President Erdogan of Turkey is facing down Putin of Russia – and this time at least, Bashar al Assad is not the big factor. But the the consequence is, as ever, that the ordinary people suffer as Turkey adds to the misery as it starts to bombard Northern Syria from drones. This overview is based on feedback from Syrians on the spot. To listen to the latest podcast on this subject from William Morris, Secretary General of the Next Century Foundation, click on the link: https://www.buzzsprout.com/529801/2897692-syria-turkey-goes-head-to-head-with-russia
Iraq’s Premier designate, Mohamed Tawfiq Allawi, is struggling to gain approval for his cabinet. He claims to be struggling to keep his team independent to satisfy the demands of the demonstrators. Both the Kurds and some of the Sunnis stand against him. And now he has also managed to lose the support of some key Shiites. Initially he gave parliament a Monday deadline to assemble and approve his team. This was first extended to Thursday and has now been extended to Saturday. One close friend of the NCF comments:
How can progress be made in an environment where the real political power is outside the government, not inside, especially when that’s the way folks with real political power like it and want it to remain? They are the chairmen of the board who have power over the company executives they appoint.
Independents like Adil Abdulmahdi cannot do the job expected by the general public. What real power would Kurds have in Baghdad if they do not demand an appropriate share of what is likely to happen – no systemic change, just a change of clothes.
Adil Abdulmahdi had no backing/militia/group support. Sistani who is outside the government called for him to resign and the next day he does. Barham Salih has no real political power, even the few cogs in the government machinery he can turn are dependent on the cogs that are turned by those outside government. The Iraqi parliament is impotent, just another set of cogs in a machine run by outsiders.
Iraq is a failed state. No one I’ve chatted with can see a way out, especially with Iran in real control and having no interest in Iraq becoming the stable and prosperous country it could and should become, and especially with the US trying to squeeze the last drop of toothpaste out of the Iranian tube. Only the Kurds and Sunnis can begin to act independently of that strong dominating force.
What do we have to add to our armchair prognostications other than time – Trump losing the November election, the US conditionally lifting the Trump sanctions on Iran, the US with European backing engaging Iraq politically, diplomatically, and effectively, which at this time I am incapable of imagining.
Last evening, I watched a documentary on Netflix “Sergio” based on Samantha Power’s book that I read about 10 years ago. The situation in Iraq requires a Sergio who can work with ruthless folks to resolve a severely intractable situation. But even a Sergio could be incapable of cutting through such a conundrum. Iraq is where Sergio was killed. The UN is more impotent than ever, look at Syria!
For the NCF Secretary General’s position on this issue see this podcast:
At the request of the British Government, the Bishop of Cornwall (Philip Bishop of Truro) has completed a report on the the persecution of Christians worldwide in which he claims that Christians get the rawest deal worldwide. However, in reality, Muslims are the world’s most persecuted minority in today’s world. Here and now, in this the 75th anniversary of the holocaust, one million (some estimates are considerably higher) Uighur Muslims are in concentration camps in China. And the world continues to ignore the situation and increase trade with China. However, it is not just the Uighur that are persecuted in China. All Muslims are persecuted by the Government of China, wherever they come from. The following tragic example is of one of the Uighur however. It is that of the father of young woman indirectly associated with the Next Century Foundation. She genuinely hopes that publicising his case may help her father:
My name is Aibike Nagyz, I am a student of Nazarbayev University. I am currently a citizen of the Republic of Kazakhstan, but I was born in China. I am writing to request assistance for my father, who is being held in a so-called reeducation camp in China. Please find more detailed information on my father below.
Name: Nagyz Muhammed.
Date of Birth: July 16, 1968.
ID Number: 654322196807160010.
Address: Jinshan Street 46, 2nd entrance, apartment 506, Altay city, Xinjiang, China.
My father worked as a writer in Altay’s State Intangible Cultural Heritage Office. He is also a member of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Writer’s Association (XWA). Furthermore, he has published two books which are both collections of poetry. It should be mentioned that none of his work is related to separatism or nationalism.
In 2012, we (my mother, younger brother and I) moved to Kazakhstan especially to avail of educational opportunities there, which was the main reason for my father’s multiple visits to Kazakhstan. Now I am a student of Nazarbayev University.
In early 2018, he underwent surgery in Urumqi because of a heart attack. After the surgery, he came to Almaty so that we could look after him. In March 2018, a colleague called him via WeChat and asked him to go back to work urgently. He returned to Altay and after that he was summoned to the local police station for questioning about his last visit to Kazakhstan. He was arrested, and sadly, we have lost contact with him since then. His arrest was based on a trumped-up charge, possibly a malicious denunciation by a colleague who bore him ill will or sought advancement since colleagues are encouraged to accuse each another.
It is said (according to relatives in China) that he is being held in an alleged re-education camp. Recently it is being reported that he is going to be sentenced to a term of imprisonment even though there is no well-founded case against him. (This was acknowledged by government officials from Beijing who visited Xinjiang.) He is not even allowed to have a lawyer. All the court sessions have been held in closed session (in camera).
What has happened is a serious violation to his basic human rights and has caused harm to our family. It has been about 2 years, and we are very worried about the condition of his physical and mental health.
We implore vindication. We want him to be released since there is no proper charge against him. Please, we really need your helping hand.
For further comment on the Bishop of Cornwall’s report, see the Next Century Foundation Secretary General’s podcast on this link.
Shamima Begum has lost the first stage of her appeal against the removal of her citizenship. The judge decided she was not “stateless”. According to information we have received, Shamima returned to the UK in secret on Christmas Eve and is being kept in an undisclosed location. According to the world at large, Shamima remains in Camp Roj, a refugee camp in the Hasakeh region of northern Syria along with hundreds of other ISIS brides and their children. Regardless of the truth of the foregoing, what would you do with her and with the many others in her situation? Make them stateless? Is the removal of citizenship an honourable solution to this troubling issue? Surely not? Podcast from NCF Secretary General William Morris on this link
William Morris, the Next Century Foundation’s Secretary General, on information that the new Sultan of Oman, HRH Sultan Haitham Bin Tariq, has offered to facilitate negotiations between the State of Israel and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Prime Minister of Israel declined to accept the offer. Podcast from NCF Secretary General William Morris on this link
The excellent “Peace Index” is back again but its name has now changed to the “Israeli Voice Index” which is perhaps of itself a sign of the times. In this incarnation it is now published by the Israel Democracy Institute rather than Tel Aviv University. The original can be accessed on this link. Below, edited slightly for clarity, are their conclusions about the view of Israelis on the Trump Plan:
A Palestinian state – yes or no? Just before the full plan was published the Israeli Voice Index asked: “The peace plan that President Trump will soon present will apparently include recognition of a Palestinian state. In your opinion, should Israel agree to any plan that includes such recognition?” The rates who approve of such recognition in the context of the Trump plan among the Jews and the Arabs were very similar (45.5% and 44% respectively). The finding about the Jewish sample conforms to previous studies about support for the two-state idea. However, the rate of support among Arabs is much lower than in previous surveys. The reason is apparently the mention of President Trump in the body of the question, given the widespread perception that the U.S. president is not a fair arbitrator on the issue of the conflict and is biased toward the Israeli side.
Does the publication of the “deal of the century” constitute American interference in the Israeli elections?
Among the Arabs a clear majority (68%) sees the publication of the “deal of the century” as interference in the Israeli electoral process, while among the Jews slightly less than half (46%) view it that way. Israel is to have yet another general election in April.
Who would better manage negotiations with the Palestinians? If negotiations with the Palestinians were to begin, who, in the Israeli public’s opinion, would manage them better – Netanyahu? Gantz? Both equally well? In Israel’s public as a whole, the largest proportion (44.5%) think Netanyahu would be a better negotiator.
William Morris, the Next Century Foundation’s Secretary General, addressed lecturers at Takrit University in Northern Iraq as a precursor to discussions the subject of which was, at Takrit University’s behest, the role of Iran and America respectively in Iraq. This podcast was made in the aftermath of that meeting and reflects salient points from that discussion. Podcast from NCF Secretary General William Morris on this link
The following observation and associated note for clarification is relevant and comes from our senior member in Iraq, Stafford Clarry:
Following the drone assassination of two top military commanders – one Iranian and the other Iraqi, an Iranian military strike against US military forces in Iraq, and the Iraqi Parliament passing a non-binding resolution for withdrawal of US forces, the US-led coalition and Iraqi military have since resumed joint operations against ISIS. In addition, the US is negotiating to install defensive Patriot missiles in Iraq. Further, the US is urging a review of the SFA.
In 2008, the US and Iraq entered into two binding agreements.
- One, the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA), covered the overall political, economic, and security relationship.
- The other, the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), required all US combat forces to withdraw from major populated areas by end-June 2009 and for all US forces to withdraw from Iraq by end-December 2011.
These binding agreements were decided and signed during the White House administration of President George W. Bush. They were publicly endorsed by both Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani and US President George W. Bush in December 2008 in Baghdad.
Thus, contrary to misinformation, President Obana DID NOT decide to withdraw US forces from Iraq. In 2014, in reaction to the ISIS onslaught, however, upon the invitation of the Iraqi government, President Obama DID decide to send US combat forces back into Iraq.
President Obama used the 2001 Authority for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against al-Qaeda and other associate militant groups that was passed by the US Congress on 14 September 2001 and signed into law by President George W. Bush on 18 September 2001.
About two weeks before the 2019 parliamentary elections, UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis wrote an article for The Times accusing the Labour Party of antisemitism. The allegations were twofold:
- Firstly, the leadership failed to account for the antisemitic behaviour within the party.
- Secondly, Mirvis wrote, Corbyn is personally ‘complicit in prejudice’.
Unlike some commentators, I do not question the right of religious leaders to intervene when the stakes are this high. ‘Challenging racism is not a matter of politics’ Mirvis said. It is also not a matter of beliefs – those with authority should always call it out.
There is no doubt that antisemitism is a problem in the Labour Party – as it is in wider society. However, we have little evidence for its systemacy; the only extensive report on Labour’s antisemitism, the Chakrabarti inquiry, mentioned an ‘occasionally toxic atmosphere’, but concluded that the Party ‘is not overrun by antisemitism’. Be that as it may, we should not dismiss the allegations of Corbyn’s antisemitism lightly. Although some of his words and actions could have been misinterpreted, or should perhaps be excused because of the context, the amount of serious evidence is too great to to ignore.
There is no denying that by attacking the leading opposition party, Mirvis endorsed the Conservative government. While 85% of British Jews think that Corbyn is antisemitic, the institution of a Chief Rabbi is not the same as that of a megaphone. The Tories’ obsession with ‘Cultural Marxism’ or Jacob Rees-Mogg’s denunciation of two Jewish MPs as ‘illuminati’ is as worrying as cases of antisemitism in the Labour Party. Not to mention other types of racism common among Conservatives, which certainly should concern Rabbi Mirvis. Even though we might have got so used to the old antisemitism of the far-right that we do not register it anymore – it is still there, almost three times more frequent than on the far-left.
Regardless of how prevalent the anti-Jewish attitudes in Labour truly are, my stance is that Mirvis was right to call out the cases of antisemitism that he saw. But, by ignoring the other side of the equation, he not only overlooked the duty to ‘challenge racism in all forms’ that he mentions in his article, but also left the door open for more antisemitism to come, this time from the opposite side of the political spectrum.
Photo of Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis above by The Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Antisemitism and Islamophobia seem to be everywhere, along with a new Spirit of Parochialism. But why, and whose fault is it? (the picture used above shows the Dachau Memorial) Podcast from NCF Secretary General William Morris on this link
Brett McGurk, a senior national security adviser to three presidents, left the Trump Administration after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. Our Senior NCF member in Iraq, Stafford Clarry, shared this fascinating insight from Andrew Dyer of the San Diego Union Tribune datelined Jan. 23. It is of particular interest because the NCF is partnering with Takrit University’s Department of Peace Studies and for our first guest lecture, this Thursday, they have asked us to talk to students on the involvement of the USA and Iran in Iraq. For the original text see this link:
SAN DIEGO — A former national security advisor under three presidents, including President Donald Trump, described the administration’s current Middle East policy as “aimless” and flawed during a recent talk at San Diego State University.
Brett McGurk, who resigned in December 2018 as special presidential envoy to the coalition to defeat ISIS, described his experiences in the region, from when he first arrived as an adviser to the early Iraq provisional government, set up under then-President George W. Bush, until he left shortly after Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned and Trump ordered the withdrawal of American troops from Syria.
McGurk said during his talk that Trump’s decisions in the Middle East over the last three years — such as pulling out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, pulling U.S. forces out of Syria and assassinating Iran’s top general — were indicative of a poorly thought-out strategy.
“I just don’t think the Trump Administration has thought this through,” he said.
McGurk said that withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Deal has resulted in a series of consequences that effectively leaves the U.S. in a “strategic trap” with Iran.
“(The Iran deal) was an arms control deal — it wasn’t designed to change the Middle East,” McGurk said. “It was designed to put this horrible problem at least on the back burner (so) we can deal with other things in other ways, and that makes strategic sense.”
Trump criticized the international deal, which lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for certain limits on the country’s nuclear program, during his 2016 campaign. In May 2018, Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the deal and reimposed sanctions on the country.
In 2019 Iran-backed militias in Iraq, which had been U.S. allies in the fight against ISIS, began targeting U.S. facilities in the country. In December, the U.S. struck back at some of those militias in Iraq and Syria with airstrikes.
In retaliation, militia supporters broke into and set fire to part of the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad, leading to Trump’s decision to assassinate Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in a January drone strike.
Days later, Iran launched missiles at two Iraqi bases that house U.S. troops and, during the strikes, also shot down a Ukrainian airliner after it took off in Iran, killing all 176 people aboard.
Trump then announced new sanctions on Iran. Sanctions aren’t the solution, McGurk said.
“(The Trump Administration) thinks sanctions will fundamentally change Iran’s behavior, but there’s no evidence of that at all,” McGurk said.
“It makes their behavior worse. Everything is going the wrong way.”
Another consequence of the Soleimani strike — which occurred at the Baghdad airport — was a vote in Iraq’s parliament to kick the U.S. out of the country.
While McGurk said he felt a sense of justice in Soleimani’s death, “elementary errors” by the Pentagon in the immediate aftermath — such as the drafting of a letter announcing the U.S. would comply with the country’s parliament and withdraw entirely from Iraq — did not paint the U.S. in the best light in the region and among our allies, he said.
“It makes people think we don’t know what we’re doing,” McGurk said.
The talk at SDSU, which was hosted by the nonpartisan nonprofit San Diego Diplomacy Council and the university’s Fowler School of Business, attracted more than 120 people. McGurk took questions from attendees about a broad array of U.S. policies in the Middle East — especially on the fight against ISIS.
McGurk addressed the controversial decision by Obama not to order air strikes in Syria after President Bashar al-Assad’s regime was credibly accused of using chemical weapons in 2013. Obama was on record as saying the use of such weapons was a “red line” Assad could not cross.
McGurk said he didn’t think U.S. airstrikes would have been effective in that instance. He cited strikes ordered by Trump in response to more chemical weapons use by Syria in 2018.
“I am skeptical of the view that had Obama enforced the red line, that that would have been the end of Assad,” McGurk said. “Trump has done two series of air strikes against the Assad regime after the use of chemical weapons, and it made no strategic difference in the conflict at all.”
After his talk, McGurk spoke with the Union-Tribune about why it’s important for the U.S. to maintain a presence in Iraq and Syria, because of potential Russian involvement there.
“We built a force of 60,000 Syrians, and it gave us some leverage against Russia, and President Trump gave it up overnight,” he said.
“I thought that was a big disaster. But if we can’t stay in Iraq, then we also can’t stay in that chunk of Syria we’re still in…. The vacuum will be filled by ISIS and by Iranian-backed militias. And the great power that will come in to fill our space is Russia. So we need to stay. “
McGurk currently serves as the Frank E. and Arthur W. Payne Distinguished Lecturer at Stanford University.
Forty Syrian soldiers and fifty rebel troops were killed in fighting in Idlib province this week. Car bombs and heavy fire were used in an attempt by the National Liberation Front rebel alliance to retake positions in the Maarat al-Numan area. The rebels were supplied and supported by Turkey. Meanwhile the mortars falling on Aleppo are of a hitherto unprecedented size. All this because Bashar al Assad won’t agree to Erdogan taking a lead role in peace negotiations. Can there be a way forward that brings an end to this chaos? Podcast from NCF Secretary General William Morris on this link
There is to be a memorial lecture in remembrance of the great peacebuilder and NCF Trustee, the late Mrs June Jacobs. It will be on Wed, 25 March 2020 at 19:30 and will be held at New London Synagogue, 33 Abbey Road, London NW8 0AT. The speaker will be Naomi Chazan, leading human rights activist, former Israeli Knesset Deputy Speaker and Professor Emerita of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
If you wish to go along you must register through Eventbrite on this link: