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Monday, October 23, 2017

Catalonia Matters

How the Catalan crisis could send shockwaves across Europe

Carles Puigdemont
The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, heads a 450,000-strong rally to protest against Madrid’s decision to suspend the region’s autonomy. Photograph: Quique Garcia/EPA

The battle for Catalonia just got personal. Until now the main protagonists, Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan president, and Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s prime minister, have avoided a head-on clash. All that changed at the weekend after the Madrid government decided to impose direct rule. Within minutes, insults were flying, with the opposing sides accusing each other of totalitarianism and rebellion.
Puigdemont had deliberately provoked the secession crisis, Rajoy claimed. The problem was, he lacked the stature to handle such a delicate situation. “This would probably never have happened if a different person with similar ideas had been in charge,” Rajoy said. In vowing to sack the Catalan leader, he noticeably declined to rule out charging him with sedition and locking him up. 

Puigdemont and his vociferous allies were not slow to the counterpunch. Rajoy’s actions represented “the worst attack against the institutions and the people of Catalonia since the dictatorship of Franco”, he declared. This comparison with the late fascist generalísimo was deeply offensive. Carme Forcadell, the speaker of the Catalan parliament, extended the historical allusion, describing the takeover as a coup.

After Saturday night’s passionate, pro-independence demonstration in Barcelona, battle lines are now being drawn and trenches figuratively dug. The senate, which is controlled by the government, is preparing to vote on Rajoy’s proposals, probably on Friday. They could be pre-empted if the Catalan assembly formally declares independence this week and calls new elections. In any event, a drawn-out war of attrition looms.

Both sides are seeking to delegitimise the other’s actions, claim the moral high ground and rally public support. For Rajoy, backed by the constitution, the courts, the monarchy and the main opposition parties, the argument boils down to a straightforward law and order message. “All the government is trying to do, and reluctantly, is to reinstate the legal order,” Spain’s foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, said on Sunday.

Rajoy’s dry, Maybot-style approach does not set pulses racing, but it has the virtue of making him appear responsible, sensible and grown-up – in contrast to Barcelona’s supposed rabble-rousers. In this guise, Rajoy is France’s Louis XV with spectacles and a beard, gravely intoning: “Après moi, le déluge.

The younger, less experienced Puigdemont is an unlikely revolutionary. He knows most Spaniards have no sympathy for his cause. He cannot be certain of majority support even within Catalonia, but as a former journalist with any eye for a headline he knows how to grab attention with a good story.

Puigdemont’s evolving narrative portrays the crisis as a fight to uphold universal principles. In his speech on Saturday night rejecting Rajoy’s move, he purposefully pitched his remarks at a Europe-wide audience.

Speaking in English, Puigdemont went over the heads of EU governments, appealing directly to the “citizens of Europe”. The independence struggle was less a local rebellion and more an exemplary defence of shared democratic values, including self-determination, as embodied in the European charter of fundamental rights, he said.

This line of argument will cut no ice with Germany’s Angela Merkel, or the French leader, Emmanuel Macron, both of whom have publicly backed Rajoy. Likewise, the EU commission continues to hold its nose, maintaining the convenient fiction that it has no power to intervene – in contrast, critics say, to its serial meddling in Polish, Hungarian and British politics. 

Puigdemont’s appeal is likely to get a more positive reception in grassroots Europe, where the status quo dominance of the centralised nation state is under similar challenge to varying degrees. Such areas potentially include Spain’s Basque country, France’s Corsica, Italy’s Lombardy, Romania’s Transylvania and Belgium’s Flanders, where nationalist, regionalist and separatist forces are in play. There is strong sympathy for the Catalan cause in Scotland too.

The longer the Barcelona-Madrid struggle rages, and the more entrenched the opposing sides become, the greater the potential for its destabilising effects to send political and economic shockwaves across Europe – and stir up comparable, dormant or long-simmering independence or separatist sentiments.

Rajoy has mostly played a difficult hand with skill and patience so far, but his political capital in not inexhaustible and his minority government is vulnerable. Violence on the streets of Catalonia could change everything. The widely condemned police crackdown during this month’s disputed referendum served as a warning of how a hitherto peaceful standoff can quickly turn bad.

There is also an important ideological aspect to the battle for Catalonia. Puigdemont’s ruling coalition has a strong leftist bent, influenced by the hardline, anti-capitalist CUP party. If he can successfully portray the crisis as a fight against the repressive authoritarianism of an uncaring rightwing establishment elite – his view of Rajoy’s conservative People’s party – Puigdemont could yet emerge as a Corbyn-max standard bearer for radical European renewal.

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Sunday, October 22, 2017

More on George W. Bush, the Finger Painting Fool from Crawford

Russia tables turn, roping Clinton, Obama, Holder, not Trump


The tables have turned and what was once the media’s favorite message — President Donald Trump colluded with Russia to steal the election — has now grown silent.

Apparently, it’s Bill and Hillary Clinton who’ve been doing the behind-scenes and suspicious dealings with Russia all along. Oh, and perhaps others in the Barack Obama administration, too.

You think special counsel Robert Mueller might switch the target of his investigation any time soon? Seems a bit time-wasting — not to mention taxpayer dollar-wasting — to keep on the Trump trail, desperately searching for signs of a collusion that just didn’t happen.

Futile is a word that comes to mind.

Better to dig deeper into this, as reported by The Hill: “Before the Obama administration approved a controversial deal in 2010 giving Moscow control of a large swath of American uranium, the FBI had gathered substantial evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States.”

Intercepted emails shows that Russia had actually gained an inroad in America and compromised a U.S. uranium trucking firm with bribes.

But this is the bigger news: The feds also found an eyewitness who provided documented evidence to show that these Russia nuke officials had sent millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation — at a time when Hillary was serving as secretary of state and on a government body that extended favor to Russia.
Of course, this isn’t exactly new.

Way back in April of 2015, The New York Times ran this headline: “Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal.” And among its many, many lines was this one: “As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation.”

In fact, that “flow of cash” was actually four separate flows of cash, for a total amount of $2.35 million. And, we also learned from this New York Times piece, “those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons.”

A lot of this was also uncovered a outlined by other writers, as well — John Rappoport, investigative journalist, comes to mind, as well as Peter Schweitzer, of “Clinton Cash” author fame.

But what is coming to light is what others knew, and when.

The feds suspected as early as 2009 that Russia was engaged in this dirty dealing. And the United States, under Barack Obama’s administration, did nothing.
“Rather than bring immediate charges in 2010, however, the Department of Justice continued investigating the matter for nearly four more years, essentially leaving the American public and Congress in the dark about Russian nuclear corruption on U.S. soil during a period when the Obama administration made two major decisions benefiting [Vladimir] Putin’s commercial nuclear ambitions,” The Hill wrote.

The American people want to know — was U.S. security compromised by the Obama-Clinton deals with Russia?

Mueller’s tasked with the wrong job. If he really wants to find out if America’s interests were compromised in any way by Russia, he needs to quit looking Trump’s way and start digging deep into the Clintons and yes, the Obama administration.

The Hill asked both Clinton and then-attorney general Eric Holder for comment. Curiously, neither had anything to say at this time. Their silence is both telling, and unacceptable. Now if only the same leftists who’ve been clamoring for impeachment of Trump over supposed collusion with Russia would similarly demand answers about Clinton, Holder and Obama — maybe we’d get to the finally get to the bottom of this.

How is the that cultural enriching diversity working out for you?

Diversity is 0ur Strength

Diversity is a Weakness, Not a Strength

Diversity is a strength” is one of those Orwellian maxims that’s just generally accepted as truth by most Americans despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Granted, if you’re talking about a DIVERSITY OF IDEAS, you can certainly come up with some situations where it’s a strength. For example, in the movie World War Z, Israel is saved (at least temporarily) by having a “tenth man” whose job is to forcefully argue for the alternative viewpoint to a situation where everyone agrees. So instead of laughing off the idea that Israel might face a zombie invasion, Israelis realized there was merit to it and was prepared in time to protect the country. Back in the real world, the NFL certainly could have used someone pointing out the potential long-term downsides of allowing players disrespect the flag when just Colin Kaepernick was doing it. Donald Trump might benefit from a diversity of opinions when he’s about to tweet about Rosie O’Donnell or Mark Cuban at 4 AM. The Democrat Party could certainly use the input of a few random white factory workers from flyover country about the latest rhetoric and proposals they’re about to pitch.

On the other hand, even when diversity of thought is useful, it’s only in limited doses. The New York Yankees don’t want players who think the Boston Red Sox should win the pennant. A Republican President doesn’t want a Democrat in his Cabinet who will undermine him at every opportunity. Our military doesn’t want soldiers hoping the other side will defeat us in a war.

All that being said, when most people talk about “diversity,” they don’t mean a diversity of ideas. They believe a Hispanic guy, a black guy, a transsexual and a woman bring something to the table just by virtue of their race or gender.

This is seldom true.

For example, it is true that a group of white economists working on tax policy could benefit from having Thomas Sowell come out of retirement to join their ranks, but that’s because he’s Thomas freakin’ Sowell, not because he’s black. An all-Hispanic baseball team would benefit from adding Mike Trout to its roster, but it’s because he can play, not because of his white perspective. An all-female start-up would be lucky to get Bill Gates on board, not because he can mansplain things to them, but because he has lots of friends with infinite amounts of money who might invest if he’s on board.

In fact, diversity is often a huge minus. The new black employee may claim you discriminated against him, even if he’s fired for legitimate reasons. The woman may sue for sexual harassment after seeing a swimsuit calendar on some random guy’s wall. The Satanist you hire may call it religious discrimination if you don’t offer him a goat to sacrifice to Lucifer on Halloween.

Diversity can work just fine, but only if there’s strong pressure on people to assimilate to the existing culture. That’s why our very diverse military functions so well. However, we don’t have those conditions in America as a whole. Instead, we have liberals promoting tribalism and grievance mongering non-stop. In other words, every racial, sexual and religious difference is used as a way to split people further apart. Many of the same people who claim diversity is a strength will also tell you white people can’t understand the concerns of black Americans, men are oppressing women and women who don’t want to share a bathroom with a transsexual man are bigots.

It’s worth noting that America’s increasing diversity is largely a product of a change to our immigration system implemented in the sixties. European-born immigrants made up 75% of American immigrants in 1960, but that percentage dropped to only 11 percent in 2014. Combine that with the cultural degradation and rise of tribalism that has occurred during the last couple of decades and we have seen a much more radical change in this country than most people realize. Furthermore, as Robert Putnam noted, all of this diversity in America has a lot of negative consequences,

IT HAS BECOME increasingly popular to speak of racial and ethnic diversity as a civic strength. From multicultural festivals to pronouncements from political leaders, the message is the same: our differences make us stronger. But a massive new study, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America, has concluded just the opposite. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam -- famous for "Bowling Alone," his 2000 book on declining civic engagement -- has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings. "The extent of the effect is shocking," says Scott Page, a University of Michigan political scientist. 

Actually, it’s not all that shocking. We make this assumption that as people from different groups get to know each other, they’ll grow to like each other. 

Unfortunately, this can only occur where people have shared values and goals. For many Americans, if your neighbors are waving a Mexican flag and saying America sucks, say you’re part of rape culture, want America to live under Sharia law or accuse you of having privilege because you’re white, the more you get to know them, the LESS you are going to like them. Additionally, if they believe those things, chances are they don’t like you either.

We see this same pattern all over the planet. Look at the conflicts going on in Afghanistan, Libya, Israel and Iraq. How’s that diversity working out for them? How is diversity playing out for Russia and Chechnya? What about the Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda? How about Bosnia and Herzegovina? Even the Western part of the Roman Empire eventually fell because it became too corrupt and weak to assimilate the tribes it allowed inside its border. In the end, diversity cost the Romans their empire.

The only thing that ever allowed Americans to believe that diversity is a strength was our uniting culture. Without the now-destroyed Melting Pot to keep us together, diversity is one of our nation’s great weaknesses. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

It is difficult to pick the dumbest member of The Black Caucus. It is a rich vein. . Rep. Frederica Wilson is truly in the running.

Obama-era Gangsterism: "undercover witness was threatened by Justice officials when he tried to disclose some of the information in a lawsuit during last year's election"

Senate seeks to interview FBI informant in Russian nuclear bribery case

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday sought permission to interview an FBI informant who helped agents uncover a major corruption scheme by Russian nuclear officials seeking to aggressively expand their American business under the Obama administration. 

The undercover witness, who has not been publicly identified, spent nearly five years helping agents build a case that resulted in one of Russia's top nuclear industry officials in the United States, a Russian financier and an American trucking executive to plead guilty in 2015 to charges related to a racketeering scheme that prosecutors said involved bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering.

The informant possesses information about the extent of Russian efforts to curry favor inside the United States that he has been prevented from disclosing to the courts and Congress because he signed an FBI nondisclosure statement, his lawyer Victoria Toensing told The Hill on Tuesday.

The undercover witness was threatened by Justice officials when he tried to disclose some of the information in a lawsuit during last year's election, forcing him to withdraw his legal action, the lawyer alleged.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa), sent a letter Wednesday night to Toensing seeking to interview her client, saying he was troubled that the Obama administration in 2010 approved the Uranium One deal giving Moscow control over 20 percent of America's uranium supply when the FBI knew of corruption inside the Russian nuclear industry.

"It appears that your client possesses unique information about the Uranium One/Rosatom transaction and how the Justice Department handled the criminal investigation into the Russian criminal conspiracy," Grassley wrote. "Such information is critical to the Committee’s oversight of the Justice Department."
The senator specifically cited the earlier story by The Hill in his letter, saying among the issues he hoped to explore with the undercover was whether any political pressure was exerted during the probe.

While the FBI developed evidence as early as 2009 that an official with Russia's state-controlled Tenex nuclear company had engaged in the kickback scheme, Justice officials did not bring charges until 2014.

During the five year gap, the Obama administration approved the controversial uranium deal and made other decisions favorable to Russia's ambitions to expand its nuclear business inside the United States.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Corruption of Hillary Clinton and Barack Hussein Obama is simply staggering

FBI uncovered Russian bribery plot before Obama administration approved controversial nuclear deal with Moscow

Before the Obama administration approved a controversial deal in 2010 giving Moscow control of a large swath of American uranium, the FBI had gathered substantial evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States, according to government documents and interviews.

Federal agents used a confidential U.S. witness working inside the Russian nuclear industry to gather extensive financial records, make secret recordings and intercept emails as early as 2009 that showed Moscow had compromised an American uranium trucking firm with bribes and kickbacks in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, FBI and court documents show.

They also obtained an eyewitness account — backed by documents — indicating Russian nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation during the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton served on a government body that provided a favorable decision to Moscow, sources told The Hill.

The racketeering scheme was conducted “with the consent of higher level officials” in Russia who “shared the proceeds” from the kickbacks, one agent declared in an affidavit years later.

Rather than bring immediate charges in 2010, however, the Department of Justice (DOJ) continued investigating the matter for nearly four more years, essentially leaving the American public and Congress in the dark about Russian nuclear corruption on U.S. soil during a period when the Obama administration made two major decisions benefiting Putin’s commercial nuclear ambitions.
The first decision occurred in October 2010, when the State Department and government agencies on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States unanimously approved the partial sale of Canadian mining company Uranium One to the Russian nuclear giant Rosatom, giving Moscow control of more than 20 percent of America’s uranium supply.

When this sale was used by Trump on the campaign trail last year, Hillary Clinton’s spokesman said she was not involved in the committee review and noted the State Department official who handled it said she “never intervened ... on any [Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] matter.”

In 2011, the administration gave approval for Rosatom’s Tenex subsidiary to sell commercial uranium to U.S. nuclear power plants in a partnership with the United States Enrichment Corp. Before then, Tenex had been limited to selling U.S. nuclear power plants reprocessed uranium recovered from dismantled Soviet nuclear weapons under the 1990s Megatons to Megawatts peace program.
“The Russians were compromising American contractors in the nuclear industry with kickbacks and extortion threats, all of which raised legitimate national security concerns. And none of that evidence got aired before the Obama administration made those decisions,” a person who worked on the case told The Hill, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by U.S. or Russian officials.

The Obama administration’s decision to approve Rosatom’s purchase of Uranium One has been a source of political controversy since 2015.

That’s when conservative author Peter Schweitzer and The New York Times documented how Bill Clinton collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in Russian speaking fees and his charitable foundation collected millions in donations from parties interested in the deal while Hillary Clinton presided on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

The Obama administration and the Clintons defended their actions at the time, insisting there was no evidence that any Russians or donors engaged in wrongdoing and there was no national security reason for any member of the committee to oppose the Uranium One deal.

But FBI, Energy Department and court documents reviewed by The Hill show the FBI in fact had gathered substantial evidence well before the committee’s decision that Vadim Mikerin — the main Russian overseeing Putin’s nuclear expansion inside the United States — was engaged in wrongdoing starting in 2009.

Then-Attorney General Eric Holder was among the Obama administration officials joining Hillary Clinton on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States at the time the Uranium One deal was approved. Multiple current and former government officials told The Hill they did not know whether the FBI or DOJ ever alerted committee members to the criminal activity they uncovered.
Spokesmen for Holder and Clinton did not return calls seeking comment. The Justice Department also didn’t comment.

Mikerin was a director of Rosatom’s Tenex in Moscow since the early 2000s, where he oversaw Rosatom’s nuclear collaboration with the United States under the Megatons to Megwatts program and its commercial uranium sales to other countries. In 2010, Mikerin was dispatched to the U.S. on a work visa approved by the Obama administration to open Rosatom’s new American arm called Tenam.
Between 2009 and January 2012, Mikerin “did knowingly and willfully combine, conspire confederate and agree with other persons … to obstruct, delay and affect commerce and the movement of an article and commodity (enriched uranium) in commerce by extortion,” a November 2014 indictment stated.

His illegal conduct was captured with the help of a confidential witness, an American businessman, who began making kickback payments at Mikerin’s direction and with the permission of the FBI. The first kickback payment recorded by the FBI through its informant was dated Nov. 27, 2009, the records show.
In evidentiary affidavits signed in 2014 and 2015, an Energy Department agent assigned to assist the FBI in the case testified that Mikerin supervised a “racketeering scheme” that involved extortion, bribery, money laundering and kickbacks that were both directed by and provided benefit to more senior officials back in Russia.

“As part of the scheme, Mikerin, with the consent of higher level officials at TENEX and Rosatom (both Russian state-owned entities) would offer no-bid contracts to US businesses in exchange for kickbacks in the form of money payments made to some offshore banks accounts,” Agent David Gadren testified.
“Mikerin apparently then shared the proceeds with other co-conspirators associated with TENEX in Russia and elsewhere,” the agent added.
The investigation was ultimately supervised by then-U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein, an Obama appointee who now serves as President Trump’s deputy attorney general, and then-Assistant FBI Director Andrew McCabe, now the deputy FBI director under Trump, Justice Department documents show.

Both men now play a key role in the current investigation into possible, but still unproven, collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign during the 2016 election cycle. McCabe is under congressional and Justice Department inspector general investigation in connection with money his wife’s Virginia state Senate campaign accepted in 2015 from now-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe at a time when McAuliffe was reportedly under investigation by the FBI. The probe is not focused on McAuliffe's conduct but rather on whether McCabe's attendance violated the Hatch Act or other FBI conflict rules.

The connections to the current Russia case are many. The Mikerin probe began in 2009 when Robert Mueller, now the special counsel in charge of the Trump case, was still FBI director. And it ended in late 2015 under the direction of then-FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired earlier this year.

Its many twist and turns aside, the FBI nuclear industry case proved a gold mine, in part because it uncovered a new Russian money laundering apparatus that routed bribe and kickback payments through financial instruments in Cyprus, Latvia and Seychelles. A Russian financier in New Jersey was among those arrested for the money laundering, court records show.

The case also exposed a serious national security breach: Mikerin had given a contract to an American trucking firm called Transport Logistics International that held the sensitive job of transporting Russia’s uranium around the United States in return for more than $2 million in kickbacks from some of its executives, court records show.

One of Mikerin’s former employees told the FBI that Tenex officials in Russia specifically directed the scheme to “allow for padded pricing to include kickbacks,” agents testified in one court filing.

Bringing down a major Russian nuclear corruption scheme that had both compromised a sensitive uranium transportation asset inside the U.S. and facilitated international money laundering would seem a major feather in any law enforcement agency’s cap.

But the Justice Department and FBI took little credit in 2014 when Mikerin, the Russian financier and the trucking firm executives were arrested and charged.
The only public statement occurred a year later when the Justice Department put out a little-noticed press release in August 2015, just days before Labor Day. The release noted that the various defendants had reached plea deals.

By that time, the criminal cases against Mikerin had been narrowed to a single charge of money laundering for a scheme that officials admitted stretched from 2004 to 2014. And though agents had evidence of criminal wrongdoing they collected since at least 2009, federal prosecutors only cited in the plea agreement a handful of transactions that occurred in 2011 and 2012, well after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States’s approval.

The final court case also made no mention of any connection to the influence peddling conversations the FBI undercover informant witnessed about the Russian nuclear officials trying to ingratiate themselves with the Clintons even though agents had gathered documents showing the transmission of millions of dollars from Russia’s nuclear industry to an American entity that had provided assistance to Bill Clinton’s foundation, sources confirmed to The Hill.

The lack of fanfare left many key players in Washington with no inkling that a major Russian nuclear corruption scheme with serious national security implications had been uncovered.

On Dec. 15, 2015, the Justice Department put out a release stating that Mikerin, “a former Russian official residing in Maryland was sentenced today to 48 months in prison” and ordered to forfeit more than $2.1 million.

Ronald Hosko, who served as the assistant FBI director in charge of criminal cases when the investigation was underway, told The Hill he did not recall ever being briefed about Mikerin’s case by the counterintelligence side of the bureau despite the criminal charges that were being lodged.

“I had no idea this case was being conducted,” a surprised Hosko said in an interview.

Likewise, major congressional figures were also kept in the dark.
Former Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who chaired the House Intelligence Committee during the time the FBI probe was being conducted, told The Hill that he had never been told anything about the Russian nuclear corruption case even though many fellow lawmakers had serious concerns about the Obama administration’s approval of the Uranium One deal.

“Not providing information on a corruption scheme before the Russian uranium deal was approved by U.S. regulators and engage appropriate congressional committees has served to undermine U.S. national security interests by the very people charged with protecting them,” he said. “The Russian efforts to manipulate our American political enterprise is breathtaking.”

This story was updated at 6:50 p.m.

Indictment Affidavit by M Mali on Scribd
Warrant Affidavit by M Mali on Scribd
Mikerin Plea Deal by M Mali on Scribd

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Iraq Takes Kirkuk - The Kurds' Peshmerga collapsed Immediately

US military rushes to defuse looming crisis in Kirkuk after Iraqi army advances

US commanders actively trying to mediate between two sides in the oil-rich city after forces loyal to the government in Baghdad seized control on Monday

Iraqi forces patrol in the streets after they retake the control of the city center from peshmerga forces in Kirkuk, Iraq, on Monday.
Iraqi forces patrol in the streets after they retake the control of the city center from peshmerga forces in Kirkuk, Iraq, on Monday. Photograph: Uncredited/AP

US military commanders are scrambling to stop a conflict escalating between two forces they arm and train, after the Iraqi army seized the contested, oil-rich city of Kirkuk, from Kurdish peshmerga.

The Pentagon sought to play down the scale of clashes between the two sides, after forces loyal to the central government in Baghdad rapidly took over nearly all the cityon Monday, and Kurdish forces abandoned their positions, retreating to nearby oilfields. Video footage showed streams of Kurdish refugees leaving Kirkuk in cars.

Baghdad’s move came three weeks after a referendum on Kurdish independence included the ethnically diverse oil city – a contentious move that Baghdad viewed as an effective annexation.

The peshmerga withdrawal delivered decisive military and political gains to Baghdad and a devastating blow to the Kurdish region’s de facto president, Massoud Barzani, who had staked much of his legacy on the referendum and aimed to use it as a stepping stone to consolidate Kurdish autonomy.

Col Robert Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, described the takeover, as “coordinated movements, not attacks” and said an exchange of fire that is reported to have resulted in several casualties was “an isolated incident”.
“We have not seen levels of violences suggested in some of the media reports,” Manning said, urging both parties to focus on the “common threat” of the Islamic State. “This is certainly not helpful and again we encourage both sides to not fight each other.” 

He added that US commanders in the region were active in trying to mediate between the two sides in the city.

“Coalition leaders at all levels are engaging with their counterparts in the Iraqsecurity forces to encourage dialogue and de-escalation,” Manning said.

Speaking at the White House, Donald Trump said: “We don’t like the fact that they are clashing, but we’re not taking sides.” 

... but what did Trump say in 2015?

But the US embassy in Baghdad declared its support for Iraq’s reassertion of sovereignty in Kirkuk. “We support the peaceful reassertion of federal authority, consistent with the Iraqi constitution, in all disputed areas,” the embassy said in a statement. 

The confrontation with Kurdish forces is a serious threat to US efforts to focus its allies’ efforts against Isis, an effort in which Kurdish forces have been Washington’s most effective partner. 

There was also concern in Washington over the role of Iran in the move into Kirkuk. The Iraqi army advanced alongside mostly Shia Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU), which are Iranian-backed.

“I am especially concerned by media reports that Iranian and Iranian-backed forces are part of the assault. Iraqi forces must take immediate steps to de-escalate this volatile situation by ceasing their advances,” Senator John McCain said in a written statement. 

“The United States provided equipment and training to the government of Iraq to fight Isis and secure itself from external threats – not to attack elements of one of its own regional governments, which is a longstanding and valuable partner of the United States.”

Manning said the Pentagon had been assured by the Iraqi government and security forces that they would use US equipment “in accordance with US law and our bilateral agreements”.

“If we receive reports that US-origin equipment is being misused or provided to unauthorized users, we engage the Iraqi government in conjunction with the US embassy to address any confirmed issues – up to the highest levels, if necessary,” Manning added.

He also said he was not aware of any direct Iranian involvement in the Kirkuk operation though the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds force, Gen Qassem Suleimani – and PMU officials loyal to Iran’s supreme leader – are reported to have directed the offensive. 

Iraqi children step on a Kurdish flag as forces advance towards the centre of Kirkuk during an operation against Kurdish fighters on Monday.
Iraqi children step on a Kurdish flag as forces advance towards the centre of Kirkuk during an operation against Kurdish fighters on Monday. Photograph: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior foreign policy adviser to the Iranian supreme leader, praised the Iraqi army’s move to capture Kirkuk, framing it as a blow to Israel’s strategic ambitions.

“With the defeat of the Kurds in Kirkuk, Barzani’s conspiracy against the region’s security was foiled. Barzani’s aim and Israel’s covert aim were to seize Kirkuk’s oilfields to serve the Israeli interest. In the Kurdistan region, they raise the flag of Israel and this means if Kurds gain independence in Iraq, we will share a border with Israel,” Velayati said, according to the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim news.

The Kirkuk governor, Najmladin Karim, has gone into hiding according to a former state department official, David Philips, who spoke to Karim on Sunday night at the time of the offensive.

“This was an attack by Shia militias under an Iranian commander,” Philips, who is now director of Columbia University programme on peace-building and rights. “The PMU is an entirely Iranian construct,” he added. “This operation was about Iran against Kurdistan.”

Philips pointed out that the US special envoy for the anti-Isis coalition, Brett McGurk, was in Baghdad over the weekend for talks with the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi.

“I would like to know what he and Abadi talked about,” he said. “The long history of links to the Kurds didn’t seem to matter when it came to crunch time.”
In a statement on Monday, Abadi said: “We have only acted to fulfil our constitutional duty to extend the federal authority and impose security and protect the national wealth in this city, which we want to remain a city of peaceful coexistence for all Iraqis.”

Kirkuk was seized by the Kurds in the summer of 2014, after Iraqi forces fled their positions following an Isis attack on nearby Mosul. At the time, peshmerga units beat Isis militants in a race to control installations and oilfields. 

Ever since, Erbil has tried to strengthen its claim on the city, which comprises Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen and is the epicentre of regional oil production. 

Kurdish officials had set up a pipeline from Kirkuk to Turkey, through which they had been selling crude oil – amid bitter opposition from Baghdad.

The withdrawal of Kurdish forces underscores a deep rivalry between two political blocs in Iraqi Kurdistan, which came to a head in the past three days as Iraqi forces and allied Shia units stalked Kurdish forces from south of the city. 

Some leaders of the PUK bloc, based in the region’s second city, Sulaymaniyah, had viewed the referendum as a partisan move by Barzani to consolidate domestic control. The veteran leader had instead insisted that the ballot represented a defining moment in Kurdish history, which he hoped would transcendhelp overcome longstanding disunity.

Divisions, however, were on stark display, as the peshmerga units capitulated, shocking even members of the two feuding parties. The general command of Kurdistan’s peshmerga slammed the PUK for what it described as a “major historic betrayal”. 

In contrast, Iraqi leaders, including Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Haidar al-Ameri, both senior commanders of the Popular Mobilisation units – a conglomerate of largely Shia forces, arrived in Kirkuk mid-afternoon to witness the Iraqi flag being raised at the governor’s office.

The decision to hold the ballot had drawn strident criticism from Iran, Turkey, Baghdad and the US. Baghdad and Tehran have blockaded the Kurdish north for the past two weeks, closing air space and partially suspending trade.

Shia units pressed into Kirkuk’s southern outskirts early on Monday and civilians started leaving the city en masse. Aziz Ahmed, an aide to the Erbil-based security tsar, Masrour Barzani, said rival security officials of the PUK bloc, had “betrayed Kirkuk and [the people of] Kurdistan, conceded to Iran and withdrew from frontlines without a fight”.

Peshmerga units loyal to Barzani remain in control of two oilfields north of Kirkuk and said they had no intention of surrendering them. But the remaining Kurdish forces appear to have little chance of holding back a bigger and better armed foe, should the central government choose to attack.

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