Commentary on the economic , geopolitical and simply fascinating things going on. Served occasionally with a side of snark.
Thursday, March 20, 2014
War watch March 20 - 21 , 2014 -- Iraq --Bloody Wednesday For Iraq: 115 Killed, 128 Wounded ....... Syria -- Israeli Air Strike Against Syria Base Kills One, Raises Border Tensions Is the IDF Gradually Getting Sucked Into Syria's War ? Hezbollah Leader Offered Secret Assurances to Israel Lebanese Militia Focused on Syrian Civil War ........ Afghanistan -- US May Be Paying for Nonexistent Afghan Police Little Oversight to Ensure Payroll Goes to Real People , The Pentagon Spent $2.7 Billion on an Intelligence System That Doesn't Work .... Iran -- New Israeli Budget Includes Billions for Attacking Iran Army Chief: We Can Operate in Iran Whenever We Need to , Russia May Change Stance on Iran Over US, EU Hostility Foreign Ministry Offers No Details on Shift ........ Turkey corruption probes roll on , Row over reading of graft allegations marks extraordinary legislative session
At least 115 people were killed and 128 more were wounded in attacks and clashes today. A large number of people were killed or wounded during shelling in Falluja, and Baghdad saw a number of bombings agian.
The ouster of rebels from their last stronghold along the Lebanon border, Yabroud, has not ended the fighting the region, as Syrian military forces continue to battle rebel factions that are in the process of withdrawing, and chased many to an area along the border itself.
Syrian military shelling even spanned the border, hitting the village of Wadi Khaled, where many rebels and refugees had fled, and wounding at least 25according to reports.
Syrian state media reported 11 rebels killed in an ambush, and the military has closed the bordercrossings into Lebanon, likely an attempt to keep rebels from escaping disguised as refugees and keep rebels inside Lebanon from sneaking back in.
Border crossings have been an ongoing problem in the civil war for the Syrian government, as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey have all been used by the rebels as weapons smuggling routes, routes for new fighters to enter, and even at times as bases of operations.
The Sunni Revolt in Syria Has Given al-Qa’ida More Power in Iraq
In the third part of his series, Patrick Cockburn looks at the growing influence of Isis, al-Qa’ida’s force in Iraq, which dominates Sunni areas and is wreaking havoc among the Shia majority
Events in Iraq are not always what they seem: take two occurrences over the past year illustrating the difference between appearance and the reality in Iraq. The first event took place outside Fallujah after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), formerly known as al-Qa’ida in Iraq, aided by tribal militias, took over the city in January. This was a body blow to the Iraqi government since Fallujah is only 40 miles west of Baghdad and was famously stormed by US Marines in a bloody battle in 2004.
But soon after Isis had retaken it three months ago, a reassuring video was circulated on Twitter and Facebook by government supporters. It had some narrative in Iraqi Arabic, was shot from the air and showed insurgents being targeted and eliminated by air-launched missiles. This was morale-raising stuff for the Iraqi government and to those loyal to it, but unfortunately it proved to be a fabrication and after a few hours someone noticed that the video had been shot in Afghanistan and it is of American drones or helicopters firing missiles at Taliban fighters. It is doubtful if Iraqi airpower is capable of carrying out such attacks.
But such deceptions are not all on the government side. In December 2012 the arrest of the bodyguards of the moderate Sunni Finance Minister, Rafi al-Issawi, by the government led to widespread but peaceful protests in Sunni provinces in northern and central Iraq, Sunni Arabs making up about a fifth of Iraq’s 33 million population. At first, the demonstrations were well-attended, with protesters demanding an end to political, civil and economic discrimination against the Sunni community. But soon they realised that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was offering only cosmetic changes and many stopped attending the weekly demonstrations.
In the Sunni city of Tikrit, capital of Salah Ad-Din province, 10,000 people had come to rallies at first, but then the number sank to 1,000. A local observer says: “It was decided that all mosques should be shut on Fridays except for one, forcing all the faithful to go to the same mosque for Friday prayers. Cameras eagerly filmed and photographed the crowd to make it look like they were all protesters and would beam the images back to the Gulf, where their paymasters were fooled (or maybe they weren’t) into thinking that the protests were still attracting large numbers.” The eyewitness in Tikrit cynically suggests that the money supposedly spent on feeding and transporting non-existent demonstrators was pocketed by protest leaders.
The two stories illustrate an important political truth about contemporary Iraq. Neither the government nor any of the constitutional political movements are as strong as they pretend. Power is divided and these divisions have helped al-Qa’ida in Iraq to re-emerge far stronger and more speedily than anybody expected. Its jihadist militants are still in Fallujah where they reportedly have 300 to 500 men armed with high-powered sniper rifles on its outskirts. The political winds are still blowing in their favour and peaceful protests are languishing.
“Belittled, demonised and increasingly subject to a central government crackdown, the popular movement is slowly mutating into an armed struggle,” reports the International Crisis Group. “Many Sunni Arabs have concluded that their only realistic option is a violent conflict increasingly framed in confessional terms.”
The government might have got away with its confrontational approach before 2011, after which the Arab Spring took the form in Syria of a revolt by the Sunni majority. With the Syrian rebels backed by Saudi Arabia and the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf and Turkey, the sectarian balance of power in the region is changing.
Previously, the Iraqi Sunni had been resentful but largely resigned to the Shia-Kurdish domination of Iraq established since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. They were fearful of a renewed onslaught by Shia militias and Shia-controlled security forces which had driven Sunni out of much of Baghdad in the sectarian civil war of 2006-7.
A US embassy cable in September 2007 said: “More than half of all Baghdad neighbourhoods now contain a clear Shia majority. Sunnis have largely fled to outlying areas or have been concentrated into small enclaves surrounded by Shia neighbourhoods.” To a great extent, this remains true to this day.
Many Iraqi Sunni felt they had no alternative but to revert to armed struggle and they were encouraged by two regional developments: the Sunni-Shia conflict is intensifying as is the hot and cold war between Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies backed by the US, in confrontation with Iran, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon, who in turn are backed by Russia.
Iraq has long suspected the hidden hand of Wahhabism, the variant of Islam espoused by Saudi Arabia, as being behind many of its troubles. But it was only this month that Mr Maliki, in an interview with France 24 television, put the blame squarely on Saudi Arabia and Qatar, saying that “these two countries are primarily responsible for the sectarian, terrorist and security crisis in Iraq”.
He added that allegations that he was marginalising Sunnis was broadcast by “sectarians with ties to foreign agendas, with Saudi and Qatari incitement”. His accusations were angrier and more direct than before, alleging that Riyadh and Doha are providing support for the militants, including “buying weapons for the benefit of these terrorist organisations”.
How much truth is there in Mr Maliki’s accusations? A proportion of aid from the Gulf destined for the armed opposition in Syria undoubtedly goes to Iraq. Turkey allows weapons and jihadist volunteers, many of them potential suicide bombers, to cross its 500 mile-long border into Syria and inevitably some of the guns, fighters and bombers will go to Iraq. This is hardly surprising given that Isis operates in both countries as if they were one. Since mid-2012, violence has increased sharply, with 9,571 Iraqi civilians killed in 2013 and 2,006 in the first two months of this year, according to Iraq Body Count. A senior US administration official, speaking last August and quoted by Jessica D Lewis of the Institute for the Study of War, said: “In the [past] two years, we’ve had an average of about five to 10 suicide bombers a month, in 2011 and 2012… We’ve seen over the [past] 90 days the suicide bomber numbers approach about 30 a month, and we still suspect that most of them are coming in from Syria.”
A blind spot for the US and the Western powers has been their failure to see that by supporting the armed uprising in Syria, they would inevitably destabilise Iraq and provoke a new round of its sectarian civil war. Al-Qa’ida in Iraq, as it was then known, was at its lowest ebb in 2010. It had been vigorously pursued by the Americans, was under attack from the Sahwa or “Awakening” groups of anti-al-Qa’ida fighters, mostly drawn from the Sunni tribes. It had lost many of its veterans, who were dead or in prison, and survivors were unpopular among ordinary Sunnis because of their general bloodthirstiness, killing even minor government employees who might be Sunni. Above all, they had failed and up to 2012 many Sunnis were hopeful of extracting at least some concessions from the government without going back to war.
The spectacular resurgence of al-Qa’ida in Iraq came through a well-planned campaign, an important element of which was systematic attacks on the prisons. Known as the “Breaking the Walls” campaign, it involved eight separate attacks to free prisoners, culminating in a successful assault on Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons in July 2013 in which at least 500 captives, many of them experienced fighters, escaped. The attackers poured 100 mortar bombs into the jails and used suicide bombers to clear the way as inmates rioted and started fires to confuse the guards.
There were escalating attacks on Iraqi security forces by Isis all over Iraq last year. An assault by government forces on a peace camp at Hawijah, south-west of Kirkuk, on 23 April killed 50 people and injured 110, alienating many Sunni, including powerful tribes. Ill-planned government counter-offensives, which often mean detaining and mistreating all Sunni men of military age, are counter-effective. Sporadic shelling of Fallujah and Ramadi by government forces in Anbar forced some 500,000 people out of 1.6 million in the province to flee to safer places where they often live rough or whole families are crammed into a single room.
All along the upper Euphrates river, food is scarce and expensive and many schools have closed. The most important Sunni religious leader in Anbar, Abdul Malak al-Saadi, who had previously counselled moderation, says the April parliamentary elections are illegitimate. Election posters are torn down a soon as they are put up.
There is some uncertainty about the degree of control Isis has over Sunni areas, depending on whether or not it wants to advertise its presence. Its grip over Iraq’s third-largest city, Mosul, is probably more important than its position in Fallujah but gets little publicity because of an assassination campaign against local media appears to be aimed at concealing this: five journalists have been killed since October and 40 have fled to Kurdistan and Turkey.
Mukhtars, the most important of the government’s representatives, who are also community leaders, are being killed off, forced to flee or to co-operate with Isis. Minorities such as the Yazidis and Christians are being targeted to drive them out of Mosul. Isis has enough authority to levy taxes on everybody from people selling food on the street to construction and mobile-phone companies.
The surge in Isis’s control in Sunni Iraq has happened at speed over the past year, but there is no sign of an effective government counter-attack. The slaughter of Shia civilians continues, with a suicide bomber in a minivan packed with explosives killing 45 and wounding 157 people at the security checkpoint at the entrance to the largely Shia town of Hilla, south-west of Baghdad, on 8 March. Government security is incapable of finding and eliminating the hideouts where these devastating vehicle-born bombs are rigged.
Speaking early last year, Dr Mahmoud Othman, the veteran MP, said that “about half the country is not really controlled by the government”. Asked why Iraq’s 900,000-strong armed forces are so ineffective against Isis, another politician, who did not want to be named, said: “This is the harvest of total corruption. People pay money to get into the army [so they are paid] – but they are investors not soldiers.”
This may be a little harsh, but there is no doubt that Isis is stronger than ever before, controls much of Sunni Iraq and can carry out its murderous operations anywhere in the rest of the country.
Most border nations have been sucked into the Syrian Civil War in one way or another, whether it’s Lebanon and Turkey being smuggling havens, Jordan hosting rebel training bases, or Iraq seeing a huge influx of foreign fighters and arms. Then there’s Israel
Syria confirmed the strike and cautioned it was a violation of the 1973 ceasefire. The Israeli government touted the attack as proof they will “attack those who attack us,” even though Syria’s military almost certainly wasn’t involved in the Shebaa Farms incident.
Israel is keen to blame Hezbollah for the attack, though other reports have suggestedHezbollah may not have been to blame. Israel similarly blamed Hezbollah for an incident last week and attacked Lebanon over it, only to find that al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), a rebel group active across the region, was actually behind it.
Whatever the pretext, the Israeli strike, and yesterday’s artillery fire, point to growing IDF aggression against Syrian territory, and with rebels openly courting them they could find themselves sucked into the civil war directly before they realize it.
While the rhetoric in the Israel-Hezbollah conflict has remained bellicose as ever, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah offered secret assurances to Israel last year, according to leaked cables from Syria.
The assurances were delivered to Israel by way of Russia’s Foreign Ministry Department for the Middle East, which received the message through Syrian officials.
Nasrallah told the Israelis the Israel-Lebanon border was the “safest in the world” and that Hezbollah had no intention of attacking Israel, being far too busy with its involvement in the Syrian Civil War.
Israel has never publicly acknowledged such a message, and has repeatedly talked up the idea of an imminent war with Lebanon, launching multiple strikes along the border and blaming Hezbollah every time tensions flare, even when other, smaller factions claim credit for incidents.
Nine people were killed when gunmen broke into a hotel in the Afghan capital Kabul and attacked diners on Thursday evening.
Two children and four foreign nationals were among the dead, the official said.
Special forces shot the gunmen. The Taliban said it was behind the assault.
The Afghan government has blamed the attack on Pakistan's ceasefire with the Taliban, which it says has enabled the militants to focus on targeting Afghanistan, correspondents report.
Afghan authorities are usually unwilling to voice Kabul's belief that Pakistan is behind violence in Afghanistan, the BBC's David Lloyn, in Kabul, reports.
But Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi was very specific in blaming Pakistan for a ceasefire in the frontier region during the Afghan election campaign, our correspondent says.
The truce allowed the Taliban to move across Afghanistan, and enabled the group to keep open thousands of religious schools, known as madrassas, which Mr Sediqi said "teach terrorists to fight Afghans".
Pistols in socks
The gunmen - alleged to be teenagers - entered the five-star Serena Hotel, which is popular with foreigners, with pistols hidden in their socks.
They arrived at about 18:00 local time (13:30 GMT) claiming to be diners at a special buffet put on to mark Nowruz, the spring equinox and the start of the new year.
They started shooting three hours later after hiding in a toilet.
The Serena Hotel was sealed off by the special forces and police
The establishment is popular with foreigners
Among the dead were two women from New Zealand and Canada, and two men from India and Pakistan; the others killed were Afghans.
AFP news agency is reporting that one of its journalists, Sardar Ahmad, died in the attack along with his wife and two of their children.
Six other people were also wounded, Deputy Interior Minister General Mohammad Ayub Salangi told the BBC.
An Afghan MP, Habib Afghan, is in hospital after being shot in the face, stomach and leg.
The building was immediately surrounded by members of the elite Afghan Crisis Response Unit, who killed the attackers.
The gunmen hid in the hotel's toilet for three hours before the attack
The area was on high security alert after the assault
The Serena Hotel is less than 1km (0.6 miles) from the presidential palace and key government ministries.
It currently houses UN staff who will be monitoring April's presidential elections.
The hotel has been one of the most frequent targets of the Taliban with several previous attacks.
The election of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's successor is due to take place on 5 April.
Deadly attack on Afghan police station
March 20, 20143:13AM ET
Taliban claims credit for assault in Jalalabad that left 10 police officers, 1 civilian dead and wounded 20 civilians
On Thursday, the initial explosion was followed by Taliban gunmen who laid siege to the station and remotely detonated two bombs nearby.
Ten policemen and one civilian were killed while 14 policemen and 20 civilians were wounded in the attack, said officials.
All seven insurgents involved in the multi-pronged attack were killed, said Deputy Interior Minister Gen. Mohammed Ayub Solangi.
According to police spokesman Hazrat Hussain Mashrakiwal, the nearby building of the Afghan state-run radio and television was also heavily damaged in the explosion.
A bomb hidden in a motorized rickshaw and a second one in a vegetable cart near the police station were also detonated during the attack, likely by remote control, said the governor's spokesman, Ahmad Zia Abdulzai.
Solangi said the insurgents were armed with heavy weapons and automatic machine guns. The battle was fierce — with the Afghan troops fighting their way out and chasing the attackers down the street.
Doctors at nearby hospitals said as many as 20 civilians were wounded, mostly from shrapnel from the initial suicide car bombing, but that the majority were treated and released quickly. Two of the wounded were said to be in serious condition.
The Taliban have carried out numerous attacks in Jalalabad and the country's east region, which is their traditional stronghold, along with southern Afghanistan.
They have threatened a campaign of violence to disrupt the April 5 vote, which will choose a new Afghan president to lead the country as foreign troops prepare to end their combat mission by the end of 2014.
All 10 presidential candidates for the April 5 election have said they would sign the security agreement if elected. But Karzai does not want his legacy to include a commitment to extending a foreign military presence.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) warned of the problem of “ghost workers” in the past, but their most recent letter to the Combined Security Transition Command (CTSC) suggests the problem may be bigger and worse than ever suggested before.
The theory is that the US sends the money for the payroll, and officials are able to pluck out the money for people who aren’t real, and therefore won’t miss their paychecks, keeping them for themselves.
The CTSC confirmed the problem was likely real in a memo, saying that they discovered “discrepancies” in their records that included some 54,000 “erroneous” identification numbers. SIGAR warned that not only was paying imaginary police a waste on money, but that the US is making policy decisions based on ANP personnel numbers, and if a lot of those personnel don’t exist, it could skew US planning.
Here's another item for the (long) list of spectacular waste in the Pentagon's budget: a $2.7-billion intelligence program that's supposed to help Army troops on the ground collect and use intelligence on enemy fighters. It sounds like a good idea, but the thing is, the Army's Distributed Common Ground System doesn't actually do that, according to report from Foreign Policy. The article cites an internal assessment of the DCGS's effectiveness, long requested by Congress but kept under wraps by the Pentagon for eight months. Probably because they didn't feel like talking about such a spectacular failure.
The existence of DCGS is hardly a secret. Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and General Dynamics — all the major defense contractors — were all involved in creating it, and it's featured on the Army's website as "an enterprise system that will replace the Army’s multiple intelligence ground processing systems currently in the field." The Army even has promotional videos showing DCGS in action. But according to some troops, the DCGS is very difficult to use and too slow to be practical for the on-the-ground situations for which it was designed.
That assessment backs up public accusations from the system's critics, who have long noted that there's already a much cheaper option in use by other intelligence-based U.S. agencies — an off-the-shelf product from Palantir Technologies. If it replaced DCGS, the program would run the Army a bill in the millions. That's thrifty by comparison, as DCGS is expected to cost the Pentagon $11 billion over 30 years. Here's Foreign Policy on the alternative, which is used by the CIA, Marine Corps, and Special Ops:
Army officials, though, said Palantir wasn't up to the job. Now, a 57-page report by the Pentagon's acquisitions arm basically says the Army was wrong to dismiss the Palantir system. The study instead gives Palantir high marks on most of the Army's 20 key requirements for the intelligence system, including the ability to analyze large amounts of information, including critical data about terrorist networks and the locations of explosive devices, and synchronize it in a way that helps troops on the ground combat their enemies more effectively.
Foreign Policy notes that the assessment won't kill DCGS in its tracks, in part because Palantir's capabilities wouldn't meet all of the requirements outlined by the Army for DCGS's development. But by the sound of things, neither is DCGS.
There are two major contextual issues making the DCGS story interesting, however: first, there's the politically sticky issue of military spending cuts which, in theory, could make spending decision like the DCGS vs. Palantir decision even more important. Second, there's the fact that wasteful spending is routine (almost legendary) at the Pentagon. In the fall, Reuters did a series of in-depth reports on Pentagon spending, noting that the military suffers from a "chronic failure to keep track of its money; how much it has, how much it pays out and how much is wasted or stolen." The Pentagon has not been audited, despite a 1996 federal law that requires an annual audit for every government agency. Since that date, taxpayers have given the Pentagon over $8.5 trillion. Although the Pentagon has tried a number of things to clean up its act and get audit-ready, Reuters reported, many of those efforts haven't worked either.
The six-month interim deal is now two months old, and the IAEA confirmed Iran has made no attempt to enrich any uranium beyond 3.5% since then, and continues to reduce its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium per the deal.
Though it’s not a violation of anything in the deal, the report also said Iran’s work on a facility to convert its 3.5% uranium to an oxide form has not been completed, and analysts say that probably means there stockpile of that level is up somewhat.
Iran uses 3.5% uranium in the Russian-built Bushehr Power Plant, and 20 percent enriched uranium rods in their US-built Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). The aging TRR produces medical isotopes, and will eventually be replaced by a facility at Arak that uses unenriched uranium, though its construction is stalled by the negotiations.
Russian officials say that the West and Iran remain “far apart” on the terms of a final P5+1 nuclear deal, but officials from both sides remain upbeat about the possibility of reaching a deal before the interim pact ends in July.
President Obama, in a New Years message to Iran, says that there is a “chance to reach an agreement,” but only if Iran agrees to new, non-specific concessions. He also said Iran would be allowed to have access to nuclear energy.
Zarif also said Iran was willing to revise the design of the Arak reactor to end Western complaints about its production of plutonium as a waste product. He added this might involve converting Arak to a light-water reactor.
Though Israel’s government rhetorically is always mere minutes away from ordering an attack on Iran, the P5+1 nuclear deals have made an attack extremely unlikely.
The Israeli military insists that the Netanyahu government told them to ignore the P5+1 deal and continue planning for an attack on Iran at any time. Army chief Benny Gantz insisted Israeli troops are capable of operating on the ground in Iran at any time.
Though Israel never got around to attacking Iran in 2013, military officials say billions of dollars were allocated for the attack then as well, suggesting the government is using the perennial threat of launching a unilateral war as a way to throw billions of realistically unallocated funds at the IDF without parliamentary oversight.
Ryabkov didn’t make it clear what that might mean in practical terms for Russia’s position on P5+1 talks with Iran, but given their long-standing reservation toward US calls for sanctions against Iran one could presume it would include more overtly backing Iran’s civilian nuclear program.
Russia has also been in talks on a major new trade deal with Iran since the P5+1 interim deal, which the US contends violates international law. Russia, with its veto at the UN Security Council, could likely thumb their nose at the US on this too if they need to, and start picking up trade with Iran in a big way.
Row over reading of graft allegations marks extraordinary legislative session
Opposition deputy parliamentary group chairs complained during long minutes over Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Sadık Yakut's refusal to let the summaries of proceedings be read in the General Assembly. AA photo
An extraordinary session at Parliament that convened March 19 was marked by a heated argument between opposition lawmakers and the deputy parliamentary speaker over the full reading of the summary of proceedings on four former ministers facing corruption allegations.
Opposition parties demanded that the summaries of proceedings be read in the General Assembly in order to open them to the scrutiny of lawmakers, but Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Sadık Yakut of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) refused, arguing that this would compromise judicial confidentiality.
The summaries of proceedings about former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, former EU Minister Egemen Bağış, former Interior Minister Muammer Güler and former Urbanization and Environment Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar were reported to contain serious and concrete claims of corruption.
Yakut attempted to move for a preliminary session regarding the allegations which would not require a full reading of the documents against the four ex-ministers, causing a major uproar in the opposition ranks.
Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Parliamentary Group Chair Akif Hamzaçebi said the ruling AKP did not want the full reading as it knew that “they would be in great trouble” in such a case. For his part, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Deputy Parliamentary Group Chair Oktay Vural accused Yakut of taking an illegitimate decision and “staging a coup against Parliament.”CHP's motion that demands the summaries of proceedings be read in the General Assembly was rejected by a highly controversial 259-158 vote. Following the voting, opposition deputies chanted in the parliament: "Bribery is everywhere, corruption is everywhere."
AKP requests investigation commission During the debates, AKP Deputy Parliamentary Group Chair Nurettin Canikli denied opposition accusations that the ruling party had sought to cover up the allegations, adding that his party group had made a petition to establish a parliamentary investigation commission on the matter, as had previously been reported by daily Hürriyet.
“Those claims were in any case leaked everywhere ... It is out of the question that lawmakers are trying to escape from an auditing,” he said.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ has also accused the opposition of not requesting to launch of an investigation commission, something he claimed to be the adequate procedure.
“There is confidentiality, because this is a judicial process,” Bozdağ said during an address. The debates officially began after a quorum of 184 lawmakers was obtained. Very few AKP lawmakers were present for the count, but entered the plenary room after the deputy parliamentary speaker announced that the quorum had been reached.
The extraordinary parliamentary session represents a landmark development since Dec. 17, 2013, when a massive corruption and graft probe engulfing the prime minister, some of his Cabinet members and their sons first went public.
Ruling party refuses to sign on revealing corruption file in Parliament
Opposition members of the Turkish Parliament protest Deputy Chairman of the Parliament Sadık Yakut (rear, C) during a debate in Ankara March 19, 2014. (Photo: Reuters, Ümit Bektaş)
19 March 2014 /ANKARA, TODAY'S ZAMAN
Deputies from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government insisted on the secrecy of the investigation file concerning four former Cabinet ministers facing corruption allegations, sparking huge criticism from the opposition parties, which claim the government is trying to hush-up damning evidence from the corruption investigation.
Parliament held an extraordinary session on Wednesday to address the summaries of proceedings on four former Cabinet ministers facing corruption allegations, following a call from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).
The quorum for the discussion of the summaries of proceedings at the General Assembly of Parliament was reached, and after 184 deputies cast their votes to open a session on the issue, Parliament began to discuss the proceedings.
As dramatic day came closer to an end after hours of wrangling in Parliament, the call for a general discussion of files were rejected by 259 No votes of the ruling party against 158 votes of the opposition parties.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Deputy Chairman Oktay Vural objected, saying Deputy Parliament Speaker Meral Akşener should have presided over the session instead of Deputy Parliament Speaker Sadık Yakut. Yakut responded to the criticism by saying that that Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek had decided who would manage the session.
According to Parliament bylaws, the person who manages a parliamentary session is pre-determined, and the deputy parliament speaker names that person from a monthly rotating list. Despite it being Akşener's turn to manage the session, Çiçek used his authority to change the list prior to the meeting.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and other CHP deputies attended the session in full while MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli was absent in Parliament as he is campaigning across Turkey for the upcoming elections.
After Parliament convened and the deputies cast their votes to meet and discuss the summaries of proceedings, Yakut said carousel voting would be used, causing objections from opposition parties in Parliament. The Justice and the Development Party (AK Party) deputies chose to follow the proceedings from their offices instead of the General Assembly.
The summaries of proceedings target former Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, former Interior Minister Muammer Güler, former European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış and former Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdoğan Bayraktar, who resigned one week after the Dec. 17 corruption scandal went public. The four ministers were allegedly involved in corruption and bribery.
Güler and Çağlayan echoed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in depicting the corruption inquiry as baseless and part of a conspiracy when they left their positions, but Bayraktar turned against the prime minister, calling for his resignation.
AK Party Deputy Chairman Nurettin Canikli said the content of the proceedings had already been shared with the public and denied allegations of illegal deliveries of money as revealed in recent voice recordings.
CHP Deputy Chairman Gürsel Tekin took the original proceedings to the General Assembly with him and showed them to journalists during the session. When asked about disclosing these documents to the media, Tekin replied: “Is theft not a crime? If showing these documents to the media [is a crime], then I have committed a crime. The source of the accusations is not the media or newspaper reports. It is the bill of indictment of the state's prosecutor. Here are the proceedings. One of three of the Cabinet is involved in corruption, according to these documents. Here are the photos, official documents and accusations about money transfers. There is only need for a conscience.”
Vural also told Yakut that the proceedings had not been completely read in Parliament, adding, “Do not hide anything from the people,” while other opposition deputies also raised objection about the issue.
CHP deputy Akif Hamzaçebi also criticized the fact that the documents were not read fully, sparking a discussion between Hamzaçebi and Yakut.
Former ministers allegedly gained more than $100 million in bribes
The four former ministers defended themselves by saying that they were the victims of a defamation campaign, claiming they are insulted by the illegally obtained information contained in the investigation file.
Prior to the opening of the session, Deputy Parliament Speaker Yakut announced that the four former Cabinet ministers had petitioned the Parliament Speaker's Office and demanded the establishment of an inquiry commission regarding the corruption allegations leveled against them.
The Cumhuriyet daily wrote that Çağlayan had accepted a total of $52 million in bribes on 28 different occasions; Güler received bribes totaling $10 million on 10 occasions; and Bağış received a total of $1.5 million on three occasions.
The CHP, the MHP and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) agreed to appeal to Çiçek to call for an extraordinary session after they learned that the proceedings were sent to Parliament in late February.
War on twitter ..... twitter winning !
EU and US condemn ‘cowardly and pointless’ Twitter ban
A computer screen is seen on March 21. Turkey's combative prime minister warned March 21, 2014 that he would eradicate Twitter in the wake of damaging allegations of corruption in his inner circle. AFP photo
Twitter went dark in Turkey late March 20, just hours after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğanthreatened to "wipe out" the social network which, along with others, was highlighting corruption allegations against his inner circle.
EU and U.S. officials were quick to react to the government’s new move towards more restriction on Internet, although Erdoğan had earlier stated that he “did not care what the international community would say.”
The EU commissioner for digital agenda, Neelie Kroes, tweeted that the block in Turkey “is groundless, pointless, cowardly.”
She added that the "Turkish people and international community will see this as censorship. It is.” EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle also tweeted that the new move created “grave concern.”
“Gravely concerned by blocked twitter - being free to communicate and freely choose the means to do it is fundamental EU value,” Füle wrote.
The U.S. State Department voiced increasing concern regarding freedoms in Turkey after the reported development.
“We remain very concerned by any suggestion that social media sites could be shut down,” a State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a written statement provided to Turkish journalists.
“Democracies are strengthened by the diversity of public voices,” she added.
Meanwhile, Twitter Inc. said it was investigating the situation, and was meantime advising customers in Turkey that they could bypass the new restrictions by typing in text on their mobile phones. The website for the country's telecommunications authority (TİB) turned up four separate court rulings referencing "twitter.com."
One of them said: "The protection measure has been taken for this website (twitter.com) according to the decision... of the Istanbul chief public prosecutor's office and has been implemented by the TİB."
State-run Anadolu Agency released a report explaining to the public a Twitter block was the only solution to "address the unjust treatment of our citizens.”
Meanwhile, a Turkish official told Reuters on March 21 that Ankara has no current plans to block access to other social media platforms such as Facebook.
“The path was taken to block access within the framework of a court decision because of the failure to overcome the problem with the management of Twitter,” the official assured.
No drop in number of tweets despite ban, #TwitterisblockedinTurkey becomes TT
Most users therefore seem to have got around the access ban and entered Twitter via VPN tunnels.
The number of messages tweeted by users in Turkey has not dropped since access to Twitter was banned, statistics have shown. What’s more, the hashtags #TwitterisblockedinTurkey and #TurkeyBlockedTwitter became trending topics worldwide only a few hours after Prime MinisterRecep Tayyip Erdoğan announced his intention to “wipe out” the microblogging website.
According a report from Twitturk, which records the statistics of Turkish Twitter users, over half a million tweets were posted in just 10 hours, despite the ban.
That number would mark no sharp fall from the average number of tweets posted in the country, which is around 1.8 million per day.
Most users therefore seem to have got around the access ban and entered Twitter via VPN tunnels.
The ban comes on the heels of damaging revelations following the corruption probe and the successive release of phone conversations of government officials, including Prime Minister Erdoğan.
Some observers have interpreted the decision to ban Twitter as an attempt to prevent further damaging leaks ahead of the March 30 local polls.
However, Erdoğan said the government undertook such measure “for the sake of its citizens.”
“I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic’s state,” he added.
Shutdown of social media platforms ‘cannot be approved,’ Turkish President Gül writes on Twitter
President of Turkey Abdullah Gul during a press meeting in Copenhagen on Tuesday, March 18. AP photo
President Abdullah Gül has publically expressed his disagreement with the access restriction of social media websites, in his first remarks on the Twitter ban.
“A total shutdown of social media platforms cannot be approved,” Gül tweeted via his own account on March 21.
Despite stressing that no such ban could be fully implemented, Gül expressed his hope that the government’s move would not last long.
“As I have said many times in the past, at the point where communication technologies have reached today it is technically impossible to entirely block access to social media platforms used across the world such as Twitter. I hope this practice will not last long,” he wrote.
Gül had assured that there was no question of blocking access to social media platforms or popular sharing websites such as YouTube, following the recent enactment of a controversial law increasing government control over the Internet.
Turkey blocked access to Twitter late March 20, hours after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed to close down the social media platform.
“We now have a court order. We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic's state,” Erdoğan had said at a campaign rally in the western city of Bursa, triggering uproar 10 days before the upcoming local elections.
Turkey’s Deputy PM Arınç tweets schedule despite Twitter ban
Turkish Deputy PM Arınç had in the past voiced his discomfort regarding PM Erdoğan’s remarks that would contradict his official press statements. DHA photo
The first government official to breach the Twitter ban is Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, who tweeted his schedule on March 21 hours after the website became inaccessible without VPN tunnels or other proxy services.
Arınç, who is not usually one of the most active ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) members on Twitter, announced that he would be in his hometown of Manisa on March 21.
It was unclear whether Arınç’s gesture was a way to show his disagreement with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s salvo against the microblogging website, or a simple reminder to his followers that he was due to visit his hometown.
Also serving as the government’s spokesperson, Arınç has in the past voiced his discomfort regarding certain remarks of Erdoğan, perhaps most notably last year when he denied reports that the government was planning to close the test prep schools.
Erdoğan said March 20 that he would “wipe out Twitter” regardless of what the international community has to say, in order to “protect Turkish citizens from harm” and show “the strength of the Turkish Republic’s state.”
Ankara's controversial Mayor Melih Gökçek also tweeted, but was less apologetic about the ban. "I hope those who use fake accounts and slam everyone have taken a lesson," he wrote.
Turkish Twitterers Respond Hilariously To The Government's Attempt To Block Them