cooperation between the army, Internal Security Forces and State Security agency. Each one of them has its jurisdiction and duties under law. If all three work together properly, then a safe state can be established.

Syrian crisis

Ibrahim has also played a prominent role in mediations linked to the Syrian crisis. In 2012, a pro-Syrian opposition Lebanese group was ambushed by the regime and most of its members were killed. Ibrahim, after being tasked by the political authority, managed to contact the regime and return the corpses to their loved ones. A prisoner who had been captured by the regime was also released.

He played an even more important role after the abduction in Syria of a bus of Lebanese Shi’ites who were traveling from Iran to Lebanon. Here, Ibrahim used his ties with Turkish intelligence chief Hakan Fidan to work on releasing them. The mediation saw Ibrahim contact Turkey, Qatar and the Syrian regime to ensure their release.

Akiki attributed Ibrahim’s success in these deals to his belief in the importance of credibility, his official position and his personal relations. These factors allowed him to enter negotiations and continue with them. Ibrahim has not once made concessions at the expense of the Lebanese state, stressed Akiki.

“His smart negotiation skills, patience and knowledge of how the other side thinks, as well as the trust, credibility and direct ties that he enjoys, have built his success,” added Akiki.

He noted however that direct negotiations were never held with “terrorists”.

“I do not believe that he would accept to negotiate with them directly. There was a mediator tasked with relaying their conditions or demands to us and also relaying our own to them,” he explained.

Future ambition

Some say that Ibrahim is seeking to enter the political field in the future and that he is laying the foundation for it now. In his current role, he appears to be walking in the footsteps of Speaker Nabih Berri, who enjoys excellent ties with several main parties in Lebanon, as opposed to “Hezbollah”, which has a limited number of allies and several rivals.

On this speculation, Akiki said: “We need to wait five years (the end of Ibrahim’s term in office) to see if it will come true.”

Ibrahim says that he will be in the place where he will be able “to serve the most, which is what he is doing in his current post,” explained Akiki.

Profile

Abbas Ibrahim was born on March 2, 1959. He hails from the town of Kawthariyet al-Sayyad in southern Lebanon. He is married to Ghada Zeineddine and they have three children: Mohammed, Ali and Bilal.

He first enrolled in military school when he was 19 and he graduated three years later with the rank of lieutenant. Throughout the 1980s, he took part in several training courses in the military, culminating in an infantry course in the United States in 1989. This was followed by a computer course in 1996 to stay up to date with the electronic age. He also received advanced security training in the United Kingdom in 1998.

In 1989, Ibrahim was the personal bodyguard of Arab League envoy to Lebanon Lakhdar Brahimi. He was then appointed bodyguard to late President Elias al-Hrawi and remained in that post until 1992 when he was tasked with protecting then newly appointed Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. In 1994, he was appointed head of the counter-terrorism and espionage department at the intelligence directorate.

Between 2005 and 2008, Ibrahim was head of the intelligence bureau in the South, putting him on the frontlines of the unrest in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh and all of its complications. He has successfully dealt with this thorny issue, building special ties with the Palestinian leadership there, which he has since used to his advantage in his current post as head of General Security.

Commander of the Palestinian national security forces in Lebanon Sobhi Abou Arab told Asharq Al-Awsat that Ibrahim “was the first Lebanese official to enter the refugee camps and meet with all sides, including popular, organized and Islamic factions. He was the first to initiate contact out of his keenness on security and stability.” Abou Arab hailed Ibrahim’s calm approach, as well as his negotiation skills and diplomatic abilities.

Two years after his appointment as General Security chief in 2011, Ibrahim declared that he had remained at an equal distance from all sides and that he had sought to serve all citizens away from sectarian disputes. This was proven true, garnering him the trust of all sides, who have put their faith in him with the county’s most difficult and complicated files.

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

ISIS

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

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

The Kazakh

I let Koblan Ozak Hassan recount his story with ISIS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Chinese member

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The American

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Syria: Elections Gambit to Get Russia Off the Hook

Syria

In a U-turn that might enter diplomatic annals as among the most bizarre, the United Nations’ special envoy on Syria Staffan di Mistura is forecasting an end of the war and the holding of elections there next year.

In a BBC radio interview yesterday, di Mistura more than implied that the international community must now accept the prolongation of President Bashar al-Assad’s rule and the holding of elections by what is left of his administration.

Di Mistura’s new position is in sharp contrast with the analysis he offered last year when he explicitly ruled out “any possibility of holding elections under the present regime.”

Spelling out his new analysis yesterday, di Mistura speculated that the Islamic State will lose its last strongholds in Syria by October, paving the way for “free and fair elections.”

“What we are seeing is, in my opinion, the beginning of the end of this war… what we need to make sure is that this becomes also the beginning of peace. And that is where the challenge starts at this very moment,” he said.

Analysts believe that di Mistura, frustrated by his failure to broker a deal between the rival blocs in this conflict, is trying to inject a bit of “positive mood” into what is a growingly grim picture. Just a few weeks ago, diplomatic circles were abuzz with rumors about di Mistura either being sacked or throwing in the towel.

“His new optimism may be due to some vague promises from Moscow,” says a UN official on condition of anonymity.

“With the Trump administration apparently letting Russia play the lead in this phase of the Syrian drama, di Mistura needs some backing from Russia to get anything done. Russia, in return, demands that the issue of {Bashar} al-Assad’s future be set aside for the time being.”

To cajole di Mistura in line, Moscow seems to have also promised a set of as yet unspecific concessions by the Assad clan in Damascus.

What di Mistura ignores is the fact that Assad and his backers who think they have won the war are in no mood to make any meaningful concessions to their opponents who may represent a majority of the Syrian people.

“Russia and Iran are certainly trying to split the anti-Assad opposition,” says Iranian analyst Nasser Zamani.

“The issue of early elections without a decision on Assad’s fate is likely to cause such a split.”

The so-called Cairo and Moscow opposition groups, believed to have a tacit understanding with at least part of the Assad regime, are likely to welcome the idea of elections in 2018. The main opposition coalition, known as the High Negotiations Committee, however, is likely to reject elections in circumstances in which the Assad regime controls at least 40 per cent of the population.

Di Mistura’s election gambit may, in fact, have little do with the core problems of the Syrian tragedy. It is clear that no serious elections could be held in such a short time and with no transition authority in place.

The dramatic changes in the Syrian demographic composition mean that no credible electoral register could be established without a proper census. By most estimates, at least half of Syria’s population has been transformed into refugees or displaced persons within the country.

Even if some kind of register is worked out, other key issues such as designating constituencies or adopting the system of proportional representation are complex enough to require more time to tackle.

Then there is the problem of who will organize, monitor and ultimately certify any election.

In areas still nominally under his control, Assad has not allowed the United Nations to build a credible presence that could be used as the basis for monitoring elections.

The situation in areas held by the opposition is even worse, as far as the UN’s ability to have an impact is concerned.

More importantly, perhaps, it is not clear what the election will be about and whether it will be fought by individual candidates or coalition of rival parties. As far and Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers are concerned, the exercise may simply be used as window-dressing to produce another Third World style majority for the regime.

Elections would be meaningful if the Syrians are offered a real choice of alternatives. And that requires the production of programs that he electorate can compare and judge.

Right now the remnants of the Ba’ath Party, still nominally leading the government in Damascus, is in no position to offer any concrete program beyond obedience to President Assad.

The opposition coalition, however, does have something to offer in the shape of the “transition road-map” approved at a conference in London last year and envisaging the formation of an interim government within six months. The plan implicitly accepts Assad’s continued presence for six months until the transition government is put in place.

It also insists that “war criminals and those charged with crimes against humanity” would not get a role in the transition. However, it stopped short of demanding the dismantling of the current regime’s administrative and military and security structures.

In an indirect attempt at addressing Russian concerns that Assad’s departure might lead to a collapse of the Syrian state and army, as was the case in Iraq in 2003, “the road map” makes it clear that the opposition is looking not “for purges” but for “reforms based on consensus and accommodation”.

Under “the road map”, special committees will review the “present situation” of Syria’s military and security apparatus with a view to restructuring them and re-training their personnel to serve a people-based government rather than a power-based on clannish and narrow ideological considerations.

Although suggestions regarding the federal option are not specifically raised, the “road-map” makes it clear it seeks the preservation of Syria’s largely centralized state structures with a series of reforms aimed at promoting democratization.

The “road map” initially enjoyed di Mistura’s strong backing but is no longer mentioned by him. This maybe because the UN special envoy is trying to find a way for Russia out of the Syrian quagmire rather than paving the way for lasting peace in that war-torn country.

Di Mistura himself has hinted at this. “Even those who believe they won the war – that is the government – they will need to make a gesture, otherwise Daesh will come back in a month or two months’ time,” he said yesterday. “Nobody had an interest in a resurgence of IS in Syria”.

He went on to say that the leadership in Moscow, recalling the Soviet experience of war in Afghanistan, “certainly wants an exit strategy.”

Giving Moscow an exit strategy in Syria cannot come at the expense of the Syrian people who have fought the regime for almost seven years.

The issue of Assad’s future cannot be fudged. If elections are to be held Syrians must be offered a clear choice between a regime that has brought them to grief and an opposition that may offer a less bad alternative.

Internal Rift Exacerbates Academic Challenges in Gaza

Gaza

Gaza – The number of students attending the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip schools declined as the new academic year started due to difficult economic conditions suffered by their guardians. The problems of the education system in the Gaza Strip have been exacerbated by the continued division between Fatah and Hamas, and by the Israeli siege on the coastal strip.

As the internal rift widened, hundreds of teachers consequently refused to work due to fear of having their wages cut as the Palestinian Authority took harsh measures against Hamas ministries and institutions in the Gaza Strip.

“The new teachers have been appointed with low salaries, 50 percent less than the original salary, which affects their living conditions and educational contribution,” media and public relations officer at the Education Ministry in the Gaza Strip Moatasem al-Minawi told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Schools were also targeted directly by the Israel during its three wars in Gaza, especially in the summer of 2014. Five schools were completely destroyed in the east and north of Gaza, and some 182 schools were partially damaged.

On the academic curricula, Minawi said that there is full coordination between Gaza and the West Bank, revealing as well the construction and furnishing of new schools.

“There is coordination, but we hope that differences will end so that the work is improves for us all,” said Minawi.

He added that Israel obstructed many projects to rebuild schools destroyed during wars. It also prevented the delivery of vital cement for reconstruction.

“Students are also affected by the siege that has resulted in deteriorating economic situations for their families, especially since a large number of them live in a poor psychological atmosphere within the classroom, which should instead be well-equipped and comfortable,” said Minawi.

The media official also pointed to efforts his ministry is exerting to increase existing educational proficiency.

ISIS, ‘Hezbollah’ Deal Reveals Hidden Agendas

ISIS

Dubai – Recent developments have seen opposing extremist groups, both Sunni and Shi’ite, set aside their differences in order to achieve their interests. Survival instincts and Machiavellian schemes run deeper than ideological victories that only the people kill themselves for.

We saw this when al-Qaeda members involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks sought refuge in Iran where they were eventually trained at the hands of “Hezbollah” and its late commander Imad Moghnieh, as proven in a report on the attacks.

It is strange that ISIS, with its Zarqawi creed, would come together with “Hezbollah,” its historic enemy, most prominent arm of Iran’s Wilayat al-Faqih and most important backer of the survival of the Syrian regime. Through the latter’s sponsorship, we witnessed in late August an agreement – or deal – between “Hezbollah” and ISIS.

Such a deal is not strange when one notices the history that binds al-Qaeda and Iran together. Zarqawi himself had fled Afghanistan’s Herat to Iran, where he resided for two years. Ousama bin Laden had in his last years and for various reasons called against targeting Iran. Among these reasons is its role as a safe haven for dozens of Qaeda fugitives as proven in documents obtained from his Abbottabad residence.

The possibility of ISIS and Iranian groups coming together is always possible when interests demand it. This was seen in “Hezbollah’s” agreement with ISIS through Syrian regime chief Bashar Assad’s blessing. ISIS is in a position of weakness after its defeats in Syria and Iraq, but Assad chose to leave the Tabaqa military base open for the taking by the terror group as he did various cities and weapons caches. He did this with total disregard of the danger ISIS poses to neighboring countries.

After liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, the Syrian borders became a main passage for extremists from all over the world heading to Iraq, prompting many Shi’ite cities to call for the overthrow of terrorism and the Syrian regime that supports it.

Dangerous deal and angry reactions

Several questions were raised and uncertainties were voiced after the August 26 “Hezbollah”-ISIS agreement that saw two opposing fundamentalist groups come together. The deal caught the attention of the allies of either group, especially “Hezbollah”, which is the more powerful side of the equation.

“Hezbollah” and its media announced on August 27 that an ISIS convoy will depart the Lebanese-Syrian border to Syria’s Albou Kamal city in Deir al-Zour. Some sides questioned the silence of the Najaf authority over the deal and its failure to condemn it even though it would see ISIS members return close to the Iraqi border, which would undermine the recent victories achieved by the US-led international coalition and Iraqi army in Nineveh, Talafar and other areas. The Najaf authority appears to be aware of the Iranian goal, which serves the interests of Assad, and it appears to have disregarded Iraqi interest.

Iraqi officials have however voiced their condemnation of the agreement. Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi and various political blocs rejected the Syrian regime-sponsored “Hezbollah”-ISIS deal. Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jabbouri expressed his rejection of any agreement that would restore ISIS to Iraq or bring it close to its borders. He added that Iraq will not pay the price of deals that harm its stability and security, calling on the government to take all necessary measures to counter the repercussions of this agreement.

The return of ISIS to Deir al-Zour will allow the terrorist organization to regroup in a strategic area that would allow it to carry out attacks against Iraq from Syrian territory, especially since it is only about a 100 kilometers away from Iraq.

Contradictory stances

“Hezbollah” leader Hassan Nasrallah’s approval of the deal with ISIS stands in stark contrast to his rejection of the Iraqi forces’ operation to liberate Mosul. He feared at the time that ISIS members would flee Mosul and seek refuge in Syria’s eastern regions. At the time of the announcement of the operation in October 2016, Nasrallah addressed the Iraqi people, urging them to reject what he called the “American deal” to expel ISIS into Syria, which would harm Iraqis and Syrians alike.

He declared that the “real Iraqi victory against ISIS lies in arresting its leaders and fighters, jailing them, and later putting on a fair trial. This victory does not lie in opening a route for them in Syria, because their presence there will pose a major danger to Iraq above anything else.”

It appears that these warning evaporated when it came to the “Hezbollah”-ISIS deal because it ensured that its interests and those of Assad were achieved.

In justifying his warning, Nasrallah claimed that ISIS’ return close to the Iraqi border would lead Iraqi forces into Syria to expel them He also claimed that in returning to Syria, ISIS will pave the way to its return to Iraq where the Anbar, Salaheddine, Nineveh and Mosul areas were under government control. So how did ISIS originally enter them? They entered from Syria’s Raqqa and Deir al-Zour, alleged Nasrallah.

This is historically incorrect because ISIS had initially emerged in Iraq after a demonstration was suppressed by force by Nouri al-Maliki’s forces. The group then seized the weapons left behind by Maliki’s forces and headed to Syria. It appears however that Nasrallah has forgotten or claims to have forgotten his own statements. He instead fell back on old allegations of combating the “Great devil” or “American deception” to justify his actions.

The “Hezbollah”-ISIS agreement reveals that the interest of the Syrian regime in the Iranian agenda is more important that the Iraqi regime and people, who have made great sacrifices in recent months in their war against ISIS. The deal also reveals that Iran, a nation that harbors dozens of violent extremist groups and many “Hezbollahs” that defend its identity and role, will not hesitate in striking deals with ISIS and al-Qaeda and their ilk whenever its interest and need demand it.

Obama’s Myanmar Legacy in Trouble and it’s not Trump’s Fault

Myanmar

One of former President Barack Obama’s greatest foreign policy achievements is at risk, and it has nothing to do with his successor, said an Associated Press report on Sunday.

Myanmar, the Southeast Asian nation that Obama helped usher back to democracy, has been roiled by an explosion of violence between Rohingya Muslim insurgents and security forces. Four hundred have been killed in the past week. About 60,000 have arrived in neighboring Bangladesh, including tens of thousands crossing by boat and on foot in the past day, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency.

The crisis has attracted unprecedented criticism of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s civilian leader who once assumed an almost saintly status in Washington and other Western capitals. She met Obama several times and was long championed by Democrats and Republicans in the US for her long, peaceful struggle against military rule that culminated in her rise to power a year and a half ago ago.

The Rohingya attacks have “in some ways empowered the military to assert themselves ‘as saviors of the country,’ which is how they like to see themselves,” said Derek Mitchell, who pushed for political change as Obama’s ambassador to Myanmar. “That’s not very helpful to the transition.”

Myanmar’s troubles involve many factors, but none involves President Donald Trump. While he has tried to erase much of Obama’s overseas legacy, Trump has largely ignored Myanmar.

Trump has yet to pick up the phone to speak with Suu Kyi. That has opened the door for northern neighbor China to exert greater influence. Beijing had ceded much of its sway to Washington after Obama, who visited twice, helped coax Myanmar’s generals to relinquish power.

David Mathieson, an independent analyst based in Myanmar, said Washington and other Western governments lost their leverage in the race to abandon economic penalties when the country started to open up. They did so although the military remained entrenched in business and politics, controlling key ministries responsible for security and retaining a guaranteed quota of one-quarter of parliamentary seats.

The military is now pushing for the president, who is subordinate to Suu Kyi, to convene a high-powered council with authority to grant it emergency powers to manage the crisis in western Rakhine state. Doing so raises further doubts about the country’s political direction.

Suu Kyi is taking diplomatic fire for failing to rein in security forces over which she has no formal control in her position as state counselor. She is also being pressed internationally to do more to protect the Rohingya, who are accused by majority Buddhists in Myanmar of being in the country illegally even though many have lived there for generations.

A former political prisoner, Suu Kyi opposed a UN fact-finding mission to investigate violence in Rakhine state. The UN Security Council this past week discussed the instability in Rakhine, from where civilians have fled across rivers and muddy rice fields, some on makeshift stretchers.

Trump’s UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, condemned recent coordinated attacks by Rohingya on security posts, but she pointedly said government forces have a responsibility to avoid abuses and allow in aid.

Katina Adams, a State Department spokeswoman, said the US was discussing the crisis with Myanmar “at the highest levels.”

Lawmakers are also paying attention in Washington as they consider an incremental expansion in military ties with Myanmar, long taboo because of human rights abuses.

“Ultimately, the root cause of tensions and strife in the Rakhine state is poverty and the systemic disenfranchisement of the Rohingya,” said Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat. He decried accusations from Myanmar’s government that international aid groups have supported Rohingya, claims the UN human rights chief has branded “irresponsible.”

Still, US officials past and present remain sympathetic to Suu Kyi. She faces a political dilemma, both in confronting the military and dealing with the turmoil that she inherited from the army-led administration that preceded her. Beyond the latest violence, Rakhine’s 320,000 Rohingya have been targeted in sectarian attacks by hard-line Buddhists for the past five years and live in squalid camps.

“Most of the responsibility for the current situation lies with the previous government,” said Mitchell. “The current government could have done more, but it’s not an easy issue when 90 percent of the people are pushing the other way.”

Myanmar has faced ethnic rebellions in its border regions since winning independence from Britain nearly 70 years ago. Suu Kyi’s government also has struggled to peacefully end rebellions in the northern states of Kachin and Shan, targeted in military operations that have displaced tens of thousands, reported the AP.

While her failure to call out military abuses has damaged her reputation, Suu Kyi, 72, remains popular at home. Journalists have been periodically jailed, and Suu Kyi herself has acquired a reputation for being aloof and controlling of information. But the country also known as Burma is far more open now than it was before its democratic transition.

Its first free elections in a generation were won by Suu Kyi’s party in 2015. Hundreds of nongovernment groups involved in health, education and development have emerged. Young officials and economists are advocating changes.

Daniel Russel, former top US diplomat for East Asia, said international disenchantment with Myanmar’s civilian leadership would only hurt what he described as a reform process. In Rakhine state, isolating Suu Kyi’s government would “make a difficult situation a lot worse.”

Mitchell’s greatest fear is foreign extremists capitalizing on the turmoil and fanning a worse conflict, giving the military a pretext to assert more control.

“That’s a recipe for ruin,” he said.

Five Myths about Ballistic Missiles

Korea

North Korea’s test launches have brought the possibility of a nuclear strike firmly back into the American consciousness. A recent survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that three-quarters of Americans now consider North Korea to be a “critical threat” to the United States. US intelligence analysts believe that North Korea may start deploying intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as soon as next year. And they think North Korea can fit nuclear warheads onto those missiles. How easy is it to detonate a nuclear weapon on foreign soil? Here are five myths about missiles, threats and deterrence.

MYTH NO. 1

For deterrence, countries must display functional weapons.

“North Korean missiles may reach US, but lack effective re-entry,” one Fox News article supplied soothingly this month. “Serious questions remain around North Korea’s ability to build vehicles to reenter the planet’s atmosphere through tremendous pressure and friction,” a Business Insider story explained. It sounds as if North Korea can’t be a threat if it hasn’t launched a projectile across the ocean.

But countries have never held their enemies to this standard. Early in the Cold War, nations tested nuclear weapons in a variety of settings, including underwater and underground. The United States and the Soviet Union also launched nuclear weapons on missiles, detonating them in the upper atmosphere or in space. At least once, on February 2, 1956 , the Soviets launched a nuclear weapon into space on a medium-range missile, allowing it to reenter and detonate inside the atmosphere. On May 6, 1962, the United States did the same from a submarine.

In 1963, the United States, the Soviet Union and Britain signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty, moving all testing underground. Since then, the only nuclear missile test involving reentry was conducted by China on October 27, 1966, with a medium-range missile. No country has ever attempted to demonstrate an ICBM in this fashion. Still, no one questions whether America, Britain, China, France or Russia have working nuclear missiles.

MYTH NO. 2

The US could destroy an enemy’s arsenal on the ground.

In his game plan for war with North Korea, the New York Post’s Ralph Peters — a retired Army lieutenant colonel — placed the following high on his to-do list: “We’d go for the missile and nuke infrastructure,” including scientists, technicians and the bombs themselves. Likewise, Time told readers in 2015 that, should Iran develop the ability to use nuclear weapons, they could “look for the Air Force’s Massive Ordnance Penetrator to get the assignment to try to destroy that capability.”

But that might not be so simple. Little is known in detail about the current ability of the United States to seek out and destroy mobile missiles before they launch, but it has been a notoriously tough problem in the past. During the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. military flew thousands of missions against Iraq’s Scud missiles but could not confirm a single kill.

Capabilities have improved, but by all indications, the job remains difficult. Just last month, Gen. Paul Selva , the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators that the US intelligence community cannot reliably track the deployment of North Korean missiles in the field. He noted that “Kim Jong Un and his forces are very good at camouflage, concealment and deception.”

MYTH NO. 3

The US could shoot down enemy warheads in flight.

After North Korea’s latest ICBM test, Gen. Lori Robinson, who leads US Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), expressed “unwavering . . . confidence that we can fully defend the United States against this ballistic missile threat.” After a recent test of American anti-ICBM procedures, Vice Adm. Jim Syring, the director of the Missile Defense Agency, said the test “demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat.” That makes it sound like the United States would have no problem knocking North Korean nuclear warheads out of the sky if it were ever necessary.

Any attempt to stop an ICBM attack would depend on the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, which the United States has built and deployed for that purpose. It successfully intercepted an ICBM-class target for the first time in a test in May. Unfortunately, its overall track record is less impressive. The Pentagon’s Operational Test and Evaluation office slammed GMD in its annual report for 2016 , pointing to frequent failures, insufficient testing and inadequate radar support. A detailed report from the Union of Concerned Scientists describes these results as an outcome of more than a decade of relaxed oversight. It will be a very long time before the shortcomings of the program can be corrected — if ever.

MYTH NO. 4

Deterrence can’t work against a country like North Korea.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster recently told ABC News that “classical deterrence theory” doesn’t apply to a regime like North Korea’s, one that “engages in unspeakable brutality against its own people.” Likewise, former assistant defense secretary Mary Beth Long didn’t seem to have high hopes for deterrence while speaking on a recent panel: “We tried to deter North Korea from having a nuclear program. That didn’t work. We tried to deter North Korea from having a nuclear program outside the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty]. That didn’t work. We tried to deter North Korea from hiding. That didn’t work.”

Yet nuclear deterrence has held so far: Nuclear weapons have not been used in war since 1945, despite being in the arsenals of nine countries (with sometimes erratic leaders) today. Dogfights between the American and Soviet air forces during the Korean War, border clashes between the USSR. and China in 1969, and a small-scale war between India and Pakistan in 1999 did not trigger mushroom clouds.

North Korea itself appears to have been, at least thus far, held back by deterrence. On June 25, 1950, the North Koreans marched south in an attempt to unify the Korean Peninsula by force. The invasion failed, leading to a grinding, three-year war, untold deaths and the destruction of North Korea’s infrastructure from the air. North Korea has never given up on its ambitions for reunification, but it has not tried to invade a second time.

Deterrence may fail eventually, but so far, it’s working.

MYTH NO. 5

First-generation nuclear weapons are hard to make.

That enriching uranium is notoriously hard supposedly keeps a bomb boom at bay. “Manufacturing high-quality fuel” — plutonium or highly enriched uranium — “is the most difficult part of any nuclear program,” author William Langewiesche noted in the Atlantic in 2006. “The big problem in making a nuclear bomb is that you need enriched uranium,” Gizmodo agreed in 2012 , “and that’s actually a real pain in the a– to make.”

But technology is no longer a serious barrier to making nuclear bombs. In a forthcoming article in the Nonproliferation Review, “Opening a Proliferation Pandora’s Box,” MIT professor R. Scott Kemp describes how knowledge spread around the world about a new technique for uranium enrichment: a relatively simple and inexpensive gas centrifuge. A laboratory in the Soviet Union completed the invention in the mid-1950s, relying on the skills of German and Austrian prisoners of war. After the prisoners went home, some of them set about re-creating it, first in West Germany and then in the United States.

Word got around. Unclassified reports from the American project circulated, becoming a “recipe book” for simple centrifuges. In the following years, countries large and small, wealthy and poor — Australia, Brazil, Britain, China, France, India, Italy, Israel, the Netherlands and Japan — all produced versions of the Soviet technology for enriching uranium.

The Washington Post

Iraq’s Kurds Heading Towards Independence

Kurdistan

Erbil- From the very first moment the majority of the Kurdish parties agreed to hold an independence referendum in Iraq’s Kurdistan, Amid Nankali and a group of young people started to prepare for this process by raising awareness among citizens through social media platforms on the need to vote in favor of the establishment of an independent Kurdish state.

Millions of Kurds in the Kurdistan region, Iraq and foreign countries are expected to vote in the general referendum organized by the Iraqi Kurdistan government on September 25 to determine the fate of their province.

The “Sykes-Picot” Agreement, which was signed in 1916, distributed Kurdish lands in four countries, including Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria.

Over the last 100 years, the Kurds have been subjected to many genocide campaigns by the successive Iraqi regimes. The most notorious of these were the campaigns launched by the Baathist regime led by former President Saddam Hussein, who, since his party took power in Iraq in 1968, has sought to eradicate the Kurdish population in Iraq.

One of these campaigns was the genocide against the Barzani family, which resulted in the extermination of more than 8,000 of them within a day.

Another massacre against the Kurdish people took place in March 1988, when chemical weapons were used in the city of Halabja, killing more than 5,000 Kurdish civilians and injuring more than 10,000, some of whom still suffer today.

“We, as a group of young volunteers, organize daily activities to educate citizens and support the referendum process,” said Amid Nankali, who brought a collection of Kurdistan flags in preparation for the referendum day.

“Why should we stay with Iraq?” Asks Nankali.

And whether the demands of some countries may lead to the postponement of this process, the young Kurdish activist said: “Many countries and peoples of the world hold referenda for self-determination; why are all of them entitled to this and we Kurds, the oldest peoples of the world, cannot enjoy this legitimate right?”

“The referendum will not be postponed; and we will run on schedule,” he added.

Despite the Kurdish vote in favor of the Iraqi Constitution and the success of the political process in the new Iraq, relations between the two sides was overshadowed by tension, and reached the extent of military confrontation, especially under former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who moved the Iraqi Army to attack Peshmerga forces in Khanaqin, Kirkuk and other Kurdish areas that lie outside the region’s administration (in the disputed areas).

In the beginning of 2014, Maliki cut the share of the province from Iraq’s federal budget and reduced the salaries of Kurdish employees, causing a major economic crisis in the region.

Peshmerga forces played a major role in preventing the fall of Iraqi territory under ISIS control.

It fought the terrorist organization and prevented its expansion. Fierce battles resulted in the liberation of large areas and made ISIS lose its offensive capabilities almost entirely.

However, the Iraqi government, according to the sources of the Peshmerga ministry and the Kurdistan Regional Government, did not provide any financial or military support to the Kurdish forces, and refused to give them their share of weapons and equipment supplied by the International Coalition.

On August 14, a delegation from the Supreme Council for the Referendum in Kurdistan arrived in Baghdad to negotiate the independence referendum with the government and all Iraqi parties.

The delegation returned to Kurdistan after a week of talks, declaring that the outcome of the meetings was positive.

Last week, the US Secretary of Defense and the Turkish and French Foreign and Defense Ministers conducted separate visits to the region.

While the US and Turkish ministers expressed reservations about the timing of the referendum, the French ministers stressed that their country, just as it supported the region in times of war, would support it in peacetime as well.

The Iranian regime, for its part, has declared its rejection of the referendum and called for the survival of the territory within the framework of a unified Iraq.

Nonetheless, a senior Kurdish source told Asharq al-Awsat that Tehran and Ankara would “never close their borders with the region”, underlining extensive trade relations between these two regional states and the Kurdish region.

According to a deputy of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (the party of former Iraqi President Jalal Talbani), the referendum has brought all the Kurdish parties on one road.

“We, in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, support the independence referendum because it is a national issue and it brings hope to all of us. We, Kurds, must support this process, and we cannot stand against it for any reason,” MP Khalaf Ahmad told Asharq al-Awsat.

On the other hand, the member of the General Council of the “Movement for Change”, Saber Ismail Hamza, told Asharq al-Awsat that his movement supported the referendum, but did not see the current time appropriate to conduct it.

“We prefer to postpone it now,” he stated.