Barack Obama and John Kerry should make up their minds: Do they want war or peace with Iran?
We should hope for peace, but Obama and Kerry make optimism difficult.
Ideally, the Obama administration would simply exit the Middle East, taking all its military and economic aid with it. The U.S. government cannot micromanage events there, especially when it is no honest, neutral broker. Shamefully, it is firmly in the Israeli camp against the Palestinians (who, let us remember, are the occupied, not the occupiers), and generally in the Sunni Muslim camp against the Shi’ites, led by Iran. (Iraq is the anomaly.)
As welcome as a U.S. exit would be, alas, it won’t happen anytime soon, so the best we can hope for is rapprochement with Iran. The U.S.-led economic sanctions impose an unconscionable hardship on Iranians — for example, depriving the elderly and children of medicines and nourishment. Clearly, a war would be catastrophic on many levels for nearly all concerned, including Americans. (I say “nearly all” because opportunistic rulers in Israel and Saudi Arabia could benefit.)
Given the circumstances, one might expect signs of wholehearted American support for rapprochement, but we’re not seeing them. The U.S. government, along with the four other permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, reached an interim agreement with Iran aimed at demonstrating the peaceful nature of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities. Of course, we already knew the intentions are peaceful. Iran is a party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and is routinely inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has certified that no uranium has been diverted to weapons production. Moreover, U.S. and Israeli intelligence say that Iran has not decided to build a nuclear bomb, and its Supreme Leader long ago condemned weapons of mass destruction as sinful.
Under the interim agreement, which is to be a bridge to a permanent accord, Iran will take additional measures to reassure the world, including converting its enriched uranium to a form unsuitable for weapons but appropriate for power generation and medical purposes.
This should cheer all peace-minded people. So why do Obama and Kerry say things that make us doubt their sincerity about seeking a diplomatic resolution?
For example, Kerry recently said that “the military option that is available to the United States is ready and prepared to do what it would have to do.” Threatening war hardly demonstrates the spirit of peace-making.
Further, investigative reporter Gareth Porter points out that Kerry repeatedly says the agreement obligates Iran to “dismantle” nuclear equipment, such as centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani protests that this is incorrect. Porter writes that the “tough U.S. rhetoric may be adding new obstacles to the search for a comprehensive nuclear agreement.”
Is the administration moving the goal posts?
“In fact,” Porter continues, drawing on CNN interviews, “[Iranian foreign minister Javad] Zarif has put on the table proposals for resolving the remaining enrichment issues that the Barack Obama administration has recognized as serious and realistic.… Zarif observed that the actual agreement said nothing about ‘dismantling’ any equipment.… So Iran was not required by the interim agreement to ‘dismantle’ anything.” Instead, Iran agreed not to enrich over 5 percent, far below weapons grade, “and not increase enrichment capacity.” Kerry’s use of the word “dismantle” when discussing the future permanent agreement also disturbs Iran’s leaders.
The NPT does not prohibit parties from enriching uranium for electricity and medical treatments.
“The Obama administration’s rhetoric of ‘dismantlement,’ however, has created a new political reality: the US news media has accepted the idea that Iran must ‘dismantle’ at least some of its nuclear program to prove that it is not seeking nuclear weapons,” Porter writes.
Thus, Kerry’s deception could inflame the public against Iran and jeopardize the chance of a settlement.
Obama himself told the New Yorker’s David Remnick there’s less than an even chance of a permanent agreement, which is worse than the odds he gave late last year. And while he reminded Americans that it was the United States that overthrew a democratic Iranian government in 1953, he called on Israel and Saudi Arabia to focus on their common bond against Iran.
That doesn’t sound like a man seeking peace.


Afghanistan can’t be trusted to funnel the millions upon millions of dollars it receives from America to the proper sources, two global aiding firms found, in recently conducted reports made public Thursday.

The auditors were hired three years ago — but their conclusions were so shocking that leading government officials in the United States tried to keep them private, The New York Times reported. Among the recently surfaced findings: Not one of the 16 Afghan ministries that receive aid from the United States were trustworthy enough to keep the money clear of corrupt hands.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction published the full report, which showed how $236.5 million that was supposed to go to the Afghan Ministry of Public Health was actually at risk of heading to the wrong sources, “arising from payment of salaries in cash,” The Times reported.

SIGAR also found: The U.S. Agency for International Development’s internal reviews uncovered a total of 107 major risks with providing money to President Karzai’s government — “99 of them rated critical or high.” USAID asked that SIGAR keep the sensitive information from Congress and from the public, the report showed.
The United States has committed more than $1 billion to Afghanistan.

U.S.: Afghanistan can't 'keep deferring' decision on security pact

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks to reporters at the Al Udeid Airbase, west of Doha December 10, 2013. REUTERS/Mark Wilson/Pool
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks to reporters at the Al Udeid Airbase, west of Doha December 10, 2013.
(Reuters) - The United States and its allies cannot continue to put off decisions about a post-2014 mission in Afghanistan, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said, urging Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign a pact allowing U.S. troops to stay beyond this year.
"You can't just keep deferring and deferring, because at some point the realities of planning and budgeting and all that is required collides," Hagel told reporters late on Wednesday, aboard a military aircraft en route to Poland.
The Obama administration has been pressing Karzai to sign the agreement, which was concluded last year, for months, warning that U.S. and NATO nations could be forced to pull all soldiers out by the end of the year, leaving Afghanistan vulnerable to Taliban resurgence or even civil war.
Karzai, meanwhile, has demanded an end to U.S. military operations on Afghan homes and a step forward in hoped-for peace talks with the Taliban before he will sign the deal.
Hagel said President Barack Obama was personally examining what a possible post-2014 U.S. force in Afghanistan might look like, should the security pact be finalized this year.
The U.S. military has advocated keeping a modest-sized force of around 10,000 soldiers in Afghanistan to anchor a post-2014 mission that would focus on training and supporting Afghan forces and conducting counter-terrorism activities.
Administration officials say no decisions have yet been made. It is unclear whether the Obama administration would be willing to wait until after Afghanistan elects a new leader in April to finalize the deal, or whether it will call off plans for a post-2014 presence before then.
Hagel said his counterparts from NATO nations were likewise concerned about the delay in finalizing their plans for Afghanistan beyond this year. "They have parliaments, they have budgets, they have their citizens," he said.
Hagel said that while officials continued to urge Karzai to finalize the deal, there were limits to what the United States could do.
"(Karzai) is the elected president of a sovereign nation, and our ability to influence whatever decisions an elected president and leader of a sovereign nation makes on behalf of their country is limited," he said.


Agreement Reached to Sell Apache Helicopters to Iraq

Jan. 27, 2014 - 03:45AM   |  
By PAUL McLEARY   |   Comments
The way is cleared to sell 24 AH-64 Apache attack helicopter to Iraq.
The way is cleared to sell 24 AH-64 Apache attack helicopter to Iraq. (US Army)
WASHINGTON — A key congressional panel has finally removed obstacles to the White House’s plan to sell 24 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters to Iraq, along with spare parts and maintenance, in a massive $6.2 billion deal.
A group of senators led by New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had raised concerns over the human rights record of the Shia-led government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki toward the country’s Sunni minority.
The deal will come in two parts. First is the sale of the helicopters themselves, announced today in a public filing by the Pentagon to Congress, which would be worth $4.8 billion.
The two deals would require hundreds of Americans to ship out to Iraq to oversee the training and fielding of the equipment.
The training part of the deal, which involves the lease of six Apaches and assorted equipment to train Iraqi pilots, is estimated to be worth $1.37 billion. This portion of the sale would require that “1 U.S. Government and 67 contractor representatives” would be based in Iraq “on an as-needed basis to provide support and technical reviews,” today’s release said.
The helicopter sale and eventual shipment would require that “three U.S. Government and two hundred contractor representatives” would be based in Iraq, with another team of 12 personnel — one military and 11 contractors — would deploy to Iraq for three years to oversee training.
The Baghdad government, currently in an increasingly bloody standoff with al-Qaida-affiliated militants known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and who have asserted some form of control over parts of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, also requested 480 Hellfire missiles along with 30mm automatic chain guns and an unspecified number of Hydra rockets.
On Jan. 23, Iraq also requested 500 Hellfire missiles that would cost an estimated $82 million, and the US government expedited the delivery of 75 Hellfires to Baghdad in December.
Iraq has been mounting the missiles on fixed-wing aircraft.
In the public announcement of the requested sale, the DoD wrote that the deal provides Iraq “with a critical capability to protect itself from terrorist and conventional threats, to enhance the protection of key oil infrastructure and platforms,” while also meeting Iraq’s stated desire to establish “close air support, armed reconnaissance and anti-tank warfare missions.”
The Apache is manufactured by Boeing while the Hellfire missiles are made by Lockheed Martin. ■

Nujaifi Blasts Maliki in Washington, Calls for US Support in Iraq’s War on Terror

By Zuber Hewrami 25/1/2014
US President Obama (R) shaking hands with Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi. Photo: White House
US President Obama (R) shaking hands with Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi. Photo: White House
WASHINGTON DC—Iraq’s Shiite-led government is alienating the country’s large Sunni population by waging a war in Anbar province, instead of addressing legitimate complaints, according to Osama al-Nujaifi, Iraq’s parliament speaker and one of its top Sunni leaders.
“Not everything in Anbar is terrorism related,” Nujaifi said Thursday in a speech at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, part of the Brookings Institute in Washington DC. “There are political demands, problems and rights that need a political solution, not a military incursion,” he explained.
“Of course, al-Qaida is there and we should fight it. Clans are fighting them as we speak,” he added.
Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki dispatched the armed forces into Anbar after fighters of al-Qaida’s Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) took over several government buildings. The UN says the continued fighting has displaced some 140,000 people.
Sunni politicians like Nujaifi blame Maliki and his government for the revival of al-Qaeda, which was pushed back after the government enlisted and armed Sunni clans against the militants between 2007 and 2009. 
The Sunni politicians accuse Maliki’s government of disarming, abandoning, persecuting and -- in some cases -- jailing the tribal fighters after they helped the government keep al-Qaeda at bay.    
“From 2009 until a few months ago these forces were almost completely destroyed and AQI came back stronger than before.  The AQI has been paralyzing the clans and the central government has not followed up on its moral and literal promises.”
Nujaifi admitted that some members of AQI and ISIS live in and operate from Anbar, but said this should not be grounds for the government to punish the entire region.
“Iraq at this point is at a crossroads,” Nujaifi declared. “What we need is a strong determination, political will and for everyone to agree on a constitution; forget past problems and move toward reconciliation. 
“Iraq is now facing a dire terrorist threat and we need to figure out how to defeat this threat ideologically and physically,” he warned.
He added that he rejects US interference in Iraq, but welcomes support in finding a solution.  He warned that if Iraq were to collapse, it would affect US and global security.
“We need weapons, political and economic support,” Nujaifi said, adding that the United States had lost interest in Iraq as it focused elsewhere in the world. He said it was having to look back because of the renewed threat from Islamic extremists.
The same day that Nujaifi was speaking, the White House advised Congress of plans to arm Iraq with an additional 500 Hellfire missiles at a cost of $82 million. US troops based in Jordan are also reportedly being considered to train Iraqi forces.
In meetings with Nujafi, US leaders underscored that Washington stands with Iraq and its people in the fight against terrorism. 
The Iraqi leader was received by top US officials, including US President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, indicating Washington’s eagerness to restore order in Iraq’s restive Sunni provinces.  
The White House released a statement on Wednesday after Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met with Nujaifi. It said the US administration voiced strong US support for continued cooperation between local and tribal leaders and the Iraqi government against al-Qaeda and other extremist groups.
Nujaifi also accused Maliki’s government of implementing laws selectively, refusing to pay the different provinces their full share from extracted oil and marginalizing communities like the Sunnis.
“I don’t agree with Prime Minister Maliki and the way he manages the country, and I believe that committing to the constitution and applying the rule of law is not clear in the policies of the government.”
“This democracy, some believe, is selective; it is democracy for some and oppression for others,” Nujaifi charged.
He added that the government’s discriminatory policies were driving the different provinces toward seeking autonomy within a federal system.
He said that the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) had fared far better than the rest of Iraq, because it had adopted intelligent policies and the rule of law.
“Now, the KRG is an example of stability, security, investment and wise politics,” Nujaifi declared.

Nineveh Governor Casts Doubts on Baghdad’s Reasons for New Provinces

By RUDAW 27/1/2014
According to Nujaifi, there has been a systematic plan by the government in Baghdad to divide and cut off Nineveh in order to fuel sectarianism in the province. Photo: AP
According to Nujaifi, there has been a systematic plan by the government in Baghdad to divide and cut off Nineveh in order to fuel sectarianism in the province. Photo: AP
ERBIL Kurdistan Region – Nineveh Governor Atheel Nujafi accuses Iraq’s Shiite-led government in Baghdad of planning to turn Tal Afar and the Nineveh Plain into provinces in order to facilitate a shorter route for Iranian aid to the Syrian regime.

"Reviewing the maps show that the two provinces proposed are located on the shortest route between Iran and Syria in Mosul," Nujafi said in a statement seen by Rudaw.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government has been accused by the West of allowing Iranian lethal and non-lethal aid to pass through Iraqi land and air routes en route to Assad’s regime, which Tehran backs.
According to Nujaifi, there has been a systematic plan by the government in Baghdad to divide and cut off Nineveh in order to fuel sectarianism in the province.
Last week, Iraq's Council of Ministers decided to turn Tuz Khurmatu in Saladin province and Talafar in Nineveh into provinces and recommended a study to turn the Nineveh Plain and Fallujah into additional Iraqi provinces.
The decision raised the ire of Iraqi Kurds, because Tuz Khurmatu and Tal Afar are both within the so-called “disputed territories” claimed by both the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the north and the Arab government in Baghdad.
"The bombings and targeting of innocent people in the Nineveh Plain led to the formation of regiments from the same sect and calls to bring in troops from outside the province to protect one of the components of the region, and then the official call for the establishment of the two provinces," said the governor.
Nujaifi blamed internal struggles for causing the situation, without specifying whether he meant internal frictions within the components of the province or within the Sunnis in Iraq. 
The Nineveh Provincial Council and the governor have threatened to turn Nineveh into an autonomous region similar to the KRG, should Baghdad go ahead with plans to divide the area into additional provinces.