Climate Change - A Window of Opportunity for the US

Edward Davey   |   July 2, 2014   12:00 AM ET

Climate change threatens serious economic disruption to us all with serious implications to global stability and the impact it will have on the whole of humanity. The recent extreme floods in the UK and the violent storms here in the US have been warnings from the future if we do not act. So I applaud the President's bold action on climate change - the Climate Action Plan was a seminal moment in the global debate on climate change as we build momentum towards an international deal next year and it shows the World that the US, can and will act.

Securing a global future for the next generation is my overriding priority, where we can all enhance our economic development and live in a world that is not threatened by manmade global warming or at the very least managed. America is key to this, which is why I am meeting with leaders in the White House and State Department to discuss how we can best turn this momentum into a global climate change agreement in Paris next year.

Like in the UK, there are those who are sceptical of the science, but the President was right when he said that the science has clearly shown that our planet is changing in ways that will have profound impacts on all of humankind and that will also result in serious economic consequences. The National Climate Assessment found that: "corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington State, and maple syrup producers in Vermont are all observing climate-related changes that are outside of recent experience."

There are also opportunities and true entrepreneurs should have their eyes wide open. We are in a global race and the global market for low carbon goods and services has been valued at over £3 trillion and is growing at about 4% a year. In the UK, renewable energy has generated £8bn of investment and will support up to 260,000 jobs by 2020, in the first quarter of this year renewable energy supplied 19.4 per cent of our energy needs. I urge the US to also embrace these opportunities and build on this emerging economy, because the threat is real.

My second priority is to provide long-term certainty for investors. The UK's 2008 climate law was welcomed by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) as providing a clear path to reach our climate change goals. It is why the US Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan is so laudable and I'm glad to see it has received a positive response from some businesses and investors. Since 2010, we have mobilised £45 billion to be invested in the British energy market and in April supporting 250,000 jobs by 2020.

Last week, the bipartisan Risky Business report, gave a comprehensive economic analysis of the costs of inaction across key US regions and sectors. It presents a stark choice - accept the climate risks, or get on another path. The independent New Climate Economy study, to be published in September, will also explore the global economic opportunities for businesses and governments further--ones that both our countries cannot afford to miss.

The reality is that no country's actions alone will create the impact required to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius - we all need to be part of the solution.
China is also taking action domestically and looking like it will overachieve on its pledge to reduce the carbon intensity of their economy by 45% by 2020. On his visit to London in June, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and the UK Prime Minister David Cameron issued a joint statement pledging to "redouble their efforts on climate change."

EU leaders, including the UK, Germany and France, have also set out a clear plan for agreeing to a 40% emissions reduction by 2030. These are just a few examples of growing global cooperation on these issues, many of which the US is playing a leading role in.

But we do not have time to spare - delaying action will cost the world and the US and UK economies more in the long run. As the Risky Business report shows, we need to create a sustainable economy, or we face a future of increasing resource scarcity, more extreme weather and continued environmental degradation.

We have an opportunity to fine tune our economies in order to deal with this threat and build a positive future for the next generations. Businesses and governments around the world need to embrace this opportunity and act on climate change. The US has shown it is willing to take ambitious action - together we need to make a global deal in 2015 a reality.

Ed Davey is the UK Energy and Climate Secretary

Mehdi Hasan   |   June 30, 2014   11:34 PM ET

The five things you need to know on Tuesday 1 July 2014...

1) ED VS THE 'BAYING MOB'

From the Guardian:

"David Cameron is edging Britain towards the EU exit door after embarking on a negotiation strategy based on 'threats, insults and disengagement', Ed Miliband has said. In rowdy commons scenes, which saw one former Tory minister liken the incoming European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to a Luftwaffe fighter plane, the Labour leader accused the prime minister of burning alliances, leaving his EU strategy in tatters. Emotions were running so high on the Tory benches as the prime minister reported back on last week's EU summit that the commons speaker, John Bercow, was forced to intervene to ask the 'baying mob' to allow Miliband to be heard."

The Labour leader said: "His combination of threats, insults and disengagement turned out to be a masterclass in how to alienate your allies and lose the argument for Britain, including his threat to leave the EU if Mr Juncker were chosen. We all remember he went rowing in a boat with Chancellor Merkel and other centre right leaders in a Swedish lake in order to win support. But what did she say afterwards. She said threats are not part and parcel of the European spirit."

Miliband's message isn't getting through, though - from the Telegraph:

"The Conservative Party has enjoyed a poll bounce in the wake of David Cameron’s failed attempt to prevent Jean-Claude Juncker becoming president of the European Commission. The so-called 'Juncker Effect' has seen the Tories overtake Labour in a poll conducted by Lord Ashcroft, the former Conservative party deputy chairman... The latest weekly poll by Lord Ashcroft puts the Tories on 33 per cent, up five points,and Labour on 31 per cent, down two points."

Labour will be hoping today's big announcement on the devolution of up to £30bn in funding to councils will help boost their poll ratings. In a speech in Leeds, based on proposals made by former cabinet minister and Tony Blair ally Andrew Adonis, the Labour leader will say English regions can be “economic powerhouses” if they are given more control of their budgets.

The Sun reports:

"Ed Miliband will today vow to hand vital powers to the regions in a new drive to tackle the North-South divide. The Labour leader will say all the cash raised from local business rates should be ploughed back into communities. In a speech in Leeds, he will pledge that "combined authorities" like Greater Manchester will get control of the money - rather than Whitehall getting half as now."

2) LAZY BRITS?

The Times has done an interview with Lord Heseltine, who's always good value:

"According to Lord Heseltine, the so-called 'productivity puzzle' is nothing of the sort. The infamous efficiency gap between the UK and rival economies is simply down to indolence: 'We don’t get up early enough, we don’t work hard enough, we’re not ambitious enough.' Not accusations many would level at the 81-year-old Conservative peer who, along with the cities minister Greg Clark, has just completed an exhausting tour of all of England’s 39 'local enterprise partnerships' (LEPs), the growth bodies created by the coalition to replace the costly, bureaucratic regional development agencies."

The report continues:

"Seated in Mr Clark’s office with his back to Big Ben, he claims that a local 'revolution' is about to sweep away inefficiency — British workers’ output per hour is 21 per cent below the average for the G7 — and set entrepreneurs and local government free to take the big decisions that will unlock growth."

And if he offends a fair few people along the way? Oh well...

3) NOT-SO-COOL BRITANNIA

Poor Dave. We've all held parties at which there've been some pretty embarrassing no-shows, right? From the Times:

"They wanted Daniel Craig and Benedict Cumberbatch, they got Ronnie Corbett and Bruce Forsyth. The idea had been to soak Downing Street in the full-beam power of the A-list celebrity spotlight, but David Cameron may have been left ruing the attempt last night having mustered only a sprinkling of stars shedding a somewhat lower wattage. The prime minister risked inevitable comparisons with Tony Blair’s Cool Britannia parties in 1997 when he invited a glittering collection of stars to an official reception."

The Guardian takes a similar line:

"David Cameron threw a star-studded celebrity party on Tuesday in an echo of Tony Blair's 1997 celebrated "Cool Britannia" bash. But while the New Labour party produced a famous image of Blair in deep conversation with Oasis's Noel Gallagher, Cameron's cast list was headlined by the somewhat less risky figures of entertainers Cilla Black and Bruce Forsyth."

Oh dear...

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a dog reacting to Portugal being knocked out of the World Cup. It's quality.

4) BOMB ISIS - OR WE'LL ASK IRAN TO DO IT

I've been speaking to one of Iraq's most senior politicians, who warns the United States that if it refuses to carry out air strikes against jihadist group Isis then then Iraq will ask Iran to carry them out:

"Speaking exclusively to The Huffington Post UK, Dr Haider Al-Abadi, a member of the Iraqi parliament and a spokesman for Prime Minister Noori Al-Maliki's Dawah Party, said the Iraqi authorities feel so threatened by Isis 'that we will take any assistance, even from Iran'. It is believed to be the first time such a senior Iraqi politician has publicly raised the spectre of full-scale Iranian military involvement inside Iraq - in the absence of US military action. 'We are waiting for the Americans to give us support,' he said. 'If US air strikes [happen], we don't need Iranian air strikes. If they don't, then we may need Iranian strikes.'"

5) 'AS A FATHER...'

"As a father," said President Obama, in an official statement after the three Israeli teenagers abducted earlier this month in the West Bank were found dead near Hebron, "I cannot imagine the indescribable pain that the parents of these teenage boys are experiencing."

He is right to show empathy. The murder of three Israeli teenagers is a tragedy - and a crime.

But, I wonder, does President Obama, 'as a father', also feel the pain of the parents of the three Palestinian teenagers killed in recent weeks by the Israeli military? Or the pain of the parents of Yemeni or Pakistani teenagers killed by US drones?

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 37
Conservatives 35
Ukip 12
Lib Dems 8

That would give Labour a majority of 18.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Polly Toynbee, writing in the Guardian, says: "Isolated and xenophobic: Britain after a Tory victory."

Rachel Sylvester, writing in the Times, says: "Ed doesn’t lack policies. He lacks character."

Steve Richards, writing in the Independent, says: "Nothing Cameron could have done would have changed outcome in Europe."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com), Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com) or Asa Bennett (asa.bennett@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons, @asabenn and @huffpostukpol

Mehdi Hasan   |   June 26, 2014    1:25 AM ET

The five things you need to know on Thursday 26 June 2014...

1) BAD WEEK FOR DAVE

Poor Dave. The first half of this week was all about phone hacking and the fallout from a guilty verdict for David Cameron's former director of communications, Andy Coulson. Not only did Cameron have to offer his 'profound apology' but yesterday, as the Guardian reports on its front page, "criticism of the prime minister was compounded when a judge rebuked Cameron for potentially prejudicing the final phase of the phone-hacking trial by prematurely branding Coulson a liar before all the verdicts on his former spin doctor... had been reached." Oops!

The second half will focus on Cameron's failing strategy to prevent Jean-Claude Juncker becoming president of the EU commission. As the FT reports on its front page:

"David Cameron's European allies abandoned him yesterday ahead of a showdown over EU leadership, leaving him all but alone in opposing the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker to Brussels' top job at a summit tomorrow. Angela Merkel made a last -minute intervention to try to stop the prime minister's isolation over the appointment of the European Commission president turning into a diplomatic debacle, reassuring him that she would seek to help him reform the EU."

The Times takes a slightly different tack, under the headline:

"Angela Merkel claimed yesterday that there would be 'no drama' if the rest of Europe outvoted Britain and installed Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission."

Maybe not in Brussels. But in Westminster? Oh, there'll be plenty of drama. Dave will have been defeated. And the eurosceptics will be enraged. To add insult to injury, Michael Gove's former spad and Cameron critic Dominic Cummings has penned a column in today's Times headlined: "Cameron's empty Euroscepticism fools no one."

Ouch.

2) KEN DOESN'T GIVE A DAMN

Ken Clarke, the minister without portfolio and veteran of the Thatcher and Major governments, is expected to be booted out of the coalition government in the coming reshuffle. And he knows it. Basically, he's demob-happy and doesn't give a damn about standing up for the PM or collective responsibility. Witness the europhile minister's comments on the BBC's World At One yesterday - my HuffPost colleague Ned Simons reports:

"Cameron has been criticised by the judge at the Old Bailey after he used a TV broadcast to apologise for employing Coulson as his communications director while the jury was still considering other charges. Downing Street insist that the prime minister received the 'best legal advice' before he made the statement. No.10 refused to confirm whether it had come from Attorney General, Dominic Grieve. However Clarke popped up on BBC Radio 4's World at One programme to say Cameron had been 'unwise' to comment. 'They should have taken some legal advice first but I doubt whether it ever crossed David's mind,' he said. 'There obviously wasn't a lawyer sitting around when they were being pressed by the public and the press to give comments on the news that had come out.' Told about Downing Street's claim it had received legal advice, he said: 'I think I know the source of 'the best legal advice' so I'll have a chat with him and he can correct me.'"

He also intervened in the row over the appointment of former Luxembourg PM Jean-Claude Juncker:

"Cameron has been fighting what looks like a losing battle to block Juncker from securing the post, arguing he is too integrationist. However Clarke, the most pro-EU member of Cameron's cabinet, said Junker was not the 'arch-villain' he has been portrayed to be. "I'm one of the few people, the prime minister is another, who has probably ever met Jean-Claude Juncker, he said. 'He's been turned into an arch-villain. He's not an arch-villain.'"

3) MY ENEMY'S ENEMY

Now here's an axis George W. Bush could never have dreamt of - from the Times:

American, Iranian and Syrian military aircraft buzzed the skies of Iraq yesterday, conducting parallel surveillance missions and airstrikes as the global battle to halt a Sunni militant offensive grew more intense and complex, drawing in old enemies to the same side. While the southward offensive towards Baghdad appears to have stalled, gains by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Isis) in Anbar have brought fresh jitters to the capital."

They've also brought together Barack Obama, Ayatullah Khamenei and Bashar al Assad. Who'd have imagined it, even a month ago.

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this very amusing video of a pair of Romanians trying to inspect a sewage pipe.

4) LABOUR'S 'TOP TRUMPS'

Jon Cruddas has a way with words, doesn't he? And he probably thought he was helping when he sat down with the New Statesman's George Eaton to urge his party to focus, Tony Benn-style, on policies, not personalities. As the Times explains:

"Members of the shadow Cabinet must stop jostling for position to replace Ed Miliband and concentrate on winning over voters, a senior party figure has warned. Alluding to the in-fighting that has broken out within the party, Jon Cruddas, who is overseeing Labour’s policy review, said that those who believe a new leader would boost the party were 'deluding themselves'. ho believe a new leader would boost the party were 'deluding themselves'. He named Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper as he warned that a 'game of Top Trumps' had broken out at the top of the party over the future leadership... Mr Cruddas staunchly defended his leader. 'I see him at close quarters,' he told the New Statesman. 'He has a different form of leadership, which I quite like, actually, it's more inclusive, it's quite plural...'"

5) 'GRUMPY OLD MEN'

From the Telegraph:

"The campaign to keep the United Kingdom together is risking failure because it is run by "grumpy old men" while many of the undecided voters in Scotland are women, a former adviser to Gordon Brown has claimed. Baroness Vadera, a banker who became a Labour business minister, said the pro–UK Better Together campaign was 'testing to destruction' the belief that it will win. 'I think we'll win, I think it'll be all right, but really it doesn't have to be this close," she told an event run by Fortune magazine last night. Better Together is led by Alistair Darling, the former chancellor, who had a difficult relationship with the peer. In his memoirs, Mr Darling said he refused to have the abrasive Baroness Vadera on his team in the Treasury, saying she was 'only happy if there was blood on the floor – preferably that of her colleagues'."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 37
Conservatives 32
Ukip 14
Lib Dems 7

That would give Labour a majority of 58.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Seumas Milne, writing in the Guardian, says: "They say Miliband's a loser – that's because they fear he could win."

Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Times, says: "I come to praise Coulson, not to bury him."

Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Prime Minister and his gang haven’t learnt their lesson."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com), Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com) or Asa Bennett (asa.bennett@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons, @asabenn and @huffpostukpol

Mehdi Hasan   |   June 23, 2014   12:14 AM ET

The five things you need to know on Monday 23 June 2014...

1) 'FLICKING TWO FINGERS AT THE REST OF EUROPE'

Iain Duncan Smith, arch-eurosceptic inside the coalition cabinet and, remember, a former Maastricht rebel, has weighed in on the row over Jean-Claude Juncker's proposed appointment as the next president of the European Commission - and the Guardian splashes on his pretty colourful remarks:

"In a sign of how Juncker's appointment could strengthen the hand of Eurosceptic members of the cabinet, the work and pensions secretary said the strong support among other EU leaders for the former Luxembourg prime minster amounted to 'flicking two fingers' at the electorate. Duncan Smith told BBC Radio 5 Live's Pienaar's Politics: 'If they give Jean-Claude Juncker a job this is like literally flicking two fingers at the rest of Europe and saying to all the people out there, 'We know that you voted the way you did but you are wrong and we are just going to show you how wrong you are by carrying on as though nothing happened.'' Duncan Smith warned of grave consequences if the appointment of Juncker were followed by a failure to embrace 'drastic change and reform' in the EU. He said: 'If they don't do that then it does make the prospect for Britain being in Europe very bleak indeed.'"

Meanwhile, David Cameron will be meeting European Council president Herman Van Rompuy later today for one final attempt to express his opposition to Juncker taking the top job in Brussels.

2) NOT SO INTELLIGENT

From the Telegraph:

"MI6 and the CIA were handed intelligence outlining the planned takeover of northern Iraq by jihadists and their allies five months ago but the British and American governments failed to act on it, senior officials in Iraq have told The Daily Telegraph. The head of intelligence for the autonomous Kurdish regional government, which has links with the West, said he had repeatedly tried to send warnings both to the central government in Baghdad and to its allies, Britain and America. But despite repeated attempts to impress on Washington and London the seriousness of the unfolding situation, he said there was no response from either government. The claims were made as it emerged that as many as 500 Britishborn fighters have travelled to the Middle East in recent months to take up arms with the Islamic State of Iraq and al–Sham (Isis). The families of three young men from Cardiff last night pleaded for them to come home after two of them appeared in an Isis propaganda video urging British Muslims to join them in their holy war."

3) WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE

Poor Nick. From the Guardian:

"Nick Clegg has become 'toxic' on the doorstep, despite being a 'nice guy', a former Liberal Democrat leader of Liverpool city council has warned. As the former party leader Sir Menzies Campbell said the Lib Dems would need to rebuild 'from the bottom up' after losing all but one of their MEPs, Lord Storey said Clegg has become an unpopular figure in his home city. Storey, who led Liverpool between 1998-2005, told the Sunday Politics on BBC1: 'Knocking on doors in Liverpool, I have to tell you that Nick Clegg is not a popular person. And some might use the word toxic. I find this very, very difficult because I know Nick very well and I see a principled person who passionately believes in what he's doing, and he's a nice guy.'"

Nice guys, of course, finish last. So will the Lib Dems have the cojones to try and replace Clegg between now and May 2015?

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch a Vine of Cristiano Ronaldo back-heeling his way around three different US players in last night's USA v Portugal clash. Shame it didn't help Portugal win the game - they tied with the Yanks 2-2 in a thrilling game.

4) BRING ON... HS3?

HS2 is so 2013. 2014 is all about HS4, it seems. From the Independent:

"A plan to boost the economy of the North by building England's third high-speed rail link - HS3 - between Manchester and Leeds will be outlined by George Osborne today. The project would be based on the existing Manchesterto-Leeds rail line but journey times would be speeded up by building new tunnels and infrastructure. The fastest train between the two cities now takes 49 minutes, almost twice as long as the similar 35-mile journey between London and Reading."

Could this be a shrewd move by the Tories to try and woo back voters in the north, where they're most unpopular? Osborne is nothing if not ultra-political...

5) 'SORRY, BARACK, I CAN'T HEAR YOU!'

Poor Dave. From the Times:

David Cameron has revealed that he struggles to make calls to world leaders during his Cornish holidays because the mobile phone signal is so poor. The prime minister suggested that he had been forced to rely on one area of good reception for important conversations. Ministers are in talks over dealing with so-called rural “not-spots”, where reception on some networks cuts out. They want mobile phone companies to share their phone masts to increase coverage."

And you thought you had reception issues, right?

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 38
Conservatives 32
Ukip 14
Lib Dems 8

That would give Labour a majority of 76.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Aditya Chakrabortty, writing in the Guardian, says: "What Labour's free owl pledge reveals about the state of political debate."

Stephen Pollard, writing in the Times, says: "Yet another Labour big beast departs the stage."

Robert Fisk, writing in the Independent, says: "If history and petropolitics teach us anything, it's that the collapse of Iraq shouldn't come as surprise."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com), Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com) or Asa Bennett (asa.bennett@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons, @asabenn and @huffpostukpol

Obama - Caught Between Iraq and a Hard Place

Jon-Christopher Bua   |   June 23, 2014   12:00 AM ET

"Oh, when will they ever learn?" - Pete Seeger (1955)

A bit of background on how this disaster got underway in the first place.

Anticipating a victory over Germany and the Ottoman Empire, in May of 1916, representatives of Great Britain and France secretly reached an accord called the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

This Agreement's intention was to divide most of the Arab lands under the rule of the Ottoman Empire into British and French spheres of influence.

Under Sykes-Picot, the Syrian coast and much of modern-day Lebanon went to France.

Britain would take control over central and southern Mesopotamia, around the Baghdad and Basra provinces.

Palestine would have an international administration as other "Christian" powers, namely Russia, held an interest in this region.

The rest of the territory in question - a huge area including modern-day Syria, Mosul in northern Iraq, and Jordan - would have local Arab chiefs under French supervision in the north and British in the south.

Also, Britain and France would retain free passage and trade in the other's zone of influence.

Mother Russia, never far from being involved in this pie slicing game, signed a secret agreement with Britain in March of 1915 allowing her to annex the Ottoman capital of Constantinople and retain control of the Dardanelles - the ever important strait connecting the Black Sea with the Mediterranean.

Sound familiar?

Russia would then agree to British claims over other areas of the vanquished Ottoman Empire and central Persia (Iran) including the oil-rich region of Mesopotamia -corresponding to modern day Iraq, Kuwait, the northeastern section of Syria.

What these greedy soon to be victors did not take into account was that these local Arab chiefs and tribal leaders had very little in common except their unique and diverse ways of worshiping.

Today's crisis is also deeply rooted in the battle for succession in Islam that created the Sunni-Shia divide in the Muslim world today.

Sunni Muslims are in the majority worldwide except in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Azerbaijan where Shia Muslims make up the majority of the total population in those countries.

Although all of this complexity may be a lot to absorb for the average westerner, this history is important because it reveals how little we know about the people of the region and their beliefs.

The ISIS struggle for power in Iraq now clearly demonstrates the strong religious divisions that were suppressed during the reign of Saddam Hussein.

And now they are re-emerging on a previously un-imagined scale.

When the US and the "Coalition of the Willing" went to war in Iraq the second time we opened a Pandora's Box - never be closed again.

Plain and not-so-simple: The West toppled the Sunni led Saddam Hussein government in exchange for a Nouri al-Maliki Shia led government.

The West neutralised Iran's enemy, its Sunni led neighbour Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

All in all, what's going on now in Iraq is a high stakes religious war that threatens to topple the current Maliki Shia led government in Iraq and destabilise the entire region.

Now Iran, which is Shia, would like nothing better than to join with the Shia government in Iraq and Syria to create a huge, unified Shia Caliphate

Once again the US and the West find themselves unwittingly in the middle of a tribal religious war.

No matter what political side you were on regarding the decision to go to war in Iraq, once the invasion occurred, the goals were clear: to create a "stable democracy" that would prevent terrorism like 9-11 from ever happening again and guaranty the West safe access to Iraq's and region's oil reserves.

At this point is seems we have failed on both of these counts with ISIS in control of large parts of Iraq and headed toward Baghdad.

As President Obama alluded to during his presser on June 19, Iraq did managed to pull off one election but he also alluded to the fact that it may have failed to create a representative and inclusive political process that could function and survive for the long haul.

This is not the first time we have found ourselves in the same kind of religious conflict.

This was true in Vietnam five decades ago where the US went to war to stop the "domino effect of Communism" throughout South East Asia thereby securing America's access to the natural resources of that region.

Something the French gave up on a decade before that.

Perhaps the French may have realised that Vietnam was all about religious conflict and positioning for power.

The US war effort supported a Catholic minority government run by Diem over a Buddhist majority.

In Vietnam the US lost over 58,000 of its young men and women in a war that we could never win.

Over four decades ago on March 29, 1973, when the US withdrew from Vietnam, America and her allies had to accept the fact that the Western cultural ideals of a "Jeffersonian Inspired Democracy" would not prevail in that country.

All these years later, Vietnam is in fact a unified and communist run nation who we trade with and is even a prime vacation destination for the grandchildren of those who fought and died there.

Since Vietnam we in the West continue to champion these lofty democratic notions.

Although it has worked in some countries with strong democratic traditions, we have all learned at our peril - it simply does not work everywhere.

Along with the hope that "The Arab Spring" gave the world, it now seems that attempts at establishing some form of democracy in Lebanon, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere have not worked out so well for the US and the West.

Perhaps it is time for the US and the West to rethink its mission as "Champion of Democracy" and "Keeper of World Peace".

President Obama has found himself squarely between Iraq and a hard place.

A spot where many presidents have been before - dealing with an inherited foreign conflict that threatens world security with no easy way out.

Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon all knew this challenge - what was domestically a potential political nightmare might in fact be the right choice in the long term and serve the best interest of the United States.

Obama knows he has a war weary and unwilling public but he also understands he cannot let this region collapse into a terrorist haven.

It will not only take a courageous president but an equally brave Congress to address this problem in an election year.

The stakes on all fronts could not be higher.

The Threat of Russian Expansionism Is Not Over

James Snell   |   June 21, 2014   12:18 AM ET

A Russian tank rolling over border lines has become a familiar sight. Nevertheless, that does not lessen the political significance of such an action - which appears to have occurred again in recent days. Russian meddling in the affairs of its neighbours, as documented by Michael Weiss, is hardly over. As predicted, it seems that the Russian bear is not satiated by simply swallowing Crimea.

Russia has attempted to dominate its neighbours since before the end of the Cold War. The 'Union' of Soviet Socialist Republics was anything but. The formation of the USSR in the aftermath of the Russian Civil War was not one which most member states entered willingly - with the myth of happy unification serving as a fig leaf for what amounted to the military re-conquest of former Russian imperial territories.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, Russia has been its own nation, but one which sought to exert the same influence on nearby countries as it did in its previous incarnation. President Putin, a former official in the sinister KGB, well schooled in the police state methodology, seeks to replicate this today.

Hence the trauma and strife and resistance on the streets of Ukraine; when the Russian-speaking Eastern half of the country, backed by the Motherland herself, comes up against western, Europhile tendencies from the other Ukraine. Sparks were always going to fly.

I watched live footage of a demonstration gone bad during the original EuroMaiden protests, and, amid the garish lighting, setting the surroundings ablaze with a torrent of lurid orange fluorescents, the men and women of Ukraine (I hesitate, out of respect for their uncommon bravery, to use the word 'ordinary')  were being corralled by the machinery of the state. That state, now since thankfully replaced, was a Russia proxy. More aggressive action from Moscow can hardly seem surprising.

That night was full of the sounds of wordless shouting, mingled with the occasional sharp scream of pain, and the infrequent pop of some minor explosion. Viewing this - sitting as I was in the relative prosperity of the Western world, watching the citizens of some far-off land fighting to attain the same dizzy heights of freedom that I enjoy - made me feel at once humble, afraid, exhilarated and proud.

I was frightened for democracy; once more under threat from some two-bit would-be despot in a foreign field. I was humbled by the courage, moral and physical, of those who defied the threats of brute force from the authorities to protest against kow-towing to Moscow. I was exhilarated, as I am whenever what I love comes up against what I hate, by this open defiance of Russian soft expansion, and their de facto puppet in 'local' government. Finally, I was proud - unaccountably so, as I don't know anyone involved - but proud nevertheless.

It was also an education of sorts to observe the differences in coverage. It was very interesting to see that Putin mouthpiece Russia Today only focused on the violence apparently committed by demonstrators, who were called only "rioters". Obviously the Kremlin-sponsored government is above reproach.

The protesters were not perfect, by any means, and the new government in Kiev is not a model of democratic perfection; and, accordingly, any attempt to marshal this complex event into a black-and-white narrative would be misguided.

And yet, there are still lessons to be extracted from the trauma in Ukraine, etched with the pain and bloodshed of the nation. Rebels in the East of the country are hardly nice people - certainly less so than the new leaders in the nation's capital. There have been calls for the registration of Jews in Donetsk, where horror stories of the new order of things are emerging.

It is important to acknowledge that such threats to democracy still exist, even in nations as close geographically to Western democracy as Russia and Ukraine. Putin is a tyrant, who attempts to smash political opponents and undesirables with the weight of a compromised legal system. His many proxies and allies - in Ukraine, Belarus and the like - present the same challenge to liberty and democracy, and only make it worse.

While a fair amount of his political foes have been squabbling oligarchs, immoral billionaires rapidly enriched by the disintegration of the Soviet Union, it has been difficult to empathise with the victims of his oppressive rule. Some people even seem to like the guy; Peter Hitchens went as far as to deliver a lecture - only partially tongue in cheek - about his admiration for this xenophobic, gay-bashing murderer.

But now he is doing it to ordinary people, and in another sovereign state, no less. Bands are arrested and imprisoned on archaic statute. Discontent is stirred up by Russian Agents provocateurs in order to destabilise a democratic transition. This is still happening. And, as long as it is, it must be opposed.

James Snell is a Contributing Editor of The Libertarian

  |   June 19, 2014    1:11 PM ET

Up to 450 Britons have joined the ranks of extremists ISIS and could attack the UK, a Kurdish intelligence chief has claimed.

Lahoor Talabani, director of counter terrorism for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), told Sky News that the offensive in the north of the country by ISIS should not be viewed as an attack only on the Iraqi government.

His comments echo those of Prime Minister David Cameron, who on Wednesday warned that Isis was plotting terror attacks on the UK and that militants returning from fighting in Iraq and neighbouring Syria now represent a greater threat than those from Afghanistan.

Mr Talabani said: "According to the intelligence we have, just Britain alone have around 400 to 450 known people fighting amongst the ranks of ISIS."

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ISIS's British fighters could return to attack the UK, the Kurdish intelligence chief warned

He added that ISIS leader Abu Bakr el Baghdadi would use them to attack the UK if they survived the fighting, and the situation would get worse for the West if it does not intervene. He called for air strikes, ammunition and weaponry from the West.

SEE ALSO: ISIS' Annual Report Reveal 7 Disturbing Statistics About Terror Group Sweeping Through Iraq

Among the Britons claiming on social media to have been fighting with ISIS was Abu Rashash Britani, who tweeted that his leaders had ordered him to return to Britain.

He tweeted to another jihadist: "I my brother intend to go back to #UK under the order of our Ameer Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi #foreignpolicy."

He also tweeted: "#usa manned & unmanned aircrafts flying over #iraq.They never learn,Bi'idnillah we will attack u from within brace yourself for another 9/11," and later: "I pray a revenge attack takes place in #uk against those enemies of #Islam n #Muslims."

The US is considering formal requests from Iraqi leaders to launch air strikes against militant positions, possibly using drones.

President Barack Obama indicated today that he does not need authorisation from Congress to take any steps over action in Iraq, top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell said.

While Obama has not fully ruled out the possibility of launching air strikes, such action is not imminent, officials said, in part because intelligence agencies have been unable to identify clear targets on the ground.

US vice president Joe Biden also discussed possible additional measures that the US could assist Iraqi forces.

Meanwhile, social media sites are reportedly being used to give would-be British jihadists travel advice to recruit them to fight in Iraq and Syria.

Extremists already in the countries are using media such as Twitter and the anonymous question and answer website ask.fm to pass on information about visas, travel money and how to avoid rousing suspicion and evade security to those wanting to join them, the Daily Mail reported.

Around 150 Australians are also thought to be fighting with militants in Syria and Iraq, raising fears of a terrorist threat if they return home, leading to the cancellation of passports on the advice of security agencies.

On Wednesday, Cameron said Britain could not afford to see the creation of an "extreme Islamist regime" in the middle of Iraq.

He told MPs at Prime Minister's questions: "I disagree with those people who those people who think this is nothing to do with us and if they want to have have some sort of extreme Islamist regime in the middle of Iraq, that won't affect us. It will.

"The people in that regime - as well as trying to take territory - are also planning to attack us here at home in the United Kingdom.

"So the right answer is to be long-term, hard-headed, patient and intelligent with the interventions that we make.
Isis overran Iraq's second city, Mosul, last week, and has also launched an assault on the country's biggest oil refinery in Baiji, north of Baghdad.

British oil giant BP has reportedly evacuated non-essential workers out of its Rumaila field in the south of the country.

Ned Simons   |   June 18, 2014    2:21 PM ET

The United States must not become the air force for one side of a sectarian civil-war in Iraq, the former commander of US and UK forces in that country, David Petraeus, has said.

Petraeus, who served as president Obama's CIA director until 2012 following a number of senior military roles, told a conference in London on Wednesday that the current crisis in Iraq had been fuelled by the sectarian actions of its government.

Earlier today David Cameron warned Islamists militants challenging the government in Iraq represented "a real threat" to Britain's security.

Yesterday it was reported that Obama was considering selective airstrikes against Sunni militants in Iraq, possibly using drones.

Petraeus, who oversaw the 2007 "surge" of American forces into Iraq under George Bush, said the reconciliation within Iraqi society that had begun on his watch had been "undermined" by the subsequent "sectarian actions" of the country's government in Baghdad.

The majority of the population of Iraq are Shia Muslims and the country is run by Shia-led government under prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. Until Saddam Hussain was deposed by the 2003 US-led invasion the Sunni minority had held power.

Petraeus said: "There has to be a huge idea here and it has to be that if there is to be support for Iraq it has to be support for a government of Iraq that is a government of all the people and representative of and responsive to all."

"This can not be the US being the air force for Shia militias or a Shia-on-Sunni Arab fight," he said. "There has to be a government that is trusted by all elements of the society."

He said if the United States did get involved "it has to be a fight of all of Iraq against extremists, who do happen to be Sunni Arabs".

"If America is to [give] support then it would be in support of government against extremists rather than on one side of what could be sectarian civil-war."

Petraeus resigned his job at the CIA in 2012 in scandal following revelations about an extramarital affair. His 37-year long military career saw him rise to command the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and the coalition forces in Iraq.

He also told the London conference that while he understood it was "very attractive" to Americans to withdraw from the world following two "costly" wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that would be a mistake. "America does have to have a leading role in a number of places around the world," he said.

On Wednesday, Cameron told MPs that Britain could not afford to see the creation of an "extreme Islamist regime" in the middle of Iraq. The prime minister said that the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) threatening the government in Baghdad were also plotting terror attacks on the UK.

While Britain supported efforts of Maliki to tackle extremism in his country, Cameron said that it was essential that the Iraqi government represented the interests of all the people and not just the Shia majority.

"I disagree with those people who those people who think this is nothing to do with us and if they want to have have some sort of extreme Islamist regime in the middle of Iraq, that won't affect us. It will," Cameron said.

"The people in that regime - as well as trying to take territory - are also planning to attack us here at home in the United Kingdom. So the right answer is to be long-term, hard-headed, patient and intelligent with the interventions that we make."

  |   June 17, 2014   12:50 PM ET

Britain will move towards closer ties with Iran by reopening the UK embassy in the country - as the West courts its historic enemy to help deal with the rampant ISIS insurgency in neighbouring Iraq.

William Hague will set out developments in UK/Iranian relations on Tuesday as the West prepares to look to Tehran to help resolve the crisis.

Britain has had no diplomatic presence in Tehran since a mob ransacked the British embassy in 2011, but the relationship between Iran and the West has thawed since the election of Hassan Rouhani as president.

But Hague has said "circumstances are right" to re-open the embassy and is expected to provide more details to MPs later.

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William Hague will set out developments in Britain's relationship with Iran

"Our two primary concerns when considering whether to reopen our embassy in Tehran have been assurance that our staff would be safe and secure, and confidence that they would be able to carry out their functions without hindrance," Hague told MPs in a written statement.

"There has never been any doubt in my mind that we should have an embassy in Tehran if the circumstances allowed.
"Iran is an important country in a volatile region, and maintaining embassies around the world, even under difficult conditions, is a central pillar of the UK's global diplomatic approach."

The news comes as hundreds of American troops were sent to Iraq though Barack Obama insists it will not be dragged into another war.

Obama has said up to 275 soldiers could be sent to support US officials and embassy staff in Baghdad. A total of 175 are already on their way with another 100 on standby in a nearby country until needed.

In his notification to Congress, Obama, who was elected promising to end America's war in Iraq, said the forces would be kept out of combat but are equipped for it if necessary.

The UK foreign secretary spoke to his counterpart in Iran on Saturday and was told there was a "case for a further step forward in our bilateral relations".

obama afghanistan

Barack Obama said the soldiers would not sent into combat but were equipped for it

On Monday, insurgents seized Tal Afar near the Syrian border, and an Iraqi army helicopter was shot down during clashes near the city of Fallujah west of Baghdad, killing both people aboard.

The militants are now 40 miles from the capital, Baghdad.

The burgeoning civil war has prompted some to hope Iran - a historic enemy of the US and Saddam Hussein's regime - will intervene to stop the Sunni militant insurgency.

US secretary of state John Kerry has indicated that the Obama administration is willing to talk with Iran over the deteriorating security conditions in Iraq.

Kerry has said Washington is "open to discussions" with Tehran if the Iranians can help end the violence and restore confidence in the Iraqi government, and would not rule out military co-operation, and a senior US official revealed American and Iranian diplomats have already discussed the Iraq issue during nuclear talks in Austria.

SEE ALSO:

The brutality of the war came into sharp focus on Monday, when an extremist Twitter account put out an image that purported to show ISIS executing captured Iraqi soldiers.

A version of the image, which pixelated the victim in the foreground, was published in British newspapers, including the frontpage of The Times.

isis execution

The extremist Twitter account Al-Baraka put out this image that purported to show the moment ISIS militants executed Iraqi soldiers

On military co-operation, Kerry said: "At this moment, I think we need to go step-by-step and see what in fact might be a reality.

"But I would not rule out anything that would be constructive in providing real stability, a respect for the constitution, a respect for the election process and a respect for the ability of the Iraqi people to form a government that represents all the interests of Iraq.

"We are open to any constructive process here that would minimise the violence."

But the Pentagon says it has no plans to co-ordinate with Iran on possible military action in Iraq despite Mr Kerry's comments about engagement with Tehran.

Hague, who updated MPs on Monday on the insurgency by militants from ISIS, warning Britons could be among their ranks, will return to the Commons today for the scheduled session of Foreign Office questions.

SEE ALSO:

During yesterday's Commons appearance, he was asked by shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander about the "urgent case for ensuring an effective British diplomatic presence in Tehran".

Hague said he had discussed "a number of matters, including the situation in Iraq" with Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif.

"He said that there was a case for a further step forward in our bilateral relations. I have discussed that with him, and I shall have something more to say about our discussions imminently," Hague told MPs.

"However, our work on that is distinct from discussions on Iraq, which is partly why I shall address those separately."

Sara C Nelson   |   June 17, 2014    9:24 AM ET

A Texas school district has erected signs warning staff are armed and “may use whatever force is necessary to protect our students.”

Union Grove Independent School District in Upshur County is now displaying the signs on both of its rural campuses, which are attended by around 750 students.

“Those signs are meant to be a deterrent, to anybody who may have ideas of something none of us want,” Superintendent Brian Gray told WTOC.

texas school staff are armed

The signs went up on the campuses late last month

He added: “Faculty and teachers are comfortable with this, you could walk through our halls wouldn’t know no different. It’s a very well-regulated program. Just a select number of staff members.”

Of the select staff chosen to bear arms, they have a “concealed handgun license, [have] gone through psychological evaluations, hostage negotiation training as well as the defensive tactical firearm training.”

The policy was enacted in January with Union Grove school board vice president Rusty Dyar telling the Longview News Journal: “The worst thing we can do is nothing.” The signs went up late last month.

It is the second school to enact such a policy, with the Harrold school district, around 160 miles northwest of Dallas implementing the same measures in 2007, the Dallas Morning News notes.

State lawmakers began reviewing school security laws after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut – though even before the massacre Texas law allowed school districts to permit the carry concealed weapons option.

That shooting 18 months ago saw gunman Adam Lanza claim 27 lives before taking his own life.

Since then, there have been a staggering 74 shootings in American schools – averaging more than one each week school was in session.

President Barack Obama recently spoke of his frustrations that American has been unwilling to take basic steps to end gun violence.

He said: “Our levels of gun violence are off the charts. There’s no advanced developed country on earth that would put up with this.”


The Iraq World Cup and the Crime of the Century

David Lawley Wakelin   |   June 17, 2014    4:50 AM ET

Sadly and quite tragically the prospect of a Brazil-Argentinean world cup football final appears far less enticing than the greatest battle for decades that is about to kickoff just north of Baghdad between the Sunnis and the Shias.

Although in one sense this sectarian war can be traced right back fourteen hundred years or so, this current standoff is a poor excuse for those wishing to wash their bloody hands of blame. It is undoubtedly as a direct result of the US / British invasion of 2003 . Of course according to Tony Blair in his deluded greed ridden psychotic view of the world, the current situation could have been easily stopped had we bombed Syria.

WHAT!, I hear you cry, is this man, as Boris Johnson has come out to say- completely MAD .. Well yes of-course he is. Having written an eight page diatribe on his own web page, Blair is actually showing signs of a massive sociopathic guilt complex .

Well Tony ,hate to disappoint you but the clue is in the name- ISIS ' Islamic state of Iraq and the sham ' ( or levant) are a massive and well equipped band of jihadists, financially and militarily backed by Saudi Arabia who were originally known as Al Queida in Iraq .With a whole mix of foreign fighters they stem from the insurgency that fought US forces a decade ago, many of them from Fallujah the notorious Sunni town about forty miles west of Baghdad where the US carried out their Phantom fury battle of 2004 and from where around 4000 people lost their lives. Children are still being born defected as a result of the depleted uranium that found its way into the drinking water as a direct result of American's use of depleted uranium..ISIS did not arrive from Syria but expanded there when the boarders became porous after the start of the Syrian revolution. They have since been kicked out of Aleppo the second largest city in Syria but as we all know have since taken Mosul the second biggest city in Iraq along with its arms-caches and $123 million from its banks .

On the other side of the field we have the US backed but virtually useless Iraqi army, supported from the dug-out , by the wonderfully and evocatively named Grand ayatollah Ali al-Sistani whose mad as a hatter 1.5 million volunteering army are more than happy to throw down their lives for the opportunity of a guaranteed place in martyrdom heaven..

Even Iran, America's long-time enemy has stepped up to the plate to suggest it might referee the match standing shoulder to shoulder with Obama to fight, in God's name, the so called terrorists. Whoever wins you can be sure that one way or another we are about to witness an almighty bloodbath. A bloodbath that Bashir Assad and Tony Blair can only dream of whilst they sit back to watch the TV stations pumping out the footy on one channel and the horror show of the century on the other .

Before we go further, I'd just like to mention a rather duplicitous bit of the game that in effect sees the US on both sides in this war, at least financially. As allies of Saudi Arabia with whom they do around $50 billion a year in arms sales with they are backing both sides. Incredulous, ? Surely as far as morals go, America is by default bereft ,as with each man that falls to his grave they will be making money off his back .

Back to Bush and Blair and their 2003 invasion: Do you remember how just before he legged it out of Baghdad, Saddam Hussein opened all the jails freeing all the hardened criminals back into society. Not to be the only prison break in the last ten years to have swelled the Al-Qeida supporters by the thousands .Thousands of criminals returning to doing what they do best, murder and destruction..Murder and destruction helped in no small part by the most stupid decision in the history of foreign policy making, that of Paul Bremer the hapless US, Iraqi Governor who just after the occupation disbanded the army leaving thousands of trained men to go seek work elsewhere. This in a country like Iraq where unemployment stands at around 25% and where the salary for joining the army doesn't leave you with much change to feed your family..Is it any real wonder Mosul fell so swiftly.

Then in the mix we have the US and the CIA backed Noari al Malaki, Iraq's two times prime minister who , allied with Iran has failed to see the obvious antagonistic approach of not inviting one's fellow countrymen to be a part of any administration. This was something the Baathist, nationalist Saddam Hussein at least understood. Under his rule there was sectarianism but Suunis ,Shias ,Christians, Jews ,Druze and so on lived alongside each other .Under his admittedly awful reign it was a common occurrence to see them all mixing socially in the coffee shops of Baghdad.

So now as we sit down with our tins of beer and fags,our Britishishness shinning through, let us pray that during the world cup there are no 'hands of God' stealing victory from the clutches of England or any other football team for that matter.And let us pray, for heaven's sake, that we spare a thought for the thousands who are about to be cheated of their lives as a direct result of the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, all in the name of Oil , Banking , Construction and Arms , or greed as it is more commonly known. And as we swell the last dregs of our beer please don't forget to think of Tony's millions and his jet setting life style that he so fondly likes to portray as he stands with palm trees behind him making yet more delusional speeches attempting to cover up his crimes..As a peace envoy he keeps demanding we bomb people. Perhaps he should be fired .What tangled webs we weave when at first we try to deceive.

  |   June 16, 2014    5:02 PM ET

Britons will "inevitably" be fighting alongside the extremist group which has overrun large parts of Iraq, Foreign Secretary William Hague told MPs. Mr Hague said it was possible that Britons who had travelled to Syria to fight in the country's bloody civil war could be among militants in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), which the Foreign Secretary called the "most violent and brutal militant group in the Middle East".

SEE ALSO:

In a Commons statement updating MPs on the crisis, Mr Hague repeated his position that there was no prospect of a British military intervention to tackle Isis in Iraq, but said counter-terrorism support could be offered to the government in Baghdad and a Ministry of Defence (MoD) team had been sent to the country to assist embassy staff in contingency planning.

He said the majority of Isis' members were Iraqi or Syrian but "it also includes a significant number of foreign fighters among its ranks". Mr Hague said: "As I have previously told this House, we estimate the number of UK-linked individuals fighting in Syria to include approximately 400 British nationals and other UK-linked individuals who could present a particular risk should they return to the UK."

He said "some of these, inevitably" are "fighting with" Isis. The Foreign Secretary said: "We are taking action in three areas: promoting political unity among those who support a democratic Iraqi state and stability in the region; offering assistance where appropriate and possible and alleviating humanitarian suffering. We have made it clear this does not involve planning a military intervention by the United Kingdom."

Giving further details of what UK involvement could be, Mr Hague said: "We are discussing with the Iraqi government areas for co-operation, including the possibility of offering counter-terrorism expertise. We are also providing consular assistance to a small number of British nationals who have been affected. For this purpose a UK MoD operational liaison and reconnaissance team arrived in Baghdad on Saturday to help assess the situation on the ground and assist the embassy on contingency planning."

The Foreign Secretary said the Government would "intensify our efforts in the coming weeks to tackle this serious threat to international peace and security". Mr Hague has also discussed the crisis in Iraq with his counterpart in Iran. His phone conversation with foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif came amid reports that Tehran is considering military support to the Shia-led administration in neighbouring Iraq, which has come under assault from militants from the Sunni-dominated Isis.

Reports suggest that the US is considering direct talks with Iran on the crisis. Representatives of Iran and the Western powers were meeting in Vienna today to discuss international concerns about Tehran's nuclear ambitions. US president Barack Obama is weighing up what help to give Baghdad to counter Isis, which has taken control of major cities in the north.

SEE ALSO:

The Pentagon has sent an aircraft carrier to the Gulf in advance of potential air strikes amid calls for Mr Obama to talk with Iran over a coordinated response. Mr Hague said: "The United States, which is the country with the most appropriate assets and capabilities, is considering a range of options that could help the Iraqi security forces push back on Isil (Isis) advances. President Obama has been clear that action taken by the United States will only succeed if accompanied by a political response from the Iraqi government."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Britain would not attempt to "stand in the way" of a well-judged US initiative to restore order in Iraq. Mr Clegg told a Whitehall press conference: "We are not providing active, frontline resources to any action that is taken but of course we will want to talk to the United States and other allies about what can be done.

"We are certainly not going to stand in the way of action that is well-judged and well-targeted in order to try to re-assert some semblance of order in Iraq. I think only the United States can deploy the kind of resources that may make a difference."

The following pictures are from footage purportedly showing ISIS militants tormenting captive Iraqi soldiers.

The Sudden Disintegration of the Iraqi Military

Nehad Ismail   |   June 16, 2014    3:23 PM ET

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's sectarian policies backfired dramatically last week as, confronted with just a few thousand jihadist fighters, his army fell apart.

The sudden collapse of military units defending three key cities - Mosul, Iraq's second largest city; Tikrit, the late Saddam Hussein's hometown; and Kirkuk, the oil-rich capital of semi-autonomous Kurdistan -- is reminiscent of the swift disintegration of Saddam's army at the gates of Baghdad in 2003.

Latest reports indicate that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a Sunni militant group controlling territory in the two country's northern regions, is making rapid advances towards Baghdad. Kirkuk, the oil capital of Iraq has been secured by military units from Iraqi Kurdistan.

David Ignatius, writing in the Washington Post 12th June: "Maliki's U.S.-trained army has suffered a series of crushing defeats, as Sunni insurgents from an offshoot of al-Qaeda ... swept toward Baghdad. Already the Sunni extremists control most of western Iraq".

The collapse of the Iraqi army was swift and shocking. The fall of Mosul was catastrophic. No one expected that the Iraqi army would disintegrate so fast after ISIS launched its offensive. The world witnessed Iraqi military melt away before an enemy a fraction of their strength, leaving behind tanks, vehicles and equipment; their status as a disciplined modern fighting force in serious doubt. Iraqis, speaking on Arab satellite TV channels, blamed Maliki's sectarian policies, and the corruption of military institutions.

Maliki's army is of a different class than Saddam's. Its weaponry is modern and sophisticated, from U.S-made Apache helicopter gunships and F-16 fighter jets to Abrams tanks and Humvees. U.S. occupation authorities alone spent an estimated $16 billion to rebuild the Iraqi army, which, they had envisioned, would form the backbone of a modern Iraq. Some estimates put the cost of years of training, arming, and equipping the Iraqi army at $25bn.

Despite the heavy investment, Maliki's military has failed to withstand a ragtag of armed jihadists who have seized, in very short space of time, city after city across Iraq.

Eye-witness accounts from the soldiers reveal how sectarian enmity has, in the space of mere weeks, destroyed the new Iraqi national army. Corporal Muammer Naser, 35, said to the Daily Telegraph that "his superiors had sympathised with remnants of the regime of Saddam Hussein, and that the generals essentially passed control of the city to them. As the militants approached Mosul, many of the top army commanders there fled to the autonomous Kurdish region. Many in the Iraqi felt betrayed. With their generals gone, the ranks saw no reason to stay.

Maliki purged the commanders he suspected of disloyalty, replacing them with officers whose qualifications were not military experience but sectarian affiliations and personal loyalty. The alienation of the Sunni element of Iraqi society, a third of the Iraqi population, has helped anti-government insurgents and made the collection of human intelligence in the Sunni areas extremely difficult.

Internal problems in the army persist. Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, Hamid al- Bayati: "They haven't been trained and imbued with a sense of professionalism." Widespread corruption in the awarding of military contracts results in troops receiving shoddy supplies and bad food. It has never enjoyed a good reputation among the Iraqi public. Sunnis are not keen to fight on behalf of al Maliki. Some years ago, Sunni fighters from the tribal "Sahwa" or Arab "Awakening" confronted al Qaeda and fought against Sunni terrorist groups. They are no longer prepared to help the Iraqi government which alienated them.

Al Arabiya News reported that Maliki blamed a "conspiracy" for the collapse of army units, which are dominated by his Shiite co-religionists. In reality poor intelligence, politicisation, corruption, low morale; desertions all have weakened the Iraqi army. Everyone is blaming Nouri al Maliki for the debacle. This situation has been seized upon by ISIS, which sensed an opportunity to promote itself as the champion of Sunnis against the Shiites led government of Nouri al Maliki.

Robert Ford, former U.S. ambassador to Syria, explained on 12th June how ISIS has been able to conduct its offensive. The group is well organized and has cells of fighters in cities and provinces from Mosul to Salah al-Din to Diyala to Anbar. It even has a presence in Baghdad, where it conducts a car bombing campaign. Ford stressed "that Sunnis are much less inclined to fight, leaving a space for ISIS to again gain ground".

The manipulation of fear through crude but effective propaganda is another factor behind the stunning collapse of Iraqi security forces. A 61-minute video of beheadings was recently posted online by ISIS, to terrorize Sunnis in Iraq's army and police forces and destroy their already low morale.

The battle lines are being drawn. The Shi'ites are mobilising to defend Baghdad and their holy places of Najaf and Karbala. Meanwhile, Iran sent 2,000 advance troops to Iraq to help fight ISIS.

News reports say the Obama administration has ruled out American boots on the ground but other options, such as drone attacks and air-strikes remain on the table.
Iran is said to be offering assistance to fight what it calls Sunni terrorism. The US could begin direct talks with Iran to try to resolve the Iraq crisis, which would have long term strategic implications. The Iraqi government should be supported in defeating the ISIS insurgency. But its supporters in this crisis must insist on a price: Iraq's poisonous sectarian politics must change.

  |   June 15, 2014    5:10 PM ET

Barack Obama has compared climate change deniers to people who believe the moon is "made of cheese".

Addressing thousands of graduates in California, the US president told them their generation had been "short changed by inaction" and said: "I know that manmade climate change really is happening."

Obama, who is locked in a battle with climate change sceptics in the US Congress, addressed an audience of around 8,600.

barack obama irvine

Obama compared climate change deniers to people who believe the moon is 'made of cheese'

He told the audience of University of California at Irvine graduates: “Today’s Congress, though, is full of folks who stubbornly and automatically reject the scientific evidence about climate change,” he said. “They’ll tell you it’s a hoax, or a fad.”

He compared the battle to reverse climate change as similar to John F. Kennedy's pledge that Americans would go to the moon in the 1960s.

Obama said that, while many believed it impossible, few denied the moon's existence or claimed the moon was "made of cheese".

The president described this view as a “fairly serious threat to the future.” He added: “At least they have the brass to say what they actually think.”

He said: “I know that manmade climate change really is happening, but if I admit it, I’ll be run out of town by a radical fringe that thinks climate science is a liberal plot. So, I’m not going to admit it.”

“I’m telling you all of this because I want to light a fire under you,” Obama said. “As the generation that is being shortchanged by inaction, you do not have to accept that this is the way that it has to be.”