The Dangers of Refusing to Link JCPOA to Tehran’s Behavior

“What is negotiation but the accumulation of small lies leading to advantage?”
(Felix Dennis)

It was a nail-biting moment for many as they waited for President Donald Trump to announce his position on “certifying” the nuclear agreement between major Western powers (plus Russia and China) and Iran; officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Although many leaks and announcements about Trump’s position proved to be true, it was so important that it drew immediate responses.

In the Middle East, the region most directly concerned about Iran’s nuclear plans, contrast in reactions could not have been greater. While Iranian President Hassan Rouhani angrily condemned Trump’s position widespread applause came from Arab countries disadvantaged not only by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but also its political exploitation of the international community’s silence towards it.

It is the silence that has allowed Iran to conquer and expand in the Region, thanks to its militias and conventional weapons.

Indeed, in the Middle East, specifically in the Gulf area, there are two serious threats posed by Iran’s ambitions for hegemony, including the nuclear agreement. The first is political, the second is nuclear.

The political threat is for all to see in the armed sectarian agitation, aided and sponsored by Tehran, whether through geographically dominant militias such as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Iraq, ‘Fatemiyyoun’, ‘Zaynabiyyoun’ and Hezbollah militias in Syria and Lebanon, and the Houthis in Yemen; or through gangs involved in terrorism and clandestine activities as the ones we hear about in Bahrain, other Gulf states, and North African countries.

Sure enough, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which plays a vital role in Iran’s political, security and economic life, continuously highlights its interventions and has openly boasted its ‘control of four Arab capitals’. Moreover, Qassem Suleimani, the Commander of the ‘Quds Brigade’ of the IRGC, never misses an opportunity to appear inspecting the front lines in Iraq and Syria, although he is supposed to be ‘wanted’ and chased by the international community as a terrorist suspect!
As for the nuclear threat, it is no less dangerous from a purely scientific viewpoint.

It has a geological-seismic dimension that has adverse consequences on the safety of the Gulf region; given the fact that Iran straddles highly unstable, and thus, dangerous seismic faults. Furthermore, many Iranian nuclear reactors and installations have been built in vulnerable earthquake fault lines; and if we remember that only a short distance separates the port of Bushehr (home to one the major installations) and the eastern shores of the Arabian Peninsula, we may imagine what disaster may befall the whole region from any leakage like that we witnessed in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011.

Of course, the governments of Germany, France and the UK have every right to oppose or agree with Washington’s policies, but their insistence on defending the nuclear deal with Iran is based, in a large part, on economic interests. These governments, spurred by German, French and British companies and banks eager to enter Iran’s market of 90 million customers, refuse to acknowledge the link between the agreement and Iran’s harsh treatment of opposition at home, or its aggressive interventions in neighbouring Arab countries.

Indeed, Iran’s aggressive interventions have caused two major problems:

1- The refugee problem afflicting the countries of Western and Central Europe.

2- The problem of extremist terrorism under ‘Sunni’ Muslim slogans, provoked by Iran’s ‘Shi’ite’ Muslim slogans.

According to reliable statistics, Iran’s exports to EU countries have risen by % 375 between 2016 and 2017, European companies have invested heavily in the almost ‘virgin’ Iranian market, and there is rapid progress in banking facilities that is running parallel with these investments.

Thus, the three European governments’ positions look no different from that of Barack Obama’s administration which sponsored Tehran’s rehabilitation, accorded it all kinds of excuses, and gambled on making it a regional ally. They, just like the former US Democratic administration did before, are intentionally separating between nuclear technology and political repercussions. The three governments have ignored the fact that Iran’s lies second the World (after China) in the number of executions and first relative to population; and that many of these are of a political nature, mostly targeting ethnic and sectarian minorities.

Furthermore, the three governments, while claiming to defend human rights, have done nothing with regard to Tehran’s maltreatment of figures that were part of its regime’s elite like ex-premier Mir-Hossein Mousavi, and former Speaker Mehdi Karroubi, not to mention the first president of ‘The Islamic Republic’ Abolhassan Banisadr, still living in exile in France!

Berlin, Paris and London, which are repeating Obama’s same excuses that limit Muslim terror to Sunnis, refuse to admit Tehran’s active role in aiding and abetting even extremist Sunni Muslim groups worldwide, and co-operating with them, including Al Qaeda.

The three governments want us to accept former US Secretary of State John Kerry’s inverted logic when he stated, time and time again during the US-Iran nuclear negotiations, that they solely touched on the nuclear side and never included any “other issues”. It is the same “logic” that Kerry reiterated this week as he criticized President Trump’s refusal to “certificate” the JCPOA while taking a tough line too against the IRGC and its appendages after highlighting their destructive role regionally and globally. As for the “other issues” mentioned by Mr Kerry, and ignored then by the Obama administration, were Iran’s political, military and intelligence interventions in Arab countries.

Finally, the three European governments which have always claimed the moral high ground in welcoming refugees from the Middle East, could do better by adopting the maxim “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

The ounce of prevention in this case, is simply, ridding the World of the evils of extremism, destruction and hatred, all of which create and fuel terrorism.

White Nationalism Is Destroying the West

On July 14, 2016, as French families strolled along Nice’s seafront promenade, a Tunisian man driving a large truck rammed into a crowd, killing 86 people. A month later, the mayor of nearby Cannes declared that “burkinis” — a catchall term for modest swimwear favored by many religious women — would be banned from the city’s beaches; a municipal official called the bathing suits “ostentatious clothing” expressing an “allegiance to terrorist movements that are at war with us.”

One of the law’s first victims was a third-generation Frenchwoman who was ordered by the police to strip off her veil while onlookers shouted, “Go back to your country.” Still, many French politicians and intellectuals rushed to defend the ban. Former president Nicolas Sarkozy called modest swimwear “a provocation”; Alain Finkielkraut, a prominent philosopher, argued that “the burkini is a flag.” But what they presented as a defense of secular liberal values was in fact an attack on them — a law, masquerading as neutral, had explicitly targeted one religious group.

When rapid immigration and terrorist attacks occur simultaneously — and the terrorists belong to the same ethnic or religious group as the new immigrants — the combination of fear and xenophobia can be dangerous and destructive. In much of Europe, fear of “jihadists” (who pose a genuine security threat) and animosity toward refugees (who generally do not) have been conflated in a way that allows far-right populists to seize on ISIS attacks as a pretext to shut the doors to desperate refugees, many of whom are themselves fleeing ISIS, and to engage in blatant discrimination against Muslim fellow citizens.

But this isn’t happening only in European countries. In recent years, anti-immigration rhetoric and nativist policies have become the new normal in liberal democracies from Europe to the United States. Legitimate debates about immigration policy and preventing extremism have been eclipsed by an obsessive focus on Muslims that paints them as an immutable civilizational enemy that is fundamentally incompatible with Western democratic values.

Yet despite the breathless warnings of impending Islamic conquest sounded by alarmist writers and pandering politicians, the risk of Islamization of the West has been greatly exaggerated. Islamists are not on the verge of seizing power in any advanced Western democracy or even winning significant political influence at the polls.

The same cannot be said of white nationalists, who today are on the march from Charlottesville, Va., to Dresden, Germany. As an ideology, white nationalism poses a significantly greater threat to Western democracies; its proponents and sympathizers have proved, historically and recently, that they can win a sizable share of the vote — as they did this year in France, Germany and the Netherlands — and even win power, as they have in the United States.

Far-right leaders are correct that immigration creates problems; what they miss is that they are the primary problem. The greatest threat to liberal democracies does not come from immigrants and refugees but from the backlash against them by those on the inside who are exploiting fear of outsiders to chip away at the values and institutions that make our societies liberal.

Anti-Semitic and xenophobic movements did not disappear from Europe after the liberation of Auschwitz, just as white supremacist groups have lurked beneath the surface of American politics ever since the Emancipation Proclamation. What has changed is that these groups have now been stirred from their slumber by savvy politicians seeking to stoke anger toward immigrants, refugees and racial minorities for their own benefit. Leaders from Donald Trump to France’s Marine Le Pen have validated the worldview of these groups, implicitly or explicitly encouraging them to promote their hateful opinions openly. As a result, ideas that were once marginal have now gone mainstream.

The trend is unmistakable. Hungary’s ruling party has plastered anti-Semitic ads on bus stops and billboards; an overtly neo-Nazi movement won 7 percent of the vote in Greece’s 2015 election; Germany’s upstart far-right party, which includes a popular member who criticized Berlin’s Holocaust memorial as “a monument of shame,” won 13 percent in last month’s election.

In France and Denmark, populist leaders have gone to great pains to shed the right’s crudest baggage and rebrand themselves in a way that appeals to Jews, women and gay people by depicting Muslims as the primary threat to all three groups. But their core goal remains the same: to close the borders and expel unwanted foreigners.

Cultural and demographic anxiety about dwindling native populations and rapidly increasing immigrant ones lies at the heart of these parties’ ideologies. In America, Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, worries about the impossibility of restoring “our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” In Europe, the right frets about who’s having the new German or Danish babies and the fact that it’s not white Germans or Danes — a social Darwinist dread popularized by the German writer Thilo Sarrazin, whose best-selling 2010 book, “Germany Abolishes Itself,” warned that barely literate Muslims were poised to replace the supposedly more intelligent German race.

The leader of the Netherlands’ newest far-right party fears that Europe will not exist “as a predominantly white-skinned, Christian or post-Christian, Roman-law-based kind of society” a few decades from now. “If I go to a museum, and I look at these portraits, they are essentially people like me that I can see. In 50 years it won’t be,” he worries.

France, more than any other country, has been the source of these ideas.

In February 2016, French right-wing groups descended on the town of Calais, protesting a huge informal refugee camp there known as the “Jungle.”


The New York Times

Is Europe Able to Protect its Businesses from US Sanctions?

Berlin- In a decision that could deepen the transatlantic rift, President Trump announced his withdrawal of presidential “certification” of the Iran nuclear deal Friday ahead of a Sunday deadline. Trump previously called the 2015 agreement disastrous and has argued that it isn’t in the United States’ best interests, though he has reluctantly certified Iran’s compliance in the past.

The deal’s decertification is expected to put Congress in charge of attaching new conditions that could either strengthen the deal or lead to its dismantlement. The latter scenario would probably result in the reimposition of US sanctions on Iran. Even within Trump’s administration, however, many top officials agree with European leaders and businesses that preserving the deal would be the smarter choice.

So why are European leaders — who unlike some top officials within the Trump administration are more easily able to argue their cases — in favor of upholding the deal?

Europe thinks that a flawed deal is better than no deal.

Even though there might be flaws, the current deal is better than no deal, European governments are arguing. “We have no indication of Iran violating its JCPoA commitments,” said an official in the German Federal Foreign Office, referring to the Iran deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its abbreviation. French officials recently reached the same conclusion, and even US officials have made the case that Iran is in compliance.

“It is essential to maintain it to avoid proliferation. In this period when we see the risks with North Korea, we must maintain this line,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in mid-September. The UN watchdog tasked with monitoring compliance has reached a similar conclusion.

Intelligence agencies have recorded a decrease in Iranian proliferation efforts in Europe.

Germany’s intelligence service said that Iranian “proliferation efforts for its nuclear program” significantly decreased following the deal’s implementation. Officials did not respond to questions about the details of that decrease, but authorities in Germany’s most populous federal state, North-Rhine Westphalia, said that attempts to try to obtain resources that could be used to pursue its nuclear program had dropped from 141 in 2015 to 32 the following year. German officials argue that the slackening Iranian efforts are one indication that the 2015 deal is working.

The lifting of sanctions under the deal prompted a rush of European corporations to do business in Iran. These are now lobbying their governments to prevent the dismantlement of the deal and are hoping that Iran may continue to adhere to its conditions if Europe refrained from reimposing sanctions.

Theoretically, the deal’s non-US signatories, which include Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran, could agree to stick to the deal without US participation. Asked about such a possibility at a European-Iranian investment conference last week, Philippe Delleur, senior vice president of public affairs for transport company Alstom, said: “I suppose that they will not put again the European sanctions. [In that case], we should be able to continue to work.”

Such a decision could still have severe implications for transatlantic relations at a time when Trump has already faced open disagreement and anger from many of his allies there over defense spending, trade, climate change and other issues.

Existing trade connections and investments make the deal’s dismantling increasingly difficult.

Iranian exports to the European Union increased by 375 percent from 2015 to 2016, and European companies have already invested a significant amount of money in the country, raising the stakes of any decision that could result in the deal’s collapse.

The surge in trade volume has been facilitated by the reintroduction of banking connections between Iran and the West, although major European banks have so far refrained from directly dealing with Iranian institutions. European credit agencies have stepped in to provide export guarantees to companies willing to trade with Iran.

The Danish Export Credit Agency has so far approved eight Iranian banks for credit lines or guarantees. “If snapback [sanctions] make it illegal to transfer money out of Iran, we would cover their losses. We offer banks this risk,” said the agency’s director, Jørn Fredsgaard Sørensen.

Such a model to save the Iran deal could unravel, however, if the United States decided to punish European companies, banks or agencies cooperating with Iran. Officials are examining options to protect European companies and individuals from US sanctions.

Some European business leaders doubt whether such efforts would provide sufficient protection. “Our stance and the stance of international companies is that we need to be compliant with international law, applicable law. And if sanctions come back and that means we cannot do our work inside or outside Iran, then we will stop,” said one senior executive at a major multinational corporation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitivity of decertification.

“People have discussed the idea of protective legislation [EU blocking sanctions]. I think in practice, with real multinational companies, they wouldn’t want to rely on that to do Iran investment,” the executive said.

In any case, European governments would still face an awkward decision: Would they side with a regime they frequently accuse of human rights violations, or with the United States?

The Washington Post

$1 Trillion Bad Loan Mountain Casts Shadow over Europe

Berlin- German and French banks have together amassed almost 230 billion euros ($272 billion) of bad loans, according to regulators’ data, underscoring the scale of a problem often linked solely to Italy that is now causing worry across the region.

The tally puts the combined total of problem loans in the euro zone’s largest economies, France and Germany, close to that of Italy’s 260 billion euro bad debt pile.

It lays bare the extent of the pan-European problem although it is far easier for banks in France and Germany to cope with because bad debts there account for a smaller proportion of overall credit.

After Italy, which had bad loans of 262 billion euros at the end of March, the biggest pockets of debt not repaid over roughly three months are found consecutively in France, Spain, Greece, Germany and the Netherlands.

France has 160 billion euros, while Spain has 139 billion euros and Germany 69 billion euros.

The European Central Bank has encountered stiff resistance in the European Parliament not only from Italian but also German lawmakers to its attempts to clean up Europe’s $1 trillion bad loans mountain.

Confronting ‘Lone Wolves’

terrorism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saudi Alliances between Washington and Moscow

Saudi

Hours after Moscow’s announcement that Saudi Arabia is interested in purchasing the most advanced Russian air defense system, the S-400, Washington declared that the American government agreed to sell the advanced THAAD missile defense system to the kingdom. This means that Riyadh has obtained the two most advanced air defense systems in the world to add to its military systems.

More important than the military deal is the political one that the Saudi government is making with the two rivals in the east and west. Saudi Arabia has the unique ability, shared with a few countries in the world, to deftly grasp the lines of alliance between the two rivals, who eye each other suspiciously whenever anyone cooperates with the other. It is only natural that neither Washington nor Moscow would want any partner to cooperate with their rival, as voiced by the Pentagon when it expressed its concern that many countries that the US considers as its ally, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, are buying military equipment from Russia. These stances are made out of understandable political, economic and commercial considerations.

A country such as Saudi Arabia, which has a deep political heritage and a balanced and sound diplomacy, could not have struck deals with two of the world’s greatest powers without hurting its interests somewhere. This was voiced by the US after the THAAD deal was made, which could be interpreted as an American political message to Riyadh that it does not oppose its partnership with Moscow, albeit reluctantly.

Riyadh realizes very well that solidifying its ties with Moscow does not mean abandoning its historic ally, the US. The Riyadh-Washington ties are much deeper and more important strategically. Improving ties with Russia means that the kingdom is seeking national interests away from narrow alliances in their traditional sense. These alliances expired with Riyadh’s opting to expand its future options and exploiting Russian efforts to regain its role in the world in areas it had power in the past.

Riyadh’s actions are taking place at a time when the international scene is witnessing major changes with world powers where even the US’ major traditional European allies are seeking to improve their ties with Moscow. This is in contrast to the past when turning to the east used to be considered taboo. Despite their current shift to the east, the European powers have maintained their strong alliances with Washington. We also cannot overlook the turbulence affecting the ties among world powers caused by their differences over various contentious crises, such as the Ukraine conflict and regional issues related to Iran, Syria, Iraq and Libya.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz’s visit to Moscow has opened the doors wide for a meeting of Saudi and Russian visions. No one can prevent Riyadh from seeking contact with influential world powers in order to improve its interests, partnerships and investments. This will in turn garner it additional support and allow it to preserve its current alliances and balances, which would serve its security and stability. It will also preserve regional and international security and stability. This is an equation that Riyadh has been able to achieve in a manner that few other countries have been successful in over the past seven decades.

Whether Saudi Arabia turns to the east or west and whether it cements its strategic alliance with Washington or opens new horizons with Moscow, Riyadh has the political and economic tools to allow it to continue to solidify its position among major players without harming its interests and those of its partners no matter where they may be.

US Mother Leaves Kids at Home to Go on European Tour

Iowa

Washington, London – A vacation in Europe has cost a US mother her freedom. The mother of four has been sentenced to jail after being accused of endangering her children and leaving them alone at home for 11 days.

According to Reuters, Erin Lee Macke, 30, traveled from Johnston, Iowa, a suburb of Des Moines, to Germany on September 20 without arranging child care for her three children, aged 12, 6 and 7, Johnston police said. The children also had access to a gun in the houses, according to the police.

Janet Wilwerding, a spokeswoman for the city of 22,000 said: “The police have seen times when people have left their children to go somewhere, but to go to another country is completely different.”

This news made headlines in some English newspapers. The Daily Mail described Macke as “America’s worst mom”, and people commented on the incident on her personal page on Facebook.

Police on September 21 discovered the children at the house, notified child protective services and then called Macke in Germany, ordering her to return. The children were placed in the custody of family members, police said.

Johnson Police Lieutenant Lynn Aswegan said that the mother’s social media posts suggested it was a recreational trip.

Amy McCoy, spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Human Services said Iowa state law does not specify any age or time limit for leaving children alone, but parents must provide for their safety.

“Had this been a situation where maybe Ms. Macke was leaving for a couple hours to have dinner in town, that’s one situation where this might not have been a significant concern,” Aswegan said.

Polk County Jail’s website showed that Macke was being held on a $9,000 bail.

From Barcelona to Irbil

Catalonia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spanish Police Arrest High-Ranking Catalan Officials in Raids

A crowd of protestors gather outside the Catalan region's economy ministry after junior economy minister Josep Maria Jove was arrested by Spanish police during a raid on several government offices, in Barcelona

Spanish police stormed Catalan government offices and buildings and arrested officials on Wednesday to halt the region’s independence referendum, an action the regional president said meant Madrid had effectively taken over his administration.

In the early hours of the morning armed officers arrived at various Catalan ministries, including the economy department, foreign affairs department, and social affairs department, Spanish media reported.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the regional government offices in the center of Barcelona’s tourist district, waving the red-and-yellow Catalan flag and chanting “Occupying forces out” and “Where is Europe?”.

“The Spanish state has by all rights intervened in Catalonia’s government and has established emergency rule,” Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said in a televised address.

“We condemn and reject the anti-democratic and totalitarian actions of the Spanish state,” he said, adding that Catalans should still turn out in force to vote in the Oct. 1 referendum on a split from Spain that Madrid has declared illegal.

At least twelve Catalan officials are said to have been arrested on Wednesday, including the chief aide to Catalonia’s deputy prime minister, Josep Maria Jové. The arrests come as the mayors of Catalan towns who back the referendum were yesterday questioned by state prosecutors.

A dozen high-ranking local officials were arrested, La Vanguardia newspaper said. The police confirmed they were carrying out raids connected with the banned referendum, but did not give details. The Catalan government sources could not confirm the other arrests.

Police efforts to stop the referendum, which the central government says is illegal, have intensified in recent days as the wealthy northeastern region shows no signs of putting an end to it.

Acting under court orders, police have raided printers, newspaper offices and private delivery in a search for campaign literature, instruction manuals for manning voting stations, and ballot boxes.

On Tuesday, the Civil Guard, a national police force, seized more than 45,000 envelopes packed in cardboard boxes that the Catalan government was ready to send to notify people around the region about the referendum.

The first of hundreds of Catalan mayors were also forced to appear before the state prosecutor on Tuesday after they said they would back the referendum.

But the central government must tread a fine line in enforcing the law in the region without seeming heavy-handed. Polls show a minority of Catalans, albeit over 40 percent, support independence although a majority want a referendum on the issue.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on Wednesday the operations in Catalonia were the result of legal rulings and were to ensure the rule of law. Markets so far have shrugged off the increasing tension.

The Constitutional Court has suspended the vote after the central government challenged its legality. Spain’s central government says the referendum goes against the country’s 1978 constitution which states Spain is indivisible.

Under Article 155 of Spain’s constitution, Madrid has the power to suspend the regional government’s authority to rule. It has yet to exercise this option as it seeks to block the vote through the courts.

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