TBR News December 14, 2015

Dec 24 2015

The Voice of the White House

Waashington, D.C. December 24, 2015: “Inside the Beltway’s intelligence circles, the coming overthrow of the royal Saud family is well-known. They are positive that Russian assistance is being given to anti-Saud elements and that, coupled with declining oil prices, depleted Saudi oil fields and their creation of the vicious ISIS, are a guarantee that the 5,000 member royal family will be ousted from the gravy train and either have to flee to Switzerland or end up on the chopping block. An expansionist Putin is also strongly believed to be arming the Kurds in their independence fight against Turkey. That country, at the suggestion of certain CIA officials, attacked a Russian military aircraft to try to prevent the Russians not to interdict the theft of Syrian oil that was being supplied to the US. This ploy backfired and now the Turks, and the Saudis, are facing internal revolt that will change the face of the explosive Mid-East.”

The Coming Saudi Crack-up?

December 22, 2015

by Daniel Lazare


Is the Saudi monarchy coming apart at the seams? Scholars and journalists have long predicted the kingdom’s demise, but this time the forecasts may finally prove correct.

The reason is an unprecedented avalanche of problems pouring down on Saudi Arabia since 79-year-old Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud assumed the throne last January. A hardliner in contrast to his vaguely reformist predecessor Abdullah, Salman lost no time in letting the world know that a new sheriff was in town. He upped the number of public executions, which, at 151, are now running at nearly double last year’s rate.

After meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he promised to intensify efforts to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by increasing aid to Al Nusra, Al Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate. A few weeks later, he assembled a coalition of nine Sunni Arab states to launch nightly bombing raids on Yemen, quickly reducing one of the poorest countries in the Middle East to ruin.

People certainly took notice. But if Salman thought such actions would win him respect, he was wrong. Instead, the result has been a steady drum beat of negative publicity as the world awakes to the fact that, with its public beheadings and barbaric treatment of women, the Islamic state headed by the House of Saud is little different from the Islamic State headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in northern Syria and Iraq.

Topping the kingdom’s list of woes is the economy. With its stubbornly high unemployment rate and growing wealth gap between the rich and poor, Saudi Arabia has long been the sick man of the Persian Gulf. Even though planners have been talking about economic diversification since the 1970s, the kingdom was actually more dependent on oil as of 2013 than 40 years earlier.

Saudization” of the workforce is another mantra, yet the labor market remains polarized between a private sector dominated by foreign guest workers, mainly from South Asia, and a public sector filled with Saudi “sofa men” who spend their days lounging about in government offices.

Riyadh wishes that young people would take jobs in hotels, oil refineries and the like, but most prefer to wait for a high-paid government sinecure to open up – which is one reason why the jobless rate among young people is as high as 29 percent.

Oil Price Crash

Given this combination of oil dependence and joblessness, a two-thirds drop in the price of crude since mid-2014 couldn’t be more painful. But what makes it even more frightening is the growing realization that, with softening demand due to the global slowdown and growing over-supply due to the fracking revolution, low prices will be a fact of life for years to come.

This prospect does not bode well for a country dependent on oil for 91 percent of its foreign revenue, one that is currently burning through its foreign reserves at the rate of $10 billion a month

The news on the political front is almost as dire. Every week seems to bring a fresh new scandal. First, liberal blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to a thousand lashes for the crime of speaking his mind. Then Karl Andree, a 74-year-old British grandfather, was sentenced to 350 for the crime of having a bottle of wine in his car.

Three Saudi Shi‘ite youths – Ali al-Nimr, Abdallah al-Zaher and Dawood al-Marhoon – have been sentenced to death for participating in Arab Spring protests while still in their teens. A kangaroo court has imposed a death sentence in the case of Ali’s uncle, a Shi‘ite religious leader named Nimr al-Nimr, convicted of inciting sectarian strife (i.e. opposing flagrant Wahhabist discrimination and oppression).

Yet another religious court has sentenced a 35-year-old artist and poet named Ashraf Fayadh to death for the crime of atheism and apostasy.

All of which is generating widening waves of anger and disgust. But perhaps the final straw was Salman’s offer to build and staff 200 Wahhabi mosques for Syrian refugees fleeing chaos that his policies have helped create. The offer brought an unusual counter-blast from German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.

We have to make clear to the Saudis that the time of looking away is over,” Gabriel told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag. “Wahhabi mosques all over the world are financed by Saudi Arabia. Many Islamists who are a threat to public safety come from these communities in Germany.”

The last thing Germany needs, in other words, is hundreds of Saudi-financed mullahs preaching sectarianism and jihad.

Then there is the military front – or fronts – in Yemen, Iraq and Syria, where the situation grows worse by the day. Like all wars of aggression, the Saudi-led air assault on Shi‘ite Houthi rebels in Yemen was supposed to be short and sweet.

Indeed, four weeks after the campaign began last March, Riyadh issued a “Mission Accomplished” message declaring that it had “successfully eliminated the threat to the security of Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries” by destroying Shi‘ite Houthi rebels’ heavy weaponry and ballistic missiles. But some of those missiles must still have remained in place since the coalition resumed bombing just a few days later.

Destroying Yemen

The result has been a growing humanitarian disaster that Western governments are doing their best to ignore. “Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years,” Peter Maurer, head of the International Red Cross, said after visiting the country in August. Since then, deaths have reached 5,700, nearly half of them civilian, food and water systems have broken down, while 2.3 million people have been displaced and another 120,000 have been forced to flee abroad.

Yet with the war turning into a classic quagmire, no end is in sight. Poorly trained Saudi troops have “proven to be no match for the battle-hardened Houthis.” While they’ve succeeded in clearing Houthi fighters out of the southern port city of Aden, the rebels still control the northern part of the country, including the capital of Sana’a, and are besieging Taiz, located roughly midway in between.

The Saudi-led coalition is meanwhile breaking apart. David Ottoway, the Washington Post’s longtime Middle East correspondent, notes that the Saudis have quarreled with their United Arab Emirate allies over whether to support the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. As a consequence, the UAE has halved its troop strength to 2,000 and has sent in hundreds of Colombian mercenaries in their place.

The Saudi-backed government of ousted President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi is also falling asunder as Vice President Khaled Bahah, seen as more amenable to compromise with the Houthis, moves to establish his own power base.

Much of this is the fault of Muhammad bin Salman, the king’s favorite son by his third wife, whom he named chief of court and minister of defense immediately after taking office. Officially 35, Muhammad may actually be as young as 29, which, if true, would make him the youngest defense minister in the world. A graduate of King Saud University in Riyadh, he is entirely a product of a closed and narrow educational system that emphasizes the Qur’an and Hadiths over science and analysis and imbues students with hostility toward Christians, Jews, Shi‘ites and foreigners in general.

All of which is all too evident in Bin Salman’s handling of the war. Since Vietnam, one military conflict after another has demonstrated that air power rarely works without ground forces doing the hard work of rooting out the enemy. But not only is Saudi Arabia short of “grunts” willing to sacrifice their lives in behalf of a greedy and over-sized royal family, it was understandably reluctant to send troops into a rugged terrain that highly motivated Houthi fighters know like the back of their hand.

Hence Saudi Arabia resisted putting “boots on the ground” for months, thereby allowing the Houthis to dig in all the more securely. Although the’ ostensible goal was to prevent the Houthis from taking power, the Saudis’ real aim was to humiliate Iran, which they see as the mastermind behind the uprising, and show the U.S. that the kingdom was capable of stepping out on its own.

But instead the Saudies have done neither. Not only does Iran remain unscathed, but the longer the Houthis hold out, the clearer it becomes that the Saudis are unable to prevail in their own backyard. It’s as if the U.S. had gotten hopelessly bogged down after invading Mexico.

Backing Jihadists in Syria

The proxy war in northern Syria and Iraq is at the same time not going much better. The Saudis thought they had Assad on the run after channeling U.S.-made TOW missiles to the rebels last spring, but Russian intervention is altering the equation. Thanks to Russian bombardment of ISIS, Al Qaeda and other rebel groups, Assad was able to announce in late November that his troops were advancing on “nearly every front,” while, in mid-December, government forces racked up a significant victory by capturing an air base nine or ten miles east of Damascus that had been in anti-government hands since 2012.

Saudi options are limited in response. The kingdom could funnel still more aid to the anti-Assad forces. But if it does, it knows that much of the weaponry will wind up in the hands of ISIS (also known as ISIL, Islamic State and Daesh), with whom relations, for the moment, could not be more hostile.

With Saudi mullahs calling on Muslims to support “the holy warriors of Syria … because if they are defeated, God forbid, it will be the turn of one Sunni country after another,” it could encourage rebels, many of whom are Chechen, to launch a retaliatory assault on Russia, as Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan reportedly threatened to do in 2013.

But this would mean risking a Russian counter-attack that could prove devastating. Instead of demonstrating their military and strategic independence, the Saudis have wound up more reliant on an all-forgiving U.S. than ever.

Given such incompetence, it was startling to see Muhammad bin Salman behaving yet again like a bull in a china shop last week when he announced that the Saudis had assembled a 34-nation coalition to fight terrorism. After two supposed members – Pakistan and Malaysia – announced that this was the first they had heard of it, questions began raining down.

Since Shi‘ite-majority Iran and Iraq were conspicuously absent from the list, was the real purpose to fight terrorism or to push a Sunni sectarian agenda? Considering the draconian “anti-terrorism” law that Salman pushed through last March banning everything from atheism to “sowing discord in society,” was the real goal to fight groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda or to ban dissent against the monarch in general?

It’s not hard to see why the Saudi defense chief is now known as “Muhammad the reckless” and why rumblings of a palace coup are beginning to be heard. All too aware of the role that the 1980s oil collapse played in tipping the Soviet Union over the edge, the Saudis, according to one foreign analyst, are determined to avoid anything smacking of perestroika and glasnost:

The Saudis are obsessed with it, that if they liberalize a little, the whole thing will come apart,” the analyst said. Rather than loosening, they are determined to tighten up all the more even if it means pushing the contradictions to the breaking point.

The West is afraid to push too hard for the same reason. All too aware that the Saudi opposition to the monarchy is dominated by hard-line Islamists rather than nice house-broken liberals, the West’s greatest nightmare is of a failed oil giant sitting on top of 20 percent of the world’s proven reserves as Al Qaeda and ISIS run riot in the streets.

Get rid of the House of Saud,” observed a senior UK diplomat, “and you will be screaming for them to come back within six months.” After years of feeding the Saudi monster, Western leaders are afraid to stop for fear of making things even worse.

Conversations with the Crow

On October 8th, 2000, Robert Trumbull Crowley, once a leader of the CIA’s Clandestine Operations Division, died in a Washington hospital of heart failure and the end effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Before the late Assistant Director Crowley was cold, Joseph Trento, a writer of light-weight books on the CIA, descended on Crowley’s widow at her town house on Cathedral Hill Drive in Washington and hauled away over fifty boxes of Crowley’s CIA files.

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal , Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment. Three months before, July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md. After Corson’s death, Trento and his Washington lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever

After Crowley’s death and Trento’s raid on the Crowley files, huge gaps were subsequently discovered by horrified CIA officials and when Crowley’s friends mentioned Gregory Douglas, it was discovered that Crowley’s son had shipped two large boxes to Douglas. No one knew their contents but because Douglas was viewed as an uncontrollable loose cannon who had done considerable damage to the CIA’s reputation by his on-going publication of the history of Gestapo-Mueller, they bent every effort both to identify the missing files and make some effort to retrieve them before Douglas made any use of them.

Douglas had been in close contact with Crowley and had long phone conversatins with him. He found this so interesting and informative that he taped  and later transcribed them.

These conversations have been published in a book: ‘Conversations with the Crow” and this is an excerpt.



Conversation No. 34

Date: Monday, September 9, 1996

Commenced:   10:07 AM CST

Concluded:    10:56 AM CST


GD: Good day to you, Robert. How does it go with you?

RTC: I’m tired today. I didn’t get much sleep last night. Ever have a night like that, Gregory?

GD: Sometimes. Get to sleep about four AM and then wake up at seven. Can’t get back to sleep and feel like garbage the next day. If you are not up to talking, I can call back later.

RTC: No, no, I’m fine. What are you up to?

GD: Somebody I know just vanished. His wife is hysterical and has called me twice. I have no idea what happened to him and neither does she. The police were polite but they can’t do much unless they find his body in the middle of the road or feeding the varmints on some local farm. I guess he was getting along fine with his wife and no problems with his job.

RTC: How did he disappear?

GD: Went to do some shopping, made it to the market, bought things, put them in his car and drove off. People at the store remember this, because one of the boys helped him load the trunk. No sign of any trouble and the kid said he was cheerful and tipped him. Anyway, they found the car parked by the side of the road, keys still in it and no sign of trouble like the top his skull on the floor and brains all over the seat. Neighbors saw and heard nothing. Nobody has any idea. I can’t help her but I always try to be polite.

RTC: We had a case like that once. Damnedest thing I ever ran into. I understand, however, that it wasn’t unique. One of our senior people lived on a nice farm down in Virginia. Late fall. It had been raining on and off. He gets up, has breakfast with his wife. The dog starts barking and from the window, he and his wife see the mailman stuffing the box down on the road. Finished breakfast, puts on his fancy hiking boots and a warm parka and down the dirt driveway to the street. Never gets there. The wife took something off the table and put it in the sink and the dog starts in barking furiously. She goes to the window and looks out. Can’t see her husband anywhere. Fenced fields on both sides of the driveway with horses on one side and stubble on the other. She puts on a coat and goes outside. The driveway has some mud and the boot prints are very visible. And then, about halfway down to the street, nothing. Prints stop cold. She’s a Company wife and she gets a hold of us first. The local sheriff’s people are decent but clumsy. We sent people out right away and they were very professional and careful. Mail was still in the box. Gate was closed and chained up. Footprints very clear and then stopped. No sign of anything, no struggle, no mess and no other footprints except the wife’s coming down from the house. The fields are muddy and no sign of anyone walking along the fences on either side of them. I mean not a sign. He’s vanished into thin air.

GD: The dog barked twice?

RTC: Yes. He always barked to let his people know when there were visitors coming. Very reliable dog.

GD: The dog that did not bark in the night. Sherlock Holmes.

RTC: Yes, the team commented on that.

GD: The wife was temporarily distracted….was it a long time?

RTC: As I recall, about a half a minute. She put some coffee cups in the sink.

GD: That takes about 30 seconds. No shouting or noises?

RTC: No, nothing at all. Very disturbing and very strange. You know, Gregory, about 800,000 to 900,000 a year just vanish in the United States?

GD: My God, that many?

RTC: Oh yes but about 65 to 75 % are found. Mostly solved within 24 hours. Most of these are young people running away or kidnapped by a parent in a custody case.  But let’s say that out of, say, 800,000, a low figure, 650,000 are accounted for. But that leaves a balance of 150,000 unaccounted for. And who are these missing ones? Men getting out of a bad marriage, stuck with a nasty wife and screaming kids. They might have a girl friend and they don’t want the long, drawn out process of a divorce that will probably bankrupt them and stick them with years of very punitive child support. Or we have children unhappy in an uncaring home, lonely, frustrated and trying to find a better life somewhere else. Or we have the wife taking off with a new boyfriend and becoming another person with a new name. And we have the criminal class to consider. A stock broker who just looted a customer of a half a million dollars or someone on parole who is sick and tired of continual harassment. These make up the bulk of runaways. But at the same time, Gregory, many of the vanished people had no wives or children to run away from, were perfectly normal people with no apparent personal or financial problems.

GD: Would you add the children abducted for sexual abuse?

RTC: Oh yes, that, too. But take all of these away and there are still so many missing. And these figures are only in the U.S. You can multiply this many times if you get global stats.Now our man was important to us so we really made a very thorough investigation. Finances in order, got on well with his wife, didn’t drink or use drugs, and we could basicially account for every minute of his waking life. Left home, drove to work, worked all day, drove home, dinner with the wife and once in a while a movie in town. The wife did the shopping. Very peaceful and ordered life. And what happened to him, Gregory? No trace of him anywhere. No phone calls to anyone that didn’t check out, bank account untouched, credit cards and phone call cards never used. Walked down his driveway on a clear day and just vanished off the face of the earth. That was fifteen years ago and nothing, ever. Right off the face of the earth.

GD: That’s a possibility, Robert.

RTC: Went to Heaven?

GD: No, not the silly Rapture fiction. Perhaps some entity from eleswhere nailed him. Abducted him.

RTC: That’s not the sort of thing we put in any kind of official report, Gregory. We can’t even begin to get into that area. Easier to say the Russians got him.

GD: I’m not advocating that but it has been reported before, and many times at that.

RTC: Yes, and some of it is real and some isn’t.

GD: But if you are giving me accurate information, Robert, what could have happened to this guy? Absolutely no reason for vanishing, no proof of any kind of abduction, What happened to him? Someone with a crane parked in the street suddenly reached over the fence and grabbed him? The wife would have seen it. A huge flying saucer hovering overhead? Now that might be possible, assuming you couldn’t see it. And they could beam him up like the TV show. That could explain it, couldn’t it? And the dog barked, didn’t it?

RTC: If it were true, yes. And the dog could have barked at a passing car or a cat in the field.

GD: Question here, Robert. We have warning radar all over the place, don’t we?

RTC: We have many systems.

GD: Well, assuming there are such UFOs, don’t the radar people pick them up?

RTC: I read a report back then that is interesting. A radar station out in the wilds. Two men on duty. One goes out to take a piss and sees a huge round object hovering about a half a mile away. Scared the hell out of him and he ran back inside and told his partner. Radar was working fine but no trace. The other one thought the pisser was nuts so he went outside and saw the same thing. More fussing with the set. Nothing. They reported it and other systems got involved. They both went outside and watched it hover for about ten minutes and then off it went, straight up so fast it was gone in a few seconds. More calls and nothing to report. When they got off shift, there were some Air Force police and some intelligence people who wanted to talk to them. They had seen nothing and better keep it that way. Yes something obviously got in and the radar couldn’t pick it up. Mysteries. This vanished fellow was on my staff and so I have some inside knowledge of what happened. Abduction was indeed brought up but left way, way behind. In the end, we put it out that he had been transferred to a special project and left it alone.

GD: I don’t suppose he ever showed up? Or even a part of him?

RTC: No, not even an ear. Wife waited seven years, got the insurance and eventually remarried. We went through the house and embargoed all his papers, of course.

GD: Here and there I encounter stories of abductions by aliens and some probings and so on. It wouldn’t surprise me if some fat housewife in Georgia didn’t have a boyfriend, two or three farms over and she would sneak out at night for a mattress polka. Boyfriend like to slap her around and watch the fat jiggle so when she gets back home, clothes torn and bruises all over her tits, she tells her hubby that some flying saucer grabbed her and they did awful things to her. All night. The police get involved and so do the local papers. Some other woman, two towns over, used the same story for the same reason, now starts in saying it happened to her. She had what looked like cigarette burns on her tits but now everyone realized they were alien test marks. Still, where there’s smoke, sometimes we find fire.

RTC: Well, all speculation, Gregory.

GD: But in the case of your man who vanished, Robert, did anything ever turn up?

RTC: No, never.But anything could have happened.

GD: I was doing research a few years ago on the German Zeppelins. You know, the Graf Zeppelin and the Hindenburg. That’s because I was working on the Hindenburg disaster for the Mueller book. I came across some fascinating material about odd so-called Zeppelin sightings in America back in the late 1890s. Hundreds…no thousands…of people saw what they believed to be some kind of silvery craft in the sky. It’s sort of interesting to note that these were mostly in the area in the Pacific northwest, near Mt. Shasta and south. Does that area ring a bell? RTC: No, it doesn’t.

GD: That’s an area where pilots have seen what they all believed were some kind of high-speed, circular vehicles while flying in that region. I had a friend of mine in Canada who was training to be a commercial pilot and he saw three so-called bright objects on his port side, paralleling his flight pattern. They, all three of them, suddenly shot straight upwards so fast that no human could have survived the G thrust. I knew him well and I trust him absolutely. By the way, he never reported this sighting anywhere. Told me that if he had, even though he was in Vancouver, the U.S. Air Force intelligence people would have visited him and harassed him into admitting he saw seagulls or something like that. He told me that a number of his other pilot friends had seen similar things but never dared to report them. I believed him when he told me and I believe him now.

RTC: That doesn’t surprise me. They have been sitting on such things here for years. I never heard of the mystery Zeppelins before. When was this?

GD: I would have to look at my notes, but if memory is good, and it usually is, I think the sightings started before Christmas in 1896 and ran through until…about six months I think….May or June of 1897. Almost all in the Northwestern area but some further east, into the mid-west. The papers reported it as fact although some thought it might be a hoax. Too many responsible people saw these things, Robert, to be a hoax.

RTC: These days, the sightings are all put down as hoaxes. What they do is to get some obvious nut who claims he saw something, interview him and get him to make wild and lunatic statements. That’s usually enough. They keep away from professional pilots, doctors, policemen and so on. They home in on the nut fringe and play it up. That’s what they are supposed to do.

GD: But to go back to the missing people. You know, I looked into this once and I found that hundreds of thousands of people have just vanished each year in this country alone. Yes, of course many are found, some are killed, some go crazy and get put in the nut houses and so on and many are guys running away from their families, bad marriages, child support payments and so on. But if you subtract these, there is still a huge number left. Like your co-worker. Just vanished. No reason and no trace. I mean you can look on the Internet at the official FBI reports and see what I say is true. I asked an FBI agent who dealt with missing persons and he told me that there was a fixed percentage of people who ran off or were taken away by family members in a divorce case or abducted by sex maniacs and probably killed. Fine. After that, they had no idea what happened to the rest. No idea. Tens of thousands of Americans vanishing off the face of this earth each and every year.

RTC: You did check this out?

GD: Yes, I did. I have cut it this way and looked it that way and try as I can, and I have a very skeptical mind, Robert, I could not explain this mass number of missing. Some hole open in the ground? Giant birds swooping down and flying off with them? They couldn’t all be rotting under the Jersey Pine Barrens.

RTC: (Laughter)

GD: I’m serious now, Robert.

RTC: Oh, I’m sure you are and I’ve heard all about this before. When my man vanished, we did quite a bit of research and what you say is quite true. However, Gregory, I suggest that you look into other matters and stay strictly away from this one.

GD: Why is that?

RTC: You will be branded as a nut and your many enemies will gleefully get their hands on this and really lambaste you. Just deal with other matters. If you do something on Kennedy, believe me, all the night creatures will come up from under their wet logs and bite you on the ankles. Try to stay main line and you’ll do much better.

GD: I see your point but do you see mine?

RTC: Which is?

GD: Which is that huge number of people in this country, and probably in others, have just vanished.

RTC: Off the face of the earth.

GD: Exactly.

RTC: Well, maybe they have, Gregory, maybe they have. You know, aside from drawing unwelcome attention from the rabid lunatic fringe, you will get the government excited if you really push this vanishing business. Why? Because it obviously can lead to the UFO business and that is strictly off limits. It’s fine for the nuts to write weird books but if someone like you, who is a serious writer and an excellent researcher, starts in on this, they will come down on you very quickly. Just stay away from this and I assure you we will all be happy.

GD: I suppose you’re right. But still…

RTC: Gregory, let it be. OK?

GD: Fine.

(Concluded at 10:56 AM CST)

Turkish forces barely regrouped, far from announced partial withdrawal – Iraqi defense spokesman

December 24, 2015


Despite the announcement of a “partial withdrawal” of Turkish forces from a training camp near the ISIS-controlled northern Iraqi city of Mosul, Ankara has done nothing to follow up on its empty statements, the Iraqi defense ministry says

In fact there is no Turkish troop withdrawal. There are just statements from Anakara,” said Iraqi defense ministry spokesman Nasir Nouri Mohammed, TASS reported. According to the spokesman, Ankara’s forces “only slightly relocated near the same positions.”

This cannot even be called a “partial withdrawal,” Nouri Mohammed said, let alone a full withdrawal of the Turkish contingent.

Tensions between the two countries have increased dramatically since Turkey reinforced its military deployment in Iraq with about 150 soldiers backed by artillery and around 25 tanks in a base near the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL)-controlled northern Iraqi city of Mosul on December 4.

The Iraqi government considered this action as an hostile act in violation of its sovereignty and demanded the immediate withdrawal of Turkish troops.

Nouri Mohammed expressed hope that Turkey would follow up on its promises and will proceed to the “actual withdrawal” of its contingent. Yet, the spokesman reiterated, “no concrete steps” have been taken by Ankara so far.

On Sunday, the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced the withdrawal of military troops from Iraq to reduce tensions following international criticism. The decision to pull out troops also came after Iraq brought the issue to the United Nations Security Council.

Yet despite the announcement made by Erdogan on December 20, Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu said Tuesday that the troops will remain in Iraq to fight IS militants. According to the PM, Turkish training and equipment mission for Iraq will continue until IS-held Mosul is liberated.

Within this framework and in line with Iraqi authorities’ demands, we have been providing training and equipment to both the Peshmerga and the local Mosul volunteers. Our support will continue until Mosul is liberated,” Davutoglu said, Hurriyet Daily News reported.

Addressing national assembly members on Tuesday, Turkish defense minister Ismet Yilmaz said that IS is a direct security threat for Turkey.

Ensuring Iraq’s stability passes from neutralizing Daesh [the Arabic name for IS]. This can only be possible through the recapture of Mosul, which has, in the first place, strategic importance,” he said.

IS captured Iraq’s second-largest city in 2014. The United States and its allies have been carrying out air strikes against Islamist militants in Iraq since August 2014, but are yet to produce any tangible results.


Turkey’s southeast hit by more clashes, militants launch bomb attack

December 23, 2015

by Seyhmus Cakan


DIYARBAKIR, Turkey   Clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants intensified in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir on Wednesday after a bomb attack on troops there killed one soldier and wounded seven other people, security sources said.

Turkish security forces last week launched an operation in the southeast, backed by tanks and thousands of troops, as President Tayyip Erdogan pledged to root out militants after the AK Party which he co-founded won a November election.

Figures from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) show at least 24 civilians have been killed in fighting, while state media said 168 militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) were killed in eight days in six southeastern towns.

PKK militants detonated a bomb by remote control in the Diyarbakir district of Sur, which is under police curfew, killing one soldier and wounding six others, security sources said. One civilian was also wounded.

Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast has been engulfed in renewed clashes since a two-year ceasefire between the PKK and Ankara fell apart in July, bringing back a conflict that has crippled the region for three decades, killing more than 40,000 people.

This time the PKK has shifted fighting from its traditional countryside bases to towns and cities, setting up barricades and digging trenches to keep security forces away, in a battle in which civilians have also become targets.

The government has responded with police curfews and operations but the daily fighting has forced tens of thousands of people to leave their homes, halted education and reduced buildings and streets to rubble.

The PKK, which launched its insurgency in 1984, is designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The focus of the government offensive has been Silopi and Cizre, bordering Iraq and Syria, while Nusaybin and Dargecit in Mardin province near Syria border also saw heavy fighting.

Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu suggested there would be no let-up in the campaign. “A handful of bandits who claim to be defending the people are burning and damaging and terrorizing the region…We haven’t allowed them, we will not do so,” Davutoglu said in Ankara.

He criticized Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party), who met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Wednesday. The visit is likely to further damage ties between Russia and Turkey, already at a low over the downing of a Russian warplane by the Turkish air force last month.

(Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Daren Butler and Richard Balmforth)


U.S. plans raids to deport families who surged across border

December 23, 2015

by Jerry Markon and David Nakamura

Washington Post

The Department of Homeland Security has begun preparing for a series of raids that would target for deportation hundreds of families who have flocked to the United States since the start of last year, according to people familiar with the operation.

The nationwide campaign, to be carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents as soon as early January, would be the first large-scale effort to deport families who have fled violence in Central America, those familiar with the plan said. More than 100,000 families with both adults and children have made the journey across the southwest border since last year, though this migration has largely been overshadowed by a related surge of unaccompanied minors.

The ICE operation would target only adults and children who have already been ordered removed from the United States by an immigration judge, according to officials familiar with the undertaking, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because planning is ongoing and the operation has not been given final approval by DHS. The adults and children would be detained wherever they can be found and immediately deported. The number targeted is expected to be in the hundreds and possibly greater.

The proposed deportations have been controversial inside the Obama administration, which has been discussing them for several months. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has been pushing for the moves, according to those with knowledge of the debate, in part because of a new spike in the number of illegal immigrants in recent months. Experts say that the violence that was a key factor in driving people to flee Central America last year has surged again, with the homicide rate in El Salvador reaching its highest level in a generation. A drought in the region has also prompted departures.

The pressure for deportations has also mounted because of a recent court decision that ordered DHS to begin releasing families housed in detention centers.

Although Johnson has signaled publicly for months that Central American families not granted asylum would face deportation, the plan is likely to trigger renewed backlash from Latino groups and immigrant advocates, who have long accused the administration of overly harsh detention policies even as Republicans deride President Obama as soft on border security.

Advocates have not been briefed on the plans and on Wednesday expressed concern. They cited what they called flaws and abuses in the government’s treatment and legal processing of the families, many of whom are fleeing danger or persecution in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

It would be an outrage if the administration subjected Central American families to even more aggressive enforcement tactics,” said Gregory Chen, director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “This administration has never acknowledged the truth: that these families are refugees seeking asylum who should be given humanitarian protection rather than being detained or rounded up. When other countries are welcoming far more refugees, the U.S. should be ashamed for using jails and even contemplating large-scale deportation tactics.”

Groups that have called for stricter immigration limits said the raids are long overdue and remained skeptical about whether the scale would be large enough to deter future illegal immigration from Central America.

I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. “What share is this going to be?. . . It’s a drop in the bucket compared to the number they’ve admitted into the country. If you have photogenic raids on a few dozen illegal families and that’s the end of it, it’s just for show. It’s just a [public relations] thing, enforcement theater.”

Marsha Catron, a DHS spokeswoman, would not comment on any possible ICE operations but pointed out that Johnson “has consistently said our border is not open to illegal immigration, and if individuals come here illegally, do not qualify for asylum or other relief, and have final orders of removal, they will be sent back consistent with our laws and our values.”

The raids could become a flash point on the 2016 campaign trail, where GOP presidential contenders, including front-runner Donald Trump, have made calls for stricter border control a central issue. Trump’s rise has come as he has promised to deport all undocumented immigrants and bar entry to the United States for Muslim refugees in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., policy prescriptions denounced by Democratic candidates, including Hillary Clinton.

The immigration issue has often bedeviled Obama, who came into office under pressure from supporters to end the George W. Bush administration’s post-Sept. 11, 2001, crackdown on illegal migrants. Instead, the administration increased deportations in its early years, drawing repeated fire from Latino groups and immigration advocates. Then, in summer 2014, came the surge of children flocking across the southwest border.

While most public attention focused on minors who were crossing the border alone, the number of children who came with a family member — known as “family units’’ in DHS parlance — also spiked dramatically.

With the government overwhelmed at first, many of the families were simply released and told to appear at later immigration court dates to determine if they would be granted asylum.

Some never showed up or had their asylum claims rejected and were ordered deported by immigration judges, officials familiar with the process said. That population is among those expected to be targeted in the upcoming raids, they said.

Immigrant rights advocates and legal experts say the families and minors were in many cases not granted adequate representation and were confused by the asylum procedures in court.

DHS, meanwhile, reacted to the surge by opening family detention centers, two in Texas and one in Pennsylvania. Those centers now house more than 1,700 people, DHS officials said Wednesday. But even as DHS officials have long vowed that the migrants will be treated humanely, their advocates have said conditions are crowded and inhumane in the centers, which often house women with children.

As the administration wrestled with how to handle the families, Johnson in November 2014 issued a set of new immigration enforcement priorities. Much of the attention focused on his public statements that undocumented immigrants who had been in the country for years should be integrated into society rather than deported. And Obama, on the same day, announced an executive action intended to shield up to 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation.

But Obama’s action has been blocked in the courts. And Johnson has also made clear that families, children and others who had illegally crossed the border recently and did not obtain asylum status — and anyone ordered deported starting on Jan. 1, 2014 — would be subject to removal.

DHS “will also continue to expedite, to the greatest extent possible, the removal of those who are not eligible for relief under our laws,’’ Johnson said in a September statement about the family detention centers. “We take seriously our obligation to secure our borders.’’

In August, a federal judge in California ordered the administration to begin releasing in October children and family members from the detention centers. The judge said DHS had violated a 1990s consent decree that said minors taken into custody, whether accompanied by an adult or not, had to be treated humanely and allowed to quickly contest their incarcerations.

The administration has said it is complying with the ruling, but it has also filed an appeal with a federal appeals court, and officials said the decision left them feeling hamstrung. “It doesn’t allow us to hold onto people, to detain them until we can deport them,’’ said one person familiar with the internal debate.

Then, in recent months, the flow of families crossing the border suddenly shot up again. The numbers of family units apprehended rose 173 percent in October and November, compared to the same period last year, according to DHS data analyzed by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.

The court decision and the sudden spike led to the decision to begin planning the upcoming raid, said officials familiar with the deliberations, who said DHS knows the deportations will be inflammatory but believes it must enforce the law.


Putin’s struggle for a new world order

No sooner had the conflict in eastern Ukraine frozen than Russia began its military deployment to Syria. Moscow’s return to the world stage presents new opportunities, but also new dangers.

December 24, 2015


It’s not often that Russia’s president praises the United States. December 17, 2015 was such a day. Vladimir Putin himself appeared surprised at his annual press conference in Moscow as he said the Russian plan for Syria agreed with the American blueprint in key aspects. He said Moscow would support Washington’s latest initiative to settle the Syrian conflict.

This followed a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry to Russia two days earlier. Before his meeting with Putin, Kerry strolled demonstratively along the Arbat, Moscow’s most popular shopping street, buying souvenirs. These images were drenched with symbolism that had not been seen for years.

The leading Moscow newspaper “Novaya Gazeta” wrote about a possible “breakthrough” in relations between Russia and the US, which had been frosty, most recently because of the Ukraine crisis. The key question is whether the two sides can agree on the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The US is demanding his resignation; Russia is supporting him, not least militarily.

Something to prove

“Putin has beaten Barack Obama again,” Moscow journalist Konstantin Eggert wrote in an analysis for DW. With his deployment in Syria, which came as a surprise to the West, the Kremlin leader had succeeded in doing what he wanted from the beginning, namely “forcing the US to talk to him as an equal.” Putin, he wrote, had set an agenda that had pushed the Ukraine conflict and the question of Crimea’s annexation by Russia into the background.

In late September Russia joined the theater of war in Syria, where the international coalition led by the United States had previously had the say-so. By deploying its warplanes to Syria, Moscow is announcing its military is back on the world stage, because it is the first such mission since the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989.

Russia says its air force help Syrian troops in their fight against the terror militia known as Islamic State. The US, however, accused Russia of bombing mainly fighters from the Syrian opposition. Washington said Russia was complicating the situation.

On November 24, that situation became even more complicated when Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber along the border with Syria. Ankara said the Russian plane had violated Turkish airspace. It was the first time in decades that a NATO country had shot down a Russian military aircraft. Moscow responded with tough economic sanctions against Turkey and strengthened its military presence in Syria.

Not-so-splendid isolation

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Russia intends to prevent “Assad’s military defeat and IS marching into Damascus.” But, he said, the outlook for this war is unclear if Syria is viewed in the broader context of Putin’s plans.

Just like Ukraine, this is a step directed against the existing world order, according to which questions of war and peace are decided by the US and its allies,” Trenin said. “Putin has broken this principle.”

Sabine Fischer of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin addresses a further aspect. She says one of Moscow’s aims in Syria is “to break its isolation from the West,” resulting from the Crimea annexation and the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

But the Kremlin’s hoped-for success has failed to materialize. A broad alliance against international terrorism, which Putin had called for in his speech to the UN General Assembly in September, has not yet emerged. Fischer says she doubts that this will happen in the near future, because “the objectives and the methods of the various parties are very different.”

Will Ukraine pay the price?

The emerging rapprochement between Russia and the US in the Syria issue is being viewed especially critically in Ukraine, a country that had previously dominated the agenda between Russia and the West. Western politicians emphasize that they would not swap their Russia-critical attitude for Russian help in Syria. But observers like Eggert predict the opposite: “Kyiv will pay the price for the restoration of understanding between Moscow and Washington.”

In 2015, the Ukraine conflict reached a turning point. In January fighting escalated between the army and the pro-Russian separatists in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Against this background, German Chancellor Angela Merkel traveled with President Francois Hollande to Kyiv and Moscow.

The two mediated direct talks in the Belarusian capital Minsk between Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko on February 12. The result was the Minsk agreements – or more precisely “Minsk 2,” because the first agreement on a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine in September 2014 had held only a few weeks.

Minsk 2: Sequelitis

After the new Minsk agreements, Merkel spoke of a “glimmer of hope.” But ten months later this glimmer threatens to fade away. Only one of the document’s stipulations – concerning meetings of the Contact Group – has been met in full.

Although fighting has died down, there is no truce. UN figures show more than 3,300 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine since “Minsk 2.” The ceasefire was “extremely fragile,” Alexander Hug, of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, told DW.

The only stipulation with a fixed date is also likely to remain unfulfilled: The Minsk agreements call for a constitutional reform to enter into force in Ukraine by the end of 2015 that would provide a kind of autonomy for the separatist areas. And indeed, the Ukrainian parliament adopted this reform in the first reading, but the second vote is not expected to take place until 2016. Observers doubt it can muster the requisite 300 votes.

Ukraine is coming under increasing Western pressure. Kyiv has to implement “Minsk 2” even if Russia does not, US Vice President Joe Biden said on his recent visit to the Ukrainian capital.

Throwing Moscow’s weight around

The Minsk agreements “are threatening to die slowly,” says Kyiv-based German journalist Winfried Schiender-Deters. He predicts a frozen conflict in eastern Ukraine, with the separatist regions supported by Russia but not incorporated into it like Crimea. Trenin predicts a similar scenario, but adds “The crisis has peaked.”

Many experts agree that 2015 has brought no real change in the relationship between Russia and the West. It will continue to be tense. Although there will be limited cooperation in 2016, such as in combating IS, overall the relationship remains marked by rivalry and confrontation.


The ‘No Fly List’ operates in secret, and its power to exclude is vast

The standard for inclusion is often based on a ‘predictive judgment’, a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that someone is a ‘suspected terrorist’

December 23, 2015

The Guardian

The No Fly List is not a government program easily challenged. Indeed, it operates in secrecy, from an undisclosed location, administered by an office – the Terrorist Screening Center – that doesn’t accept public inquiries. When challenged in court, the watchlisters routinely declare their methods safe but secret and fight the disclosure of their standards and criteria for inclusion.

The British Muslim family recently denied travel to Disneyland might soon discover this, despite the fact that Prime Minister David Cameron has been called upon to examine the case.

The Guardian reported that, despite prior US approvals, the entire family was turned away from Gatwick’s departure lounge. Without warning or a hearing, their freedom to travel was stripped away at great expense and deep humiliation. Instantly, they were reduced to the status of suspected terrorists by anonymous US officials working without any judicial oversight.

Imagine your family in their shoes. If you can’t, then you don’t understand the power of the US No Fly List.

Just ask Ayman Latif, an honorably discharged US marine who sought to return home from abroad to shore up his veteran’s benefits. Without any offered reason or warning, he was exiled by a system that he has spent the last five years challenging in federal court.

Or ask Rahinah Ibrahim, now a distinguished architect and scholar. As a Stanford University graduate student she found herself arrested and handcuffed in front of her young daughter when she sought to travel from San Francisco to an academic conference. Her eight years of litigation finally uncovered that an FBI agent had mistakenly watchlisted her; the presiding judge labeled it “a bureaucratic analogy to a surgeon amputating the wrong digit”. (Full disclosure: I testified on behalf of Dr Ibrahim at the first and only such trial held so far.)

Or ask many others (whose stories are told in my book on the subject) who say they found themselves at the tender mercies of government officials – typically FBI agents – offering their help to get off the list in exchange for becoming government informants when they returned home.

It’s not just Muslim names on this sad list. Although accusations of racial profiling have haunted the use of the No Fly List in the past, for every Mohammad Tariq Mahmood (one of the Gatwick 11), there is a Cat Stevens or Ted Kennedy or John Lewis.

In this story, however, lies a cautionary tale for travelers regardless of citizenship or religion.

Thanks to some courageous lawyering in tough, often pro bono cases, startling information has been pried from officials: the standard for inclusion on this list is often based on a “predictive judgment”, a “reasonable suspicion” that someone is a “suspected terrorist” presenting some sort of future threat.

In other words”, one federal judge wrote, clearly dismayed by the departure from traditional legal requirements that someone be guilty of some action before deprived of their rights, “an American citizen can find himself labeled a suspected terrorist because of a ‘reasonable suspicion’ based on a ‘reasonable suspicion’.”

Indeed, the cautionary tale grows grimmer still. For there is no logical reason why terrorist watchlists need be limited to air travel. Indeed, few realize how many watchlists already exist until they find themselves in their crushing grip. There is, of course, a watchlist for maritime travel. And this month President Obama urged the use of the No Fly List to deny access to firearms.

Whatever one’s views of the second amendment to the constitution, the evidence is unmistakable. A list once confined to stopping hijackers and 9/11 style bombers has grown into the go-to tool for government officials who don’t like their predictive judgments questioned by lawyers and judges.

Slowly, federal lawsuits have forced some light on to this system and forced back the worst abuses. But there is still a long way to go. Whatever US officials suspect of this British family, they deserve respect for the fundamental right we all must protect at our peril: equal justice before a neutral magistrate in a public forum.

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