Thursday, August 7, 2014
ISLAMISTS SEIZE IRAQ’S LARGEST CHRISTIAN TOWN
Thousands of Iraqi Christians are fleeing Qaraqosh, the minority’s largest town in the country, after the Islamic State (IS) — the militant group previously known as ISIS — seized it early today.This follows the withdrawal of Kurdish forces from the area, the BBC reports.
Qaraqosh is located between Mosul, the main town IS controls in Iraq, and Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region. In mid-July, Islamist militants issued an ultimatum to the town’s 50,000 Christians: either convert to Islam, pay a special tax, or leave the city. At least a quarter of the region’s Christians are reported to have left Qaraqosh and surrounding towns.
The Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk and Sulaymaniyah described the situation as a “tragedy” and called upon the “UN Security Council to intervene immediately,” the French daily Le Monde quoted him as saying.
Meanwhile, some 40,000 other Iraqi minorities, the Yazidi, are stranded around Mount Sinjar, a mountain in the country’s northwest. They face slaughter at the hands of jihadists surrounding them below — and dehydration if they stay, The Guardian reports. At least 130,000 people, mostly from the Yazidi stronghold of Sinjar, have fled to the Kurdish north or to the town of Erbil, which is facing a major refugee crisis.
A fast-moving brush fire prompted the evacuation of 275 homes Thursday in Rowena, about 75 miles east of Portland in northern Oregon.
EBOLA DRUG CONTROVERSY
There is increasing controversy about the use of ZMapp, an experimental drug used to treat two Americans infected with the deadly Ebola virus in Liberia. The antibody cocktail has only been tested on animals and hasn’t yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for broad use, Bloomberg reports.
"We've got to let the science guide us," U.S. President Barack Obama said at a news conference following a three-day summit with African leaders. "I don't think all the information is in on whether this drug is helpful. What we do know is that the Ebola virus — both currently and in the past — is controllable if you have strong public health infrastructure in place.”
Meanwhile, a Spanish priest infected with the virus while in Liberia has been transported back to Madrid, making him the first person brought to Europe for treatment, Euronews reveals.
For more about the Ebola epidemic, we offer this exclusive reportage from Le Monde’s Rémi Barroux, who travels into the heart of West Africa where the deadly virus is spreading: Into The Ebola Triangle, As Doctors Risk All To Stop The Spread.
KHMER ROUGE LEADERS JAILED FOR LIFE
Top Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea, 88, and Khieu Samphan, 83, have been jailed for life after being convicted by a UN-backed tribunal in Cambodia of crimes against humanity, Reuters reports. The two men, who respectively served as Pol Pot’s deputy and head of state, are the first top-level leaders to be held accountable for the Maoist regime’s crimes, which is thought to have killed up to two million people between 1975 and 1979.
HAMAS: NO TRUCE EXTENSION UNLESS DEMANDS MET
Hamas leaders said today they would not agree to renewing the Gaza ceasefire that ends tomorrow unless Israel meets some of its demands. “It cannot be renewed without real achievements,” Al Jazeera quoted Ismael Radwan, the leader of the Palestinian militant movement, as saying. Hamas also wants Israel’s blockade on Gaza lifted and the release of Palestinian prisoners, as Israel calls for the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip. At least 1,875 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 67 Israelis, mainly soldiers, have been killed in the conflict.
“He's always the victim.” In closing arguments today in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial, prosecutor Gerrie Nel described the accused as “vague, argumentative and mendacious,” casting the South African athlete on trial for the 2013 murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp as always placing blame elsewhere, The Guardian reports.
RUSSIA BANS WESTERN FOOD PRODUCTS
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has issued an immediate, one-year ban on fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, milk and dairy imports from the United States, the European Union, Australia, Canada and Norway, according to RT. It follows an order from President Vladimir Putin to ban or limit food imports from countries that imposed sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and its support of Ukrainian separatists.
MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD
SUSPECTED AL-QAEDA MEMBERS KILLED IN YEMEN
Yemeni troops killed seven suspected al-Qaeda militants Thursday when they tried to attack an army facility in the volatile region of Wadi Hadramout, where the government is perceived to be weak, Reuters reports.
New statistics from Uruguay’s National Observatory against Violence and Crime show that it’s three times more likely that a murder will take place in the nation's capital of Montevideo than in New York. Read more here.
BLACK TO BLOND
Bud-loving Americans just don’t get Guinness. Stale U.S. sales of the sudsy dark brew have forced the company to adapt and create a lager U.S. drinkers are expected to find more palatable.
The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.
LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.
Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.
The role of the nuclear pact
Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.
It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.
He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."
The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.
Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020commons.wikimedia.org
Riyadh's warming relations with Israel
Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."
The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."
Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."
Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.
If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.
Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.
Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.
For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.
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