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."

isis

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.

foreign office uk

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.

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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.”

Iraq - The End?

Robin Lustig   |   June 14, 2014   12:00 AM ET

What folly. What crass, indescribable, unbelievable folly it was to invade Iraq in 2003. I wonder what George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Tony Blair think now as they read of the latest disasters to befall that wretched land.

Do they still say that Iraq is better off than it was under Saddam Hussein? Do they? Really? As half a million terrified people flee from their homes to escape a jihadi group so extreme that even al-Qaeda has withdrawn its backing?

Guess, by the way, who said this, referring to their support for the invasion in 2003: "I thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had. And I wasn't alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong. Plain and simple."

It wasn't Bush, Rumsfeld, or Blair - but you knew that. It was Hillary Clinton, in her just published memoirs, clearing the decks for a run at the US presidency in 2016. Even if it is carefully-calibrated political positioning, I can't help wishing more leaders would say something similar.

The invasion of Iraq may well turn out to have been the most disastrous military adventure since the German army marched into Poland in 1939 and triggered the Second World War. Did Hitler still believe, as he prepared to die in his bunker in 1945, that invading Poland had been a good idea? Was he as crazily delusional as Bush, Rumsfeld and Blair?

Perhaps, despite the lightning advance of the Sunni jihadi fighters over the past week, Iraq will somehow survive. Perhaps not. Perhaps it's about to join such unhappy nations as Somalia, Syria and Libya as yet another failed state, ruled by a nightmare patchwork of brutal militias, loyal to no one but their own commanders and with no interests other than those that are narrow, sectarian and tribal.

In 2003, there was no al-Qaeda presence in Iraq. Now one of its nastiest off-shoots controls vast swathes of the north and west of the country, extending across the border into Syria as it starts to build its trans-national Caliphate. It's not exactly what the US-led invasion was designed to achieve.

In the pantheon of those to blame for all this we must include Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister whose incompetence, corruption and Shia sectarianism has encouraged the country's Sunni minority to join, or at least acquiesce in, the jihadi insurgency. It seems even Saddam loyalists from the former Ba'ath party have joined them - how's that for irony? With a different man at the helm as the US pulled out the last of its troops, it's just possible that disaster could have been averted. But it was not to be.

What has happened has happened. The Kurds in the north are buttressing their defences; their forces are ready to fight back if the Sunni Arab insurgents dare to threaten their hard-won autonomy. The Iraqi army appears to be disintegrating - so much for the countless billions of dollars spent on training a new national force.

In its place, various Shia militia groups are forming, or re-forming, to defend what they regard as essential Shia interests, including the Shia shrine in the mainy Sunni city of Samarra. The shadow of a renewed civil war looms frighteningly large.

In the words of the US Republican senator Lindsey Graham, after having been briefed by the Pentagon on Thursday: "What I heard today scared the hell out of me. The briefing was chilling ... Iraq is falling apart."

And it's not only the fate of Iraq that is at stake: the regional ramifications are seriously worrying. To the west and to the east, in Syria and Iran, the latest developments will be causing deep anxiety. President Assad will be watching with alarm as the insurgents snatch arms and ammunition from abandoned Iraqi army armouries and start shipping them across the border into Syria. And in Tehran, they'll be less than thrilled to see their Shia allies in Baghdad under threat.

So there's a strong possibility of even more bad-neighbourly intervention, never forgetting Turkey's nervousness at any sign that the Kurds may be consolidating their claim to statehood. (Strange, isn't it, how the US and Iran find themselves on the same side as the main backers of al-Maliki?)

This is a deeply uncertain time, but there is one certainty: neither the US nor the UK, which did so much to unleash the forces that are now destroying Iraq, will send their own troops back in again. Good thing, too: Western military intervention would simply make an already terrible situation even worse. And that includes the drone strikes that president Obama is reported to be contemplating - they haven't exactly done wonders for pacifying either Pakistan or Yemen, have they?

What the West can do - should do - is arrange urgent help for the civilians whose lives are being destroyed. And once the picture is a little bit clearer, they might try to encourage neutral mediators like Norway or Sweden to start a talks process aimed at turning the clock back to post-invasion 2003 and charting a new constitutional course for Iraq.

I fear it may already be too late. I've just looked at the diary I kept during the 2003 invasion; the last entry, written after the fall of Baghdad, reads: "I think Iraq is going to be a violent, messy, angry place for a long time ... I'll probably be talking about Iraq until I retire."

I should have added one more line: "And beyond."

  |   June 13, 2014   10:57 PM ET

Pope Francis has cast doubt on the case for Scottish independence, saying he asks himself whether the case for it is "clear".

The spiritual leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics told a Catalonian newspaper that countries breaking away from larger states should be considered on a "case-by-case basis".

He acknowledged the case was "clear" in in some cases but listed Scotland as one of the cases where "I ask myself it is so clear".

pope francis

Pope Francis said he was not sure the case for Scottish independence was 'clear'

His comments come after US President Barack Obama - and the woman who hopes to succeed him, Hilary Clinton - both cast doubt on Scottish independence.

The Pope was asked about the "conflict" between Spain and those in the Catalan region who are campaigning to be a separate state, he told La Vanguardia: "All division worries me."

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church added: "There is independence by emancipation and independence by secession.

"The independences by emancipation, for example, are American, that they were emancipated from the European states.

"The independences of nations by secession is a dismemberment, sometimes it's very obvious.

"Let's think of the former Yugoslavia. Obviously, there are nations with cultures so different that couldn't even be stuck together with glue.

"The Yugoslavian case is very clear, but I ask myself if it is so clear in other cases - Scotland, Padania, Catalunya."

He added: "There will be cases that will be just and cases that will not be just, but the secession of a nation without an antecedent of mandatory unity, one has to take it with a lot of grains of salt and analyse it case by case."

The votes of Scotland's 840,000 Catholics will be crucial when the country of 5.2 million votes in September.

The pope's comments were welcome both the No and Yes campaigns in Scotland.

Labour MP Anne McGuire said Pope Francis was "right to warn about the impact of division".

Commenting on behalf of the pro-UK Better Together campaign, the MP for Stirling said: "This is an interesting and welcome intervention from Pope Francis.

"The Pope is right to warn about the impact of division on society and to draw the distinction between independence for emancipation and that for secession.

"Coming on the back of the interventions by President Obama, Hillary Clinton and JK Rowling, the comments from Pope Francis highlight just how important the decision we have to make in September is."

Daily Brief

A spokesman for the pro-independence Yes Scotland campaign said: "As His Holiness says, these matters should be looked at on a case-by-case basis."

  |   June 13, 2014    9:10 AM ET

Hillary Clinton has become the latest powerful figure to intervene on the independence debate, declaring she would "hate" for Britain to "lose Scotland".

The former US secretary of state said she believes a yes vote would be a "loss for both sides" and she is hoping that it does not happen.

Clinton, who is on a tour to promote her memoir Hard Choices and is widely believed to be preparing for a presidential run in 2016, also indicated she was keen for Britain to remain part of the European Union.

"I would hate to have you lose Scotland," she told BBC 2's Newsnight. "I hope that it doesn't happen but I don't have a vote in Scotland. But I would hope it doesn't happen."

She added: "I would think it would be a loss for both sides but, again, I don't have a vote."

Clinton insisted the so-called special relationship between Britain and the US was "worth everything to me and to our country".

She added: "I do think we see the world very similarly."

Asked if Britain's standing would be enhanced or diminished in the United States if it left the European Union, she replied: "Oh, boy you are asking me to cross into dangerous waters, which I will not do."

She added: "Europe needs Britain, in my opinion. I think Britain brings a perspective and an experience that is very important to Europe, especially post-economic crisis. So, Britain will have to decide if they agree with that."

Clinton's intervention on the Scottish referendum debate comes just one week after US president Barack Obama said he believed that the United Kingdom appears to have "worked pretty well".

A spokesman for Yes Scotland said of Clinton's comments: "As she says, the decision about Scotland's future is one for the people of Scotland to make. After a Yes vote, the friendship between Scotland and the United States will flourish to the benefit of both nations."

A Better Together spokesman said: "Hillary Clinton is a figure who is respected right across the world. Like president Obama, she understands that the UK is at its strongest when it works together.

"She has said 'no thanks' to Alex Salmond's attempts to divide the people of Britain. We are grateful for her support."

SEE ALSO: Clinton: Obama's Decision Against Military Intervention In Syria Influenced By British Vote

Jessica Elgot   |   June 13, 2014    7:32 AM ET

The US has said that it will "not rule anything out" as it struggles to conjure up a strong response to an unexpected emergency in Iraq, as militants advanced towards Baghdad.

President Barack Obama is actively considering American airstrikes against the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), according to the Washington Post, quoting a senior source, but the White House has said that US boots on the ground is not an option.

“I don’t rule out anything because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria, for that matter," Obama told reporters. “Iraq’s going to need more help. It’s going to need more help from us, and it’s going to need more help from the international community.”

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Kurdish Iraqi Peshmerga forces deploy their troops and armoured vehicles on the outskirts of the city of Kirkuk

“In our consultations with the Iraqis, there will be some short-term, immediate things that need to be done militarily. But this should be also a wake-up call for the Iraqi government.”

On Thursday night, the Sunni-led Islamists advanced into the eastern towns of Saadiya and Jalawla in the Diyala province, with Iraqi forces fleeing. In Baghdad, Iraqi civilians queued in their droves to sign up to fight the advancing jihadists.

Airstrikes would be a hugely significant step, two years after the last American soldier left the battlefield. The US has so far dismissed requests from President Nouri Maliki to conduct the strikes.

"We are not contemplating ground troops," White House spokesman Jay Carney later clarified. "I want to be clear about that." But he dodged a question on whether the President would ask Congress before launching air attacks.

World leaders are rapidly losing what little faith they had in Iraq's military, even though government forces appear, for now, to be efficiently keeping the ISIS forces from the capital.

James Jeffrey, the US Ambassador until 2012, told CNN Iraq's military was "ill-trained, badly led and not particularly competent."

"They clearly cannot fire and maneuver," he said.

House Speaker John Boehner said the president was “taking a nap” as ISIS forces moved closer to the capital, and Kurdish soldiers were left as the last bulwark in the northern city of Kirkuk as the Iraqi army abandoned their posts.

The UK will not be getting militarily involved in Iraq, William Hague has categorically stated, saying it was "for the Iraqi leadership primarily to respond".

"We're very concerned about the hundreds of thousands of people who have been displaced, and with our very large humanitarian budget we may be in a position to assist with that, and we're looking at that now," he told the BBC.

"But we will not be getting involved militarily. We will support the United States in anything that they decide to do, we're in consultation with them. But I stress again it is for the Iraqi leadership primarily to respond to this."

Labour leader Ed Miliband told the BBC UK military intervention in Iraq was "not on the table".

"We have got to give all the non-military support we can to the Iraqi government to help them, but I don't think there is any question of going back into Iraq militarily."

ISIS, a radical splinter group whose tactics were once deemed too extreme even for al Qaeda, seized the northern city of Tikrit on Wednesday, the birthplace of Sadaam Hussein. They have driven 500,000 out of Mosul, Iraq's second city, after the country's army abandoned their positions and fled. Militants have also taken 48 hostages from the Turkish consulate in the city.

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The UN Security Council said the humanitarian situation around Mosul is "dire and is worsening by the moment".

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on "the international community to unite in showing solidarity with Iraq as it confronts this serious security challenge".

In Britain, Iraqi-born Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi blamed the West's failure to intervene in Syria, which he said had help fuel the takeover of large parts of Iraq by Islamist extremists.

Iraq-born Nadhim Zahawi blamed US policy in the wake of the 2003 invasion to oust Saddam Hussein for sowing the seeds of the insurgency.

But he said the "divisive sectarian" rule of Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and the lengthy and increasingly extremist-led civil war in Syria were fanning the flames.