There is not enough darkness in the world to put out the light of one small candle

Iran and the USA – the pressure mounts

NCF: The Broadcasts

In a series of five broadcasts William Morris, the NCF Secretary General, addresses the ongoing confrontation between Iran and the USA.

The first in the series is titled “Understanding Trump”. It sets the scene.

The second in the series is on “known unknowns” and the war-by-accident scenario. These messages appeared on Hala London radio. www.halalondon.com

The third in a series of broadcasts is on solutions to the problem.

And here is the forth. Stating the obvious this is on reasons we don’t want war.

And fifth and last – Will it happen?

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Breaking the Cycle of Shame in Iraq | MERI

An interesting report from Meri in Iraq: With Iraq’s displacement crisis, violence against women and girls has reached new levels of cruelty. However, with a forthcoming transition into stabilisation and the signed commitment to implement UNSCR 1325 for Women, Peace, and Security, both Iraq and Kurdistan Region now have the momentum to pave a new route to safeguarding and promoting women.

Source: Breaking the Cycle of Shame in Iraq | MERI

Afghanistan – Is it too late to save the country?

This comes in from a very senior NCF member in Afghanistan. We share many of his views. We have withheld his name:

The U.S.A. are making fools of themselves by trying to strike a so called peace deal with the Taliban. Initially, President Trump boldly announced a complete withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and he made this announcement without even consulting NATO. He did not even consult his allies in London. Trump’s announcement was welcomed by the regional powers (Russia, China, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan), and that was why the peace talks were giving boost by convening gatherings in Moscow. This even though Trump sacked his Defense Secretary, James Mattis, because he disagreed with Trump’s complete withdrawal plan for Afghanistan. But recently, most senior leaders of Trump’s administration began to issue statements that totally reversed Trump’s position and which clearly indicated a 180 degree shift of mind set from that which Trump initially promoted in regard to “completely withdrawing from Afghanistan”.

The regional powers were always aware of US intentions for a prolonged military presence in Afghanistan which proved that the Trump’s withdrawal announcement was a bluff. And all these regional countries (Russia, China, Iran & Pakistan) see the US prolonged presence in Afghanistan as a threat to their futuristic regional economic and military expansions. Afghanistan is the backyard of China and I think we are all aware that everyone works hard to keep their backyards tidy and clean!

The Peace talks of Doha between the US and the Taliban leadership have dragged on for a long time now and throughout these talks the US has changed their position and wishes over and over while the Taliban stands firm on one thing and that is the complete withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan. The Taliban refuses to talk with the Kabul government which they call a puppet regime installed by the US.

While the talks are continuing in Doha, the Taliban are carrying out deadly attacks and killing civilians. The Taliban also refused the ceasefire plea made by Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani. The recent Loya Jirga put on by President Ghani was another stage show without any fruitful results.

The Kabul government under President Ghani has proved a disaster, they simply cannot even maintain the law and order situation inside the Kabul Green Zone. And most districts of Kabul province which are not more than 20 kilometers from Ghani’s palace are under the Taliban rule. You can now imagine what would be happening in the other provinces.

The trigger for war and peace is not in the hands of those few hundreds so called Taliban leaders sitting in Doha, in fact the trigger is in the hands of Russia and China. This has proven to be the case over and over and if the US and London are not accepting this fact than they are blind.

There are solid propositions as to how to gain control of the country and second and most importantly how to win the support of the majority of the population. These two factors are the main ingredients to win stability, but as all are well aware all proposals for a more secure future have been turned down and those backing such propositions were instead labeled “the bad guys”!

Anyone who stands back and views the current situation dispassionately and measures it through the eye of the “Great Game”, can see that the US is in for a little bumpy ride. This is a journey which others have gone through too in the past!

Most credible observers still believe the power to turn around and then win this disastrous campaign lies with tribes.

‘East of Suez’ – Theresa May re-opens Harold Wilson’s imperial closure

History@Kingston

A special guest blog by Dr. Neil Partrick  www.neilpartrick

Fifty years ago the British Government was struggling with austerity at home and exploring an uncertain international future. Nostalgia for what remained of Britain’s imperialism was not part of the ‘world power’ role that Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson ambiguously advocated when first elected in 1964. He wanted Britain to join the European Economic Community but prioritised the US relationship. Although he refused to send British troops to Vietnam, Wilson was targeted by the left, angry that he had not severed US-UK relations over the war.

Harold Wilson

This combination of financial and political factors made cancelling UK military commitments ‘East of Suez’ a seemingly easy option despite Washington’s blandishments for the UK to maintain its old imperial placement. Arab allies were not happy either. Feeling the decision would make them potentially vulnerable to Iran’s imperial ambitions, they begged and covertly offered…

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al-Halbousi: A Good Choice for Iraq?

After months of political deadlock, Iraq has finally taken the key step of electing its Speaker and President, with a Prime Minister-designate also named. On Tuesday, the Iraqi parliament elected Barham Salih as President and shortly after he asked Adil Abdul-Mahdi to be Prime Minister. This comes two weeks after electing their speaker as Mohamed al-Halbousi.

Since 2003 the roles of President, Prime Minister and Speaker have been unofficially held by a Kurd, a Shiite and a Sunni respectively. Having struggled with a political stalemate since the elections in May, Iraq can now finally move forward toward naming its cabinet ministers and forming a parliament. This comes as a big step on the road to rebuilding a country devastated by three years of war with the Islamic State. In this, the first is a series, the NCF will focus o n the elected speaker, Mohammed Rikan Hadeed al-Halbousi, exploring the run-up to his election, his background and what his appointment might mean for the future of Iraq.

The Run up to al-Halbousi’s Appointment

In May’s parliamentary election, the Saairun political group, which is popular amongst many of Iraq’s poor and led by the prominent Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, came in first with 54 seats. In second, with 48 seats came Hadi al-Ameri’s Fatah Alliance. This group is one which has the tacit support of Iran and whose members are largely drawn from the paramilitary groups who were crucial in the victory against ISIL. In third and fourth came Haider al-Abadi’s Victory Alliance (42), a group with tacit US backing, and Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition (25). Both of the latter are, by and large, factions that have evolved from the Islamic Dawa Party, which has ruled Iraq for the last three terms.

After the election, the opposing Fatah Alliance and the Saairun each tried to separately form coalitions with the Victory Alliance, The State of Law Coalition, the Kurdish parties and others.

However, amid growing protests about government corruption and a growing water shortage crisis, the influential Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani called for change. He demanded that Iraq needed a new leadership stating he would not support “politicians who have been in authority in the past years”. This greatly diminished the chances of the Dawa based Victory Alliance and the State of Law Coalition. This forced Sairoon and Fatah to come together, and on Sept 15th the Fatah nominee al-Halbousi was elected speaker, with al-Sadr’s candidate Hassam Karim as first deputy.

Who is he?

At 37, al-Halbousi is the youngest speaker in Iraq’s history. He trained as a civil engineer, then went into the construction business. In 2014 he was elected to parliament and headed the parliamentary finance committee from 2016 until 2017 when he became governor of Anbar province.

In the May elections, al-Halbousi headed the ‘Anbar is Our Identity’ alliance. In fact al-Halbousi has a good relationship with Nouri al-Maliki and Hadi al-Amiri and was initially nominated by their Al-Binna’a alliance.

Internationally he has amicable relations with the US and was involved in many US contracts during their period of hegemony in Iraq. However, his connection to Iran is stronger. When elected he immediately cemented these ties by denouncing US sanctions on Iran and inviting Iran’s speaker to Iraq. But not before first exchanging invitations with the Speaker of the Parliament in pro-US Kuwait so as to indicate his neutrality.

What Does His Election Mean for Iraq?

With growing anti-establishment protests over corrupt rule, the Iraqi people are demanding a change. At 37, al-Halbousi seems to represent this change. Whether al-Halbousi is clean of corruption himself is debatable. There were even rumours that he had in part bought his post as Speaker by making questionable deals with other MPs, and though Sunni himself, not all the Sunni MPs support him. However, a fresh face is nonetheless welcomed by the Iraqi people.

He seems to be quite up to the vital task of keeping amicable relations with both the US and Iran. He also represents the much needed coming together of a country politically split and devastated by war. He looks to be a good candidate to take a united Iraq in a more positive direction.

Labour must find better ways to criticise Israel’s Government

Labour has strong reason to criticise the Israel’s government and to speak up for the rights of Palestinians. Although they are going about it in completely the wrong way. On Tuesday, Labour finally adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism with its full eleven working examples. Adding the four of which they had previously left out of their code of conduct. Labour also added a caveat expressing the need for freedom of expression on Israel and the rights of Palestinians. However, the lateness of this seems to be out of as much out of a need to alleviate the mounting pressure in the media as it is an action to fight anti-Semitism.

The adoption of the internationally recognised IHRA definitions represent for many in the Jewish community a key symbolic step in the fight against anti-Semitism. By viewing these guidelines as contentious, Labour has put themselves in a tricky position. This position conflates their rightly founded criticism of policies of Israel’s government and advocacy of Palestinian rights with anti-Semitism.

By not initially accepting the full IHRA definitions, they have shown a lack of understanding of the views of many in the Jewish community. Many in Labour say agreeing to the guidelines puts them in a position where they cannot criticise the acts of the Israeli government. However, the IHRA does still allow for this criticism. The four previously omitted examples of anti-Semitism include:

  • “Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.” This example does not mean that the Israel’s government cannot be criticised
  • “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour. This does not mean that Palestine doesn’t have the right to self-determination and does not define any specific land boundaries.
  • “Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” This does not mean we should stop criticising Israel’s government but perhaps does signal the need to further criticise the current and past behaviour of many democratic nations.
  • “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” This does not mean Israel’s policy is exempt from strong criticism but calls for criticism of Israel’s policy towards Palestinians in a way which still respects sensitivity to the issue of the horrors of the Holocaust.

Although Labour did agree to add these four examples on Tuesday, it also added a caveat that states: “this does not in any way undermine the freedom of expression on Israel and the rights of Palestinians”. It is not necessarily the content of the caveat which is the problem, but its symbolic placement. This undermines the IHRA definitions by suggesting that they do not allow for strong criticism of the Israeli state’s policies and the expression of Palestinian rights.

The effect of Labour’s poor management

Labour’s handling of this situation has had two key negative effects. Firstly, it has shown disregard for the feelings of many Jewish people inside and outside of the party. Secondly, it has significantly reduced Labour’s ability to pragmatically criticise the government of Israel and improve the rights of Palestinians. It has done this by distracting from the actual actions of the Israeli government against Palestinians; and by weakening the credibility of Labour as and when it chooses to criticise them.

Some have argued that those wishing to oust Corbyn have put him in a difficult position by deliberately conflating criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. Whether this is true or not, Labour cannot move forward unless they separate the two issues.

What can Labour do now?

To make any advances in effectively criticising Israel and upholding the rights of the Palestinians, Labour must separate the two conflated points. They can deliver a strong message against anti-Semitism by fully supporting the IHRA definitions as well as by combatting anti-Semitism in the party. Whilst doing this, they can separately give strong criticism of the Israeli state and advocate for the rights of the Palestinians. But confusing the two issues will get them nowhere.

UN High Court Rules in Qatar-UAE Case

A year since the blockade against Qatar, the Gulf nation has for the first time taken the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to the United Nations’ International Court of Justice (ICJ) over what it described as human right violations.

The boycott, which has been in effect since June 2017, is led by Saudi Arabia with the support of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – all previous partners of Qatar in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – and Egypt.

In June, Qatar’s government put forward a case, seeking reparations by arguing that the UAE enacted a series of measures that discriminate against Qataris. The measures include expelling Qataris from the UAE, prohibiting them from entering or passing through the UAE, ordering UAE nationals to leave Qatar, and closing UAE airspace and seaports to Qatar.

Qatar’s government argues that these actions were in violation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) – including discrimination on the basis of nationality. A tactical move by Qatar as the UAE and Qatar are the only Gulf signatories to the convention.

In response, the UAE offered a defence to Qatar’s case, citing similar allegations that were leveled against Qatar when the diplomatic row broke out last year. The UAE’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Saeed Al-Nuwais, has dismissed Qatar’s discrimination case as baseless and rejected all allegations.

However, on Monday, the ICJ ruled in favour of Qatar. The vote, albeit a narrow one with eight judges in favour and seven against, ruled that the measures put in place by the UAE amounted to racial discrimination and must immediately reunite Qatari families affected by the blockade and allow Qatari students to continue their education in the UAE. The ICJ’s decision, whilst provisional is nonetheless binding and a further proceeding is expected to be scheduled at a future date.

Despite the difficulties, Qatar overcame the economic impacts of the blockade – maintaining healthy growth. The blockading countries were already under economic hardship as a result of low oil prices, and have themselves suffered from cutting economic trade with Qatar. Energy-rich Qatar tapped into its massive wealth reserves to absorb the initial impact on its economy and secured alternatives means of trade for food supplies and maritime routes and ports.

This is a small victory for Qatar, who still remains isolated and estranged from neighbouring countries. A political solution to the Gulf crisis seems further far afield, as neither Qatar nor the blockading nations have shown any signs of backing down.