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TBR News July 13, 2017

Jul 13 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., July 13, 2017:” Over the past few years, the American media has been breathlessly informing the public about “probable attacks” on Iran because, it is stated, that country is developing atomic weapons to use on Israel. Of course whatever happens to Israel is of vital domestic political importance to the United States and its mostly non-Israeli citizens.

The U.S. has been placing economic sanctions on Iran and this is damaging their economy. Their response? They have threatened to close the international waterway, the Straits of Hormuz! Since almost all Iranian oil, on which they depend for a significant part of their national income, comes from selling, and shipping, oil, this is mere sound and fury, signifying nothing. This false bravado is also designed to build public morale in Iran with national elections looming.

This threat, and the subsequent threat to attack an American Navy aircraft carrier carry with them the danger that a rigged Gulf of Tonkin incident can be arraigned to supply a legitimate motive for the U.S. Navy to take “retaliatory measures” against Iran. In the mountains on Iran’s western border on the Gulf are numerous missile bases, constructed with aid of the Russians. Recently, Russia made a deal with the United States, In return for allowing Russian naval units to berth in and protect Syrian gulf ports, they gave the Americans all the coordinates of their missile sites! In the event of a “hostile act” on the part of Iran (Perhaps a small military type MTB wearing an Iranian flag, would lunch relatively small surface-to-surface at some large American ship. There would be explosions and, out of necessity, American deaths. Shocked headlines in the CIA-controlled New York Times and Washington Post and a stunned Congress would demand revenge.  Then our naval units would attack the missile bases and turn them into large, rubble-filled holes and our next target would be far to the north in Tehran. Our military is stretched too thin to become involved in yet another political war but the Navy and Air Force have been unscathed and would do the attacking. Naturally, the Israeli units would be unable to assist this effort to save them from possible attack because they were too busy protecting the Sacred Motherland to get killed elsewhere and, even worse, to lose expensive aircraft to air defense missiles.

What is causing a deliberate escalation of this project is multifaceted in nature. China does a good deal of oil business with Iran. China has reached a trade volume of 53 billion dollars with Iran and also has a treaty to manage an aslect of the South Pars oil fields. China has been threatening our allies lately, hacking into sensitive governmental computers sites and threatening us with dire fiscal problems because they own so much of our Treasury notes and intercepted messaging indicates China is trying to forge more important ties with Tehran, just short of an open military or other alliance that would upset the balance of power. Tehran and North Korea have also had other missile-oriented dealings such as, 4000 km ranged Musudan missiles which are similar to Taepodong – 1 and Taepodong – 2 missiles. Iran now has the ability to mass produce aversive ballistic missile systems with the technical aid of both North Korea, China and Russia. The North Koreans, and their Pakistani friends, are now lower down the list of supporters but China is coming to the fore   Using technical assistance as noted at this time Iran has build and can build intercontinental ballistic missiles that now have a range of more than 5500 km.

IRSL-X-2 and Shahab-6. missiles have the capacity to strike into the eastern end of the Mediterranean and shorter range missiles have been developed to attack American naval units in the Gulf area. Threat and counter threats have driven the Iranian programs deep underground where American missile or bunker-buster bombing attacks could not destroy them and there are a number of hidden underground missile sites which have been carefully concealed from American aerial surveillance efforts and Israeli as well.  The Chinese, in furtherance of both financial gain and merely fishing in troubled waters, have supplied the Iranians with surveillance paths and times of both American and Israeli drones which they obtained by gaining clandestine admittance to secret American and Israeli military defense computer sites.

Much more serious, from Israeli’s point of view is that the Chinese have given a GPS missile control system to the Iranians which will permit them pinpoint accuracy in directing their present long range missiles to exact targets, be they important Israeli sites like Dimona or U.S. Naval facilities in Muscat or elsewhere.

Tensions build on a daily basis but sometimes the gamblers do not realize the chances they might be taking with something erratic and unplanned for happening and then the whole Middle East would erupt in bloody warfare. The thesis of the “Arab Spring” is spreading outside its intended and the Iranians are aware that both the American CIA and its Israeli counterpart, the Mossad, have penetrated into Iran and are not only spying but engaging in acts of murder and potential sabotage. In a society as paranoid as Iran’s it might take very little for someone to push a button and once launched, a missile, or flight of missiles, cannot be called. We all know how wars start but none of know how they will end!”



Table of Contents

  • Britain takes step toward Brexit with repeal bill
  • Brexit: Commons prepares for fight as ‘Repeal’ Bill unveiled
  • Satellites Reveal Secret U.S. Bases Emerging in the Desert
  • Inside Philip Morris’ campaign to subvert the global anti-smoking treaty
  • Number of fatal terrorist attacks in western Europe increasing, data show
  • The Uncertain Fate of Iraq’s Largest Christian City
  • The German attack on Russia in 1941- Operation Barbarossa


Britain takes step toward Brexit with repeal bill

July 12, 2017

by William James and Elizabeth Piper


LONDON (Reuters) – Britain published legislation on Thursday to sever political, financial and legal ties with the European Union, an important step toward Brexit but one which the opposition said it would challenge.

The repeal bill is central to the government’s plan to exit the EU in 2019, disentangling Britain from more than 40 years of EU lawmaking and repealing the treaty that first made Britain a member in 1972.

Its passage through parliament could make or break May’s future as prime minister. The election she called last month cost her an outright parliamentary majority and reopened the debate on the nature of Brexit, with Britain’s public spending watchdog saying the government was not well prepared.

“It is one of the most significant pieces of legislation that has ever passed through parliament and is a major milestone in the process of our withdrawal from the European Union,” Brexit minister David Davis said in a statement.

The government also fleshed out its negotiating stance with the EU, publishing three position papers which underlined that Britain would quit nuclear body Euratom and leave the jursidiction of the European Court of Justice.

May faces a battle even within her own Conservative Party to stick to her plan of a clean break. Pro-Brexit lawmakers will give her little room for movement, while pro-Europeans are looking to soften the divorce terms.

Rebellion by either side could derail the legislation and test May’s ability to negotiate a compromise or find support from opposition parties. If she fails, her position could swiftly become untenable.

Road To “Hell”

The publication of the bill is the first step in a long legislative process to ease Brexit, which is stretching the government with the sheer volume of issues to cover.

A report by the government’s spending watchdog said Britain’s planned new customs system might not be ready in time for Brexit, adding to a list of concerns over the government’s plans.

“We have been clear from the outset that we are putting the resources in place, have got the resources in place that we need to deliver on Brexit,” May’s spokesman told reporters.

The parliament has yet to set a date to debate the bill, which will be closely examined to see how the government plans to carry out the difficult and time-consuming technical exercise of transposing EU law.

The bill set out powers for ministers, with the approval of parliament, to correct laws to ensure they work after being brought into British law. These powers will exist until two years after the day Britain leaves.

Lawmakers have expressed concern that the sheer volume of work could limit their ability to scrutinize the changes effectively and fear the government will introduce policy change by the back door.

The main opposition Labour Party has said it would oppose the bill unless it met six conditions, including guarantees for workers’ rights. Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said he would work to soften May’s stance, promising the prime minister that “this will be hell”.

The bill will also face scrutiny from British companies, many of which have spent the year since Britons voted by 52 percent to 48 to leave the EU trying to figure out how the change will affect their business.

“A legislative transition of this scope has never before been undertaken,” Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said in a statement.

“We will be keeping a watchful eye for the possibility of unintended consequences that lead to new burdens or compliance costs, whether particular firms, sectors or the economy as a whole.”

Editing by Ralph Boulton

Brexit: Commons prepares for fight as ‘Repeal’ Bill unveiled

The UK has unveiled new legislation toward its desired Brexit. The EU (Withdrawal) Bill isn’t scheduled for debate until autumn – and discussion is likely to be quite spirited, with the opposition pledging amendments.

July 13, 2017


The British government has introduced its EU (Withdrawal) Bill, commonly referred to as the “great repeal bill.” The legislation aims to convert thousands of pieces of EU law into British statute ahead of the day that the United Kingdom leaves the bloc in March 2019.

The 66-page bill would repeal the 1972 European Communities Act and set forth which EU regulations would become British law, as well as designate the domestic powers that would, for example, deal “with deficiencies arising from withdrawal” and how the United Kingdom would comply with its international obligations. According to the bill, the government would have two years to address said deficiencies.

The bill is set to be debated in the autumn. Scrapping the European Communities Act could prove daunting as opposition parties were already planning amendments before its release.

“The government cannot use the great repeal bill to get their way,” said Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, who were in a coalition with the ruling Conservative party from 2010 to 2015. “If you found the Article 50 Bill difficult, you should be under no illusion: This will be hell,” he added, referring to the parliamentary debate that preceded the kick-starting of Brexit proceedings.

‘Privileges and immunities’

Ahead of the bill’s introduction, Brexit Minister David Davis said the legislation would ensure that the UK maintained a “fully functioning legal system” after leaving the EU. “This bill means that we will be able to exit the European Union with maximum certainty, continuity and control,” he said in a statement.

In position papers released separately on Thursday, the government also fleshed out its stance on nuclear energy, justice and other matters before the first full round of talks with EU officials next week. The country would quit the bloc’s nuclear regulator, Euratom, and no longer fall under the jurisdiction of its courts. The government pledged to make the transition from EU membership as smooth as possible and foresaw a transitional period to help ease the winding up of the bloc’s operations in Britain.

“The scope and duration of such a transitional period may be different for different types of asset or agency,” the government acknowledged. In a separate paper, leaders claimed that EU officials had informed Britain that it would need to leave Euratom because the treaties governing the agency and the bloc were “uniquely legally joined.”

Prime Minister Theresa May and members of her government have pledged tough negotiations with the EU to deliver on the narrow pro-Brexit result of the June 2016 referendum.


Satellites Reveal Secret U.S. Bases Emerging in the Desert

Imagery from June appears to show a small airstrip in southern Syria near the border with Jordan and Iraq—that’s in addition to a drone base in northeastern Jordan and scores more

July 11, 2017

by David Axe


In 2013, when the United States first considered intervening in the Syria war, teams of U.S. Air Force commandos scouted out, across the Middle East, no fewer than 300 potential sites for new bases to support a possible intervention force.

Since then, the Pentagon has established or expanded scores of bases in Syria, Jordan, and Iraq, among many other countries.

Now we’ve located what appear to be another two new bases—one in Jordan near the border with Syria, and another a short distance across the same border in southern Syria. The two airstrips could support drones, helicopters, and special operations airplanes.

On July 8, 2017, the Already Happened Twitter account, which bills itself as “independent media,” pointed out satellite imagery from June 2017 that appears to show a small airstrip in southern Syria a few miles from the trinational border where Jordan, Iraq, and Syria meet.

Wikimapia satellite imagery dated 2017 doesn’t show the airstrip, implying that the facility was built in recent months. Wikimapia gets its imagery from DigitalGlobe, Airbus, and a French government imaging agency.

About a year before the new airstrip was being carved in the Syrian desert, the U.S. was hard at work expanding a separate drone base in northeastern Jordan, not far from the trinational border

This base, known as “H4,” was originally built in 2014 or earlier and was significantly expanded in early 2016, as indicated by sensitive imagery that an intelligence source described to The Daily Beast.

In May 2017, DigitalGlobe released the first public images of H4. The site appears to support Air Force or CIA Reaper drones plus Jordanian military helicopters.

Among other facilities, Jordan is known to host a second U.S. drone base at Muwaffaq Salti, 33 miles south of the border with Syria. In November 2016, three U.S. Special Forces soldiers died when a Jordanian guard opened fire on their convoy at King Faisal Air Base in central Jordan.

The expansion of American base infrastructure makes possible the Pentagon’s escalating support for Iraqi military forces and pro-U.S. Syrian rebel groups battling the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. America’s anti-ISIS war plan builds upon initial planning that U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, completed more than three years ago.

In 2013, so-called Assault Zone Reconnaissance Teams from the Air Force branch of SOCOM scouted out around 300 landing zones, drop zones, and other sites “throughout the Middle East,” according to an official Air Force history that War Is Boring reporter Joseph Trevithick obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.

“There’s a lot of work going on at SOC FWD locations,” a member of the Air Force’s 720th Special Tactics Group wrote in a 2014 email cited in the official history, using the abbreviation for “Special Operations Command, Forward.”

The airmen said SOCOM was building bases in Yemen, Lebanon, Oman, and all the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, whose members include Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Oman.

The exact scale of U.S. base infrastructure remains secret. U.S. Central Command, which oversees the wars in Iraq and Syria, declined to confirm the existence of the two new airstrips. “We generally do not discuss the movement and position of our aircraft for safety and operational security reasons,” the Florida-based command told The Daily Beast via email.

But U.S. military fuel contracts hint at a sprawling—and likely expanding—complex of bases. A May 16, 2017, solicitation from the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency, which Trevithick also obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, asks contractors to provide about 5 million gallons of fuel to U.S. bases in Jordan from late 2017 to late 2020.

The solicitation lists several bases, including Muwaffaq Salti, H4, and several unspecified “northern integration sites” that can be accessed from H4 with an official escort. “Location is an austere site,” the document explains of one integration site. “Delivery vehicle will need to be capable of traveling off-road to this location.”

One of the austere sites—which could be the new airstrip—requires a staggering 1,080,000 gallons of aviation fuel by late 2020. That’s enough to fuel up two Reaper drones every day for nearly three years.


Inside Philip Morris’ campaign to subvert the global anti-smoking treaty

The world’s largest publicly traded tobacco company is deploying its vast resources against international efforts to reduce smoking. Internal documents uncovered by Reuters reveal details of the secret operation.

July 13, 2017

by Aditya Kalra, Paritosh Bansal, Duff Wilson and Tom Lasseter


NEW DELHI/LAUSANNE, Switzerland – A group of cigarette company executives stood in the lobby of a drab convention center near New Delhi last November. They were waiting for credentials to enter the World Health Organization’s global tobacco treaty conference, one designed to curb smoking and combat the influence of the cigarette industry.

Treaty officials didn’t want them there. But still, among those lined up hoping to get in were executives from Japan Tobacco International and British American Tobacco Plc.

There was a big name missing from the group: Philip Morris International Inc. A Philip Morris representative later told Reuters its employees didn’t turn up  because the company knew it wasn’t welcome.

In fact, executives from the largest publicly traded tobacco firm had flown in from around the world to New Delhi for the anti-tobacco meeting. Unknown to treaty organizers, they were staying at a hotel an hour from the convention center, working from an operations room there. Philip Morris International would soon be holding secret meetings with delegates from the government of Vietnam and other treaty members.

The object of these clandestine activities: the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, or FCTC, a treaty aimed at reducing smoking globally. Reuters has found that Philip Morris International is running a secretive campaign to block or weaken treaty provisions that save millions of lives by curbing tobacco use.

In an internal document, the company says it supported the enactment of the treaty. But Philip Morris has come to view it as a “regulatory runaway train” driven by “anti-tobacco extremists” – a description contained in the document, a 2014 PowerPoint presentation.

Confidential company documents and interviews with current and former Philip Morris employees reveal an offensive that stretches from the Americas to Africa to Asia, from hardscrabble tobacco fields to the halls of political power, in what may be one of the broadest corporate lobbying efforts in existence.

Details of those plans are laid bare in a cache of Philip Morris documents reviewed by Reuters, one of the largest tobacco industry leaks ever. Reuters is publishing a selection of those papers in a searchable repository, The Philip Morris Files.

Dating from 2009 to 2016, the thousands of pages include emails between executives, PowerPoint presentations, planning papers, policy toolkits, national lobbying plans and market analyses. Taken as a whole, they present a company that has focused its vast global resources on bringing to heel the world’s tobacco control treaty.

Philip Morris works to subvert the treaty on multiple levels. It targets the FCTC conferences where delegates gather to decide on anti-smoking guidelines. It also lobbies at the country level, where the makeup of FCTC delegations is determined and treaty decisions are turned into legislation.

The documents, combined with reporting in 14 countries from Brazil to Uganda to Vietnam, reveal that a goal of Philip Morris is to increase the number of delegates at the treaty conventions who are not from health ministries or involved in public health. That’s happening: A Reuters analysis of delegates to the FCTC’s biennial conference shows a rise since the first convention in 2006 in the number of officials from ministries like trade, finance and agriculture for whom tobacco revenues can be a higher priority than health concerns.

Philip Morris International says there is nothing improper about its executives engaging with government officials. “As a company in a highly regulated industry, speaking with governments is part of our everyday business,” Tony Snyder, vice president of communications, said in a statement in response to Reuters’ findings. “The fact that Reuters has seen internal emails discussing our engagement with governments does not make those interactions inappropriate.”

In a series of interviews in Europe and Asia, Philip Morris executive Andrew Cave said company employees are under strict instructions to obey both the company’s own conduct policies and local law in the countries where they operate. Cave, a director of corporate affairs, said that while Philip Morris disagrees with some aspects of the FCTC treaty and consults with delegates offsite during its conferences, ultimately the delegations “make their own decisions.”

“We’re respectful of the fact that this is their week and their event,” said Cave in an interview in New Delhi, as the parties to the treaty met last November. Asked in an earlier interview whether Philip Morris conducts a formal campaign targeting the treaty’s biennial conferences, Cave gave a flat “no.”

When the FCTC delegates gather, lives hang in the balance. Decisions taken at the conferences over the past decade, including a ban on smoking in public places, are saving millions of lives, according to researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center.

Between 2007 and 2014, more than 53 million people in 88 countries stopped smoking because those nations imposed stringent anti-smoking measures recommended by the WHO, according to their December 2016 study. Because of the treaty, an estimated 22 million smoking-related deaths will be averted, the researchers found.

According to the WHO, though, tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death – and by 2030 will be responsible for eight million deaths a year, up from six million now.

There was jubilation among anti-smoking advocates when the treaty was adopted in 2003. The treaty, which took effect in 2005, made it possible to push for measures that once seemed radical, such as smoke-free bars. About 90 percent of all nations eventually joined. A big holdout is the United States, which signed the treaty but has yet to ratify it.

Since the FCTC came into force, it has persuaded dozens of nations to boost taxes on tobacco products, pass laws banning smoking in public places and increase the size of health warnings on cigarette packs. Treaty members gather every two years to consider new provisions or strengthen old ones at a meeting called the Conference of the Parties, or COP, which first convened in 2006 in Geneva.

But an FCTC report shows that implementation of important sections of the treaty is stalling. There has been no further progress in the implementation of 7 out of 16 “substantive” treaty articles since 2014, according to a report by the FCTC Secretariat in June last year.

A key reason: “The tobacco industry continues to be the most important barrier in implementation of the Convention.”

Indeed, the tobacco industry has weathered the tighter regulation. There has been only a slight 1.9 percent decline in global cigarette sales since the treaty took effect in 2005, and more people smoked daily in 2015 than a decade earlier, studies show. The Thomson Reuters Global Tobacco Index, which tracks tobacco stocks, has risen more than 100 percent in the past decade, largely due to price increases.

“Some people think that with tobacco, you’ve won the battle,” said former Finnish Health Minister Pekka Puska, who chaired an FCTC committee last year. “No way,” he said. “The tobacco industry is more powerful than ever.”

With 600 corporate affairs executives, according to a November 2015 internal email, Philip Morris has one of the world’s biggest corporate lobbying arms. That army, and $7 billion-plus in annual net profit, gives Philip Morris the resources to overwhelm the FCTC.

The treaty is overseen by 19 staff at a Secretariat office hosted by the WHO in Geneva. The Secretariat spends on average less than $6 million a year. Even when buttressed by anti-smoking groups, the Secretariat is outgunned. Its budget for this year and last year for supporting the treaty clause on combating tobacco company influence is less than $460,000.

Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, head of the FCTC treaty Secretariat, is the person tasked with preventing the industry from neutering the agreement.

In two interviews at her Geneva office, da Costa e Silva, a medical doctor who holds a PhD in public health and has a dyed pink streak in her hair, explained why the FCTC banned attendance by any member of the public at the 2014 biennial conference in Moscow. The ban came in response to efforts by tobacco executives to use public badges to get inside the venue, she said, adding that industry representatives then started borrowing badges from delegates they knew to gain entry.

“It’s a real war,” said da Costa e Silva.

But she had only a partial picture of the forces ranged against her. She wasn’t aware of the fact that Philip Morris had a large team operating throughout the convention in Moscow, or the details of its activities in New Delhi last November.

“This is so disgusting. These are the forces against which we have to work,” da Costa e Silva said in May after being told about the Philip Morris documents. “I think they want to implode the treaty.”

The idea of a global tobacco treaty had been discussed among health advocates since at least 1979, when a WHO committee suggested the possibility. Gro Harlem Brundtland, a former prime minister of Norway who became director-general of the WHO in 1998, made it happen.

She was aided by outrage over documents that surfaced as part of the landmark 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, in which the four largest U.S. tobacco companies agreed to pay more than $200 billion to 46 U.S. states. The internal communications showed that tobacco executives lied for years about their knowledge of the deadly nature of cigarettes.

A 1989 document revealed one company’s plan to fight threats to the industry. “WHO’s impact and influence is indisputable,” the document said. It went on to contemplate “countermeasures designed to contain/neutralize/re-orient the WHO.”

That company was Philip Morris.

In 2008, Altria Group Inc split up its Philip Morris business. Philip Morris USA, which remains a subsidiary of Altria, sells Marlboro and other brands in the United States. Philip Morris International was spun off, and handles business abroad. Since the split, Philip Morris International shares have more than doubled and Altria’s have more than tripled.

Philip Morris International’s operational headquarters are in Lausanne, Switzerland, down the street from a patch of Gallo-Roman ruins, in a sleek building with a cafeteria, gym and a patio facing Lake Geneva. From there, the company is working to hobble the treaty.

Internal company communications reveal the scope of Philip Morris’ operation during the 2014 FCTC treaty meeting in Moscow. The company set up a “Coordinating Room” that could seat 42 people, according to the 2014 PowerPoint presentation, titled “Corporate affairs approach and issues.”

Leading the operation was executive Chris Koddermann. Formerly a lawyer and lobbyist in Canada, Koddermann joined Philip Morris in 2010. He is now a director of regulatory affairs in Lausanne. The PowerPoint describes the ideal corporate affairs executive as someone who is able to “play the political game.” Koddermann previously worked for federal and provincial cabinet ministers in Canada, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Reached on his cell phone in March, Koddermann said he wouldn’t be able to meet and that any questions should be directed to Philip Morris International.

At the end of the Moscow meeting, on Oct. 18, 2014, Koddermann sent an email congratulating a 33-person Philip Morris team on their success in diluting or blocking measures intended to strengthen tobacco controls and reduce cigarette sales. The gains he touted at the end of the week-long conference were the culmination of a two-year effort, his email said.

The documents shed light on one key objective in Philip Morris’ FCTC campaign: Keep tobacco within the ambit of international trade deals, so that the company has a way to mount legal campaigns against tobacco regulations.

In Moscow, one proposal initially called for carving out tobacco from trade pacts. International trade treaties often include provisions, such as the protection of trademarks, that Philip Morris has used to challenge anti-smoking measures. If tobacco were taken out of the treaties, as suggested by the proposal, Philip Morris could be deprived of many such legal arguments.

An early draft asked parties to support efforts to exclude tobacco from trade pacts and to prevent the industry from “abusing” trade and investment rules. In the end, the proposal was watered down. The final decision only reminded parties of “the possibility to take into account their public health objectives in their negotiation of trade and investment agreements.” There was no mention of excluding tobacco.

Koddermann, in his email to colleagues on the last day of the conference, declared victory, describing the change as “a tremendous outcome.” Overall, the company achieved its “trade related campaign objectives,” including “avoiding a declaration of health over trade” and “avoiding the recognition of the FCTC as an international standard,” he wrote.

The win was significant. A former Philip Morris employee said the company has routinely used trade treaties to challenge tobacco control laws. The aim, he said, was “to scare governments away from doing regulatory changes.” Even though the tobacco industry has lost a series of major legal battles, its suits have served to discourage the implementation of regulations that curb smoking. Those delays can yield years of unimpeded sales.

As the Philip Morris PowerPoint presentation from 2014 put it: “Roadblocks are as important as solutions.”

One roadblock was a campaign to stop the 2011 introduction of rules in Australia banning logos and distinctive coloring on cigarette packs. The company’s litigation and arbitration against the measure ultimately were dismissed – but not before five countries filed complaints against Australia on the same subject at the World Trade Organization. The global trade body has yet to announce a decision in the matter.

The attempt to undo Australia’s regulations has had a chilling effect elsewhere. It slowed the introduction of plain-packaging rules in New Zealand. Citing the risk that tobacco companies may “mount legal challenges,” the government announced in 2013 that it was postponing the move and waiting to “see what happens with Australia’s legal cases.” The legislation is now scheduled to go into effect next year.

In his Moscow conference email, Koddermann also expressed pleasure at the fate of a proposal on farmers. Initial language would have recommended that countries restrict support for tobacco growers. The proposal was “significantly watered down,” he wrote. “This is a very positive result.”

Gustavo Bosio, at the time a manager for international trade, chimed in a few days after the conference in an email: “These excellent results are a direct consequence of the remarkable efforts of all PMI regions and markets during the past two years and throughout the intense week in Moscow.”

Philip Morris isn’t alone in seeking to weaken the treaty. Ahead of the 2012 FCTC conference, in Seoul, four cigarette giants – Philip Morris, British American Tobacco (BAT), Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Brands Plc – formed an “informal industry Working Group” to oppose various proposals on tobacco taxation, according to an internal BAT document reviewed by Reuters.

The 45-page paper, whose existence hasn’t been previously reported, noted that the group would coordinate “to the extent that these issues do not raise any anti-competitive concerns.” The paper outlined a global campaign planned by BAT to counter the FCTC, which was “increasingly going beyond” its mandate. And it listed objectives, including a bid to block discussions around the introduction of a minimum 70 percent tax on tobacco.

BAT declined to answer questions about the industry working group. Both Imperial and Japan Tobacco International said they didn’t want to comment on a document from a competitor. Japan Tobacco International said its tax experts met with counterparts from other tobacco companies to discuss treaty guidelines on taxation ahead of the 2012 conference. Philip Morris did not comment on the document.

The Philip Morris emails and documents don’t explicitly detail how the company pulled off the victories in Moscow. But they provide insight into the importance it places on wooing delegates.

The FCTC traditionally makes decisions by consensus, and so influencing a single national delegation can have an outsized impact. The treaty has a key clause meant to keep the industry from unduly influencing delegations. Article 5.3, as it’s known, says nations should protect their public health policies from tobacco interests. Guidelines that accompany Article 5.3 recommend that countries interact with the industry only when “strictly necessary.”

But the article – a single sentence – contains a loophole Philip Morris has exploited. The sentence ends with the words “in accordance with national law,” opening the door to arguments by pro-tobacco forces that any lobbying that’s legal in a certain country is permissible when interacting with that country’s representatives. They also argue that a sentence in a related document, the guidelines for Article 5.3, allows for such interactions to take place as long as they are conducted transparently.

One of the company’s targets has been Vietnam.

The day the Moscow meeting ended, Koddermann received an email from his colleague Nguyen Thanh Ky, a leading corporate affairs executive for Vietnam. Ky said he had a “debrief lunch” with the Vietnamese delegation and had a good outcome to report: The delegation was in favor of “moderate and reasonable measures” to be implemented over a “practical timeline,” he wrote. He did not specify which measures they discussed.

The Vietnamese delegation spoke up often during the Moscow meeting. A review of notes compiled by tobacco-control groups accredited as observers showed Vietnam’s interjections frequently mirrored Philip Morris’ positions on tobacco-control regulations. Just like the tobacco giant, the Vietnamese said a higher tax on cigarettes would lead to more illicit sales. Like Philip Morris, they said the FCTC should stay out of trade disputes. And like Philip Morris, they opposed proposals to set uniform parameters for the legal liability of tobacco companies.

The FCTC guidelines on taxation did ultimately include a WHO recommendation for a minimum tax of 70 percent – something Philip Morris opposed. But the proposal to give the treaty more sway over trade disputes was weakened, and measures to strengthen the legal liability of cigarette companies were delayed.

Vietnam’s foreign ministry did not respond to questions from Reuters.

As soon as the conference ended, the documents show, Philip Morris turned to the next one: the 2016 meeting in India.

The 2014 PowerPoint presentation outlined the need to identify ways to gather intelligence during the Delhi conference. In a separate 2015 planning document, the company talks about the arrangement of farmer protests in the run-up to the meeting. Such protests did take place – including one in front of WHO offices in New Delhi. Reuters couldn’t determine whether Philip Morris was behind those demonstrations.

While other major tobacco companies also sent people to Delhi in November, Philip Morris was distinguished by its stealth. Executives from the company did not sign in with their tobacco industry colleagues at the FCTC convention center and stayed at a hotel about an hour’s drive away.

The anonymity and distance helped Philip Morris approach delegates covertly. On the second day of the conference, a white Toyota van pulled away from the front of the Hyatt Regency hotel – where Philip Morris had its operations room – and headed for the FCTC treaty venue. The van was carrying Ky, its corporate affairs executive from Vietnam.

Ky’s driver talked his way past police at the barricade outside the conference center, where FCTC-issued credentials were checked, explaining that he was driving “VIPs,” the driver later told Reuters.

A few minutes later, a man in a dark suit walked out of the conference center, passed the van and stopped at a street corner. The van did a U-turn, and a Reuters reporter saw the man in the suit quickly climb in. He was a senior member of Vietnam’s delegation to the FCTC conference: Nguyen Vinh Quoc, a Vietnamese government official.

The driver, Kishore Kumar, said in an interview that he dropped the two men off at a local hotel. Kumar said that on several other occasions that week, he took Ky to pick up people from the Hotel Formule1, a budget lodging where Vietnam’s delegation was staying during the conference.

Ky and Quoc did not respond to requests for comment.

Asked by Reuters about the interaction between Ky and the Vietnam representatives, Philip Morris executive Andrew Cave thumped on the table in a bar at the hotel where company representatives were staying. Reuters should focus, he said, on efforts by the industry to develop so-called reduced-risk products – those that deliver nicotine without the burning of tobacco and which the company says reduce harm.

When pressed about the meetings with Vietnam, Cave thumped the table again: “I’m angry that you’re focusing on that, rather than the real issues that matter to real people.”

In a subsequent email, Cave said: “Representatives from Philip Morris International met with delegates from Vietnam” during the Delhi conference “to discuss policy issues and this complied fully with PMI’s internal procedures and the laws and regulations of Vietnam.”

Delegates, Cave said in separate interviews, are reluctant to meet openly with Philip Morris because they are afraid of being “named and shamed” by anti-smoking groups.

Some delegates questioned the extent to which Philip Morris shaped the decisions made at the Moscow conference, saying attendees genuinely disagreed on certain issues. Nuntavarn Vichit-Vadakan, a Thai delegate, oversaw many discussions as the chair of an FCTC committee at the Moscow conference. She said delegates differed over the regulation of e-cigarettes, for instance, and any lobbying the company carried out would not have determined the outcome.

The Philip Morris documents leave questions unanswered. In some cases, the documents show the company hatching plans to change an anti-smoking regulation or to monitor activists, but don’t always make clear to what extent or how the plans were executed, if at all. The 2014 PowerPoint presentation called for “achieving scrutiny” of tobacco control advocates and said a “global project team” had been established for this purpose. It did not list what means would be used.

In some instances, Philip Morris’ lobbying plainly failed. In July 2015, the Ugandan parliament passed sweeping new anti-tobacco laws inspired by the treaty. All that was needed was President Yoweri Museveni’s signature, and the small African nation would become a leader on the continent in implementing a strict interpretation of the FCTC.

Philip Morris sent an executive, a younger white man, to tell the septuagenarian president, who long ago had helped topple dictator Idi Amin, why the tobacco act was a bad idea. Sheila Ndyanabangi, Uganda’s lead health official for tobacco issues who was present at the meeting, described the executive’s approach as lecturing the statesman.

“He said, ‘Ugandan tobacco will be too expensive’ and ‘it will not be competitive,’” Ndyanabangi said. Her account was confirmed by a senior Ugandan government official who was also present.

Museveni stared for a moment at the Philip Morris executive and a representative from a major tobacco buyer who’d come with him. The president then declared: “Slavery ended a long time ago.” There was a long silence in the room, recalled Ndyanabangi. Museveni said Uganda didn’t need tobacco, and the meeting was over. The president signed the bill that September.

Museveni’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Over time, however, the industry’s lobbying has slowed the treaty’s progress. At the biennial conferences, the discussions have changed. In Moscow, for instance, there was a strong focus on trade and taxes. “You could see from the floor that interventions were very, very, very much focusing on the trade aspects, many times even putting trade over health,” the FCTC’s da Costa e Silva said in an interview last year.

The composition of FCTC delegations sent by governments has changed to include more members who aren’t involved in health policy. That’s in line with what Philip Morris and other tobacco companies want: Philip Morris, as well as British American Tobacco, has sought to move the balance of the membership away from public health officials and toward ministries like finance and trade. Such agencies, said the former Philip Morris executive, benefit from tobacco tax revenues and attach less weight to health concerns.

“The health department would just want tobacco to be banned, while for the finance ministry it’s more like how can we leverage or get as much money as we can,” he said.

The object of Philip Morris’ efforts, according to the 2014 PowerPoint on corporate affairs, is to “move tobacco issues away” from health ministries and demonstrate there are broader public interests at play – that “it’s not about tobacco.”

Cave, the Philip Morris corporate affairs executive, confirmed the company tries to persuade governments to change the composition of delegations. Health officials, he said, aren’t equipped to handle the intricacies of issues such as taxation.

“You’re looking at illicit trade, you’re looking at tax regimes, you’re looking at international law,” he said. “Now each of these areas, it’s logical, if you want to really tackle the trade and tobacco smuggling, illicit trade, who would you go to? You wouldn’t go to the health ministry.”

Reuters analyzed the rosters of the almost 3,500 accredited delegation members who have attended the seven FCTC conferences since 2006. The analysis found that there were more than six health delegates for every finance-related delegate in 2006. In Delhi last year, that ratio had fallen to just over three health delegates for every finance delegate. The number of delegates from finance, agriculture and trade fields has risen from a few dozen in 2006 to more than 100 in recent years.

Vietnam’s delegation, for example, has changed markedly. At the first FCTC conference in 2006, none of its four delegates were from finance or trade ministries. By 2014, in Moscow, there were 13 delegates, with at least four from finance-related ministries, including the chief delegate. Vietnam’s foreign ministry did not respond to questions about the delegation.

Da Costa e Silva isn’t opposed to having delegates from trade ministries, but she says their primary focus needs to be on health. And she was concerned by the makeup of the Vietnamese delegation. In a letter to the Vietnamese prime minister in late 2015, she asked that tobacco industry employees be excluded from the delegation. If they weren’t, she wrote, Vietnam might be “unable to play a full part in discussions.”

In 2016, Vietnam brought 11 delegates to the conference, of whom six were from health agencies, including the chief representative.

Some tobacco-control activists who attended the Delhi meeting in November say it was the worst so far in terms of passing new anti-smoking provisions.

Matthew Myers, who heads the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said multiple countries came prepared to consciously block action. He said he heard delegates making arguments “I haven’t heard in 25 years.”

A Nigerian delegate, for instance, asked to remove a reference to “the tobacco epidemic” from a draft proposal on liability for tobacco-related harm, according to notes taken by anti-smoking groups.

Asked for comment, Christiana Ukoli, head of the delegation in Delhi, said the “Nigerian delegation strongly dissociates itself from [that] statement.”

The Delhi conference ended as it began, with treaty Secretariat officials not knowing where Philip Morris had been or what it had done. The company had flown in a team of executives, used a squad of identical vans to ferry officials in New Delhi, and then left town without a trace.


Number of fatal terrorist attacks in western Europe increasing, data show

July 12, 2017

by Mark Hanrahan and Jessica Wang


LONDON (Reuters) – The number of terrorist attacks resulting in fatalities in western Europe increased in 2016, despite an overall drop in the number of incidents taking place, according to data released by the Global Terrorism Database.

The data shows that there were 30 such attacks resulting in fatalities in western Europe in 2016 and 23 in 2015. This compares with two attacks across the region resulting in fatalities in 2014 and five in 2013.

In addition, terrorist attacks have become more deadly, with 26.5 people on average being killed in 2015 and 2016, up from an average of four a year in the preceding three years.

The deadliest incident recorded in western Europe was the series of coordinated attacks on Paris in November 2015 that resulted in the deaths of 130 people and was claimed by Islamic State.

Experts said ISIS, responsible for seven of the 10 deadliest attacks since 2012, was increasingly encouraging the use of knives and vehicles over firearms and explosives by their followers.

“It’s very different to the al Qaeda threat, which was obsessed with mass casualties, bringing down airliners”, Dr. Sajjan Gohel, International Security Director with the Asia-Pacific Foundation think tank told Reuters.

“What ISIS is trying to do is have a greater volume of attacks, but make it more cost effective and simpler.”

Reporting by Mark Hanrahan and Jessica Wang; Editing by Hugh Lawson


The Uncertain Fate of Iraq’s Largest Christian City

Before Islamic State invaded, Qaraqosh was home to Iraq’s largest Christian community. Now liberated after three years of occupation, little remains and former residents are considering whether its worth rebuilding in a country with an unclear future.

July 13, 2017

by Katrin Kuntz


Ayouka had a pure heart and he loved his country, the priest says as he walks across a ravaged cemetery in northern Iraq, preparing to recover the dead man’s body. The man was strangled by Islamic State (IS) fighters simply because he was a Christian, like the cleric.

The priest, whose name is Roni, wears his black cassock tightly over his shoulders, his eyes are lowered and he silently climbs over what’s left of smashed crosses. Now and then, the thud of mortar shells can be heard from nearby Mosul, where Islamic State is still holding on.

Our route leads past graves whose inscriptions and crosses were destroyed by IS and Father Roni steps over broken vases and a destroyed Madonna statue. The dead man is lying on the left side of the cemetery, at its outer edge. The jihadists threw him into a two-meter deep burial chamber as if he were just a piece of trash.

Now Ayouka’s body has been wrapped in a felt blanket. Next to him lie the bodies of a woman and a man, which are also wrapped in gray blankets. “IS killed them because they considered them to be infidels,” says the priest, who knew them from Qaraqosh where they lived.

Qaraqosh was once considered the cradle of Christianity in Iraq. Located some 35 kilometers southeast of Mosul along the Nineveh plains, 40,000 people lived here until three years ago – no other city in the country was home to so many Christians. The city was built in Mesopotamia, which is traversed by the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, and its history stretches back to biblical times.

Until about eight months ago, Islamic State ruled Qaraqosh – expelling and murdering its Christians, desecrating their churches and, in the end, burning down their homes. After the Iraqi military captured the destroyed Great Mosque of al-Nuri the week before last, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi claimed that the days of Islamic State were almost over – around three years after IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed his so-called “caliphate” at the same site three years ago.

It was a decisive, long yearned-for moment, even though IS has yet to be completely wiped out and still controls some Iraqi territory and a few towns. The liberated areas around Mosul will remain deserted for now – too many people fled and, so far, few have dared to return.

Father Roni has made it his task to resuscitate Qaraqosh. “We have to bury the dead so life can return,” he says. The bodies of 11 murdered people lie unburied at the cemetery. Some have been here so long that their faces are no longer recognizable.

On this morning, the priest has Ayouka’s body brought from the chamber so that he can be given a proper burial in a grave, where his wife stands waiting. There, the priest says a prayer for the dead, raising the palms of his hands in supplication.

A Ghost Town

With Mosul liberated, the Christians of Iraq will soon be able to return to their homeland. But who will govern the region after the IS defeat? Will Christians ever feel safe here again after some of their Muslim neighbors so brutally turned against them?

Qaraqosh currently looks like a ghost town. Islamic State bored some 30 tunnels beneath it, some ending in buildings while others are thought to stretch all the way to Mosul. There’s a four-meter (13-foot) deep hole in the ground near the cemetery leading to a tunnel that snakes its way for hundreds of meters through the hills. Mattresses and crumpled blankets can still be found in the dark and cool tunnels, where IS fighters slept only a short time ago. An abandoned bomb factory is located next to the exit.

The greatest danger here is currently posed by the mines IS laid during its retreat. When you carefully open the door to the former city library on the rooftop of the priests’ seminary, the ashes of thousands of burned books cover the floor like snow. From up here, you can see the damage caused to the buildings by the airstrikes — the burned-out rooftops and the collapsed belfry of a church.

Inside the Saint Behnam et Sara church, one of the city’s most spectacular, benches have been destroyed and charred Bibles lie on the ground. The baptismal font has been blackened by a fire set by Islamic State. The jihadists used the church’s inner courtyard for shooting practice and the bullet-riddled mannequin used as a target can be seen in the rubble.

Former Qaraqosh residents only dare to return for a few hours at a time. Most come from Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region located about an hour and a half away. They come to inspect their looted homes, bringing food with them which they eat in their empty kitchens. When Father Roni went back to visit his own home, he looked through the window into his old bedroom. “I found Viagra and underwear there. The IS leaders summoned women into my bed,” he says. “Should the city be burned down before it is rebuilt, to get rid of the pain? Or would it be better to turn it into a museum?”

Around half of the residents of Qaraqosh have left Iraq, with about 40 Christian families heading abroad each week to places like France, Jordan, Australia – anywhere but here, a region that doesn’t hold much of a future for them. Some 1.3 million Christians lived in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in charge. Today that figure is believed to be only 200,000.

Christians have been discriminated against and persecuted in the region for hundreds of years and they see themselves as the victims of a Muslim majority. Under Hussein’s rule, they were at least halfway safe. As a Sunni Muslim, Hussein was himself part of a minority in the country and he formally incorporated the Christians into the state apparatus as part of his efforts to consolidate power.

But their situation deteriorated after the United States’ 2003 invasion of Iraq. Despite the Americans’ claims of being liberators, the chaos they created further fomented the hatred many Iraqis had for Christians. The post-invasion governments in Baghdad focused on gaining the support of the country’s Shiite majority and they no longer needed the Christians as a bargaining chip. Christians who were persecuted in Baghdad at the time fled to Qaraqosh.

Personal Horror

To speak to former residents of Qaraqosh today, one must travel to Erbil. Zarifa Bakoos, Ayouka’s 75-year-old widow, also lives here. An attractive woman with distinctive facial features, Bakoos is still dressed in black when she answers the door to her apartment. Inside, she sits in front of the TV, soap operas being the only escape she still has. Bakoos was crying as she left the cemetery that morning and wasn’t in the mood to stay and talk. She says her husband’s burial will be her last visit to Qaraqosh.

“We were sleeping when the jihadists came to Qaraqosh,” Bakoos recalls. She says she and her husband woke up in August 2014 without knowing that almost all the other residents had fled. “We wondered where our neighbors were,” she says. “Soon the Muslims knocked on our door and demanded money.” IS demanded that old people either convert to Islam or pay them a jizya, a special levy. That’s the only way they could obtain protected status, dhimma, and they were told they would be killed if they refused.

Zarifa Bakoos can still remember every detail from those terrible years. She describes some with complete incomprehension and others with a defiant humor. She grew up in Qaraqosh and had experienced the town as a safe Christian center in the region. A city with 12 churches that rose into the sky like stone sentinels: Tahira, MarZena, Saint Behnam et Sara. She still fondly recites their names.

“They forced me to trample a Madonna figure,” she adds. “I had to spit on a cross.” Her husband soon fell ill and the jihadists picked him up and said they were taking him to the hospital. They brought Bakoos to a house where an old blind woman lived and the two would then live there together for two and a half years. Even though their door wasn’t locked, they didn’t dare go outside, living as if they were in jail. Bakoos took care of the woman and they would often talk about the times when they could still walk freely around the streets of Qaraqosh. Now they were forced to wait until an IS man would bring them something to eat and drink – their lives had basically become one long wait, for sundown and sunrise.

When the Iraqi army closed in on Qaraqosh last October, the IS began setting fire to buildings and churches and Bakoo and her companion were scared to death. By that point, they had also grown very weak. It had been weeks since the IS men had brought them anything to eat. “We sat on the bed and hugged each other so that we would die together,” she says quietly. When the Iraqi soldiers entered their house, they both began crying. It was a long time before they stopped.

Since then, Bakoos has been homeless. “Every few days, I sleep somewhere else,” she says. A sofa here, a bed there – the Christian community in Erbil is sticking together. They’re all familiar with the stories of expulsion and fear.

Can Sectarianism be Solved?

The province of Nineveh, where the Christians have found refuge, is one of the most ethnically diverse in Iraq. In addition to Christians, it is also home to Yazidis, Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds. As such, it is considered a test case for how the divided country might coalesce once again after the fall of Islamic State. It would cost $10 million (€9 million) to rebuild Qaraqosh, but no one knows where the money might come from. And coexistence is little more than a vision given that the forces that have fought against IS have different ideas about how the region should be governed.

The Iraqi central government and the Kurds each claim equal control over Qaraqosh and other disputed territories in Nineveh, threatening to create a new conflict. But who would provide protection to the Christians if they were to decide to go back?

The next morning, 50 men gather in Saint Behnam et Sara, Qaraqosh’s central church, soldiers with the Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU), a Christian volunteer army. Their Kalashnikovs are lying on their laps. Above them, the church’s ceiling has been blackened by the soot of the fires. The destroyed church is defenseless on the plains and these men are its only protectors.

“We’re still afraid,” says the bishop. “But we want to tell IS that they have lost. We will rebuild our city again and restore life.” The bishop of Qaraqosh is also rebuilding his home here in the city, wanting to encourage others to return. One solder after the other kneels before him, pushes his weapon to the side and takes the wafer and wine of communion.

The church and the militia are the only forces fighting for Qaraqosh right now but not even they can agree on what the city’s future should hold. The church doesn’t dare summon its followers back to a region where it cannot protect them and hopes to cooperate with the Kurds who have thus far provided for stability. But the NPU’s Christian soldiers are leaning more toward Baghdad. They helped liberate Qaraqosh together with the Iraqi army and have often felt patronized by the Kurdish Peshmerga.

In a sparse barracks located right next to the church, around 20 young men sit down to a meal of chicken and rice in NPU quarters. “If it weren’t for us, even more Christians would have fled Iraq,” says their spokesman, Athra Kado, a self-confident 27-year-old. Given the choice, he would grant sole responsibility for the administration of the Nineveh province to his troops. NPU was formed in late 2014 and it has 500 volunteers, 70 of whom have been assigned to Qaraqosh. The unit also receives financing from the Iraqi central government while the men borrowed their weapons from the Kurds. Many don’t have any combat training.

Former residents of Qaraqosh would like to see Nineveh become an autonomous region with up to eight provinces, which would in fact be permissable under the constitution. Each province would then be home to a different minority. In this scenario, Nineveh would also remain part of Iraq and subject to its constitution, while international oversight and corresponding laws would provide protection for the Christians. Such is the utopian vision.

The young NPU spokesman dreams of a special protected zone in which Christians could live undisturbed by others. “We’re at a turning point,” he says. “Either we get our own protected homeland or there will soon no longer be any Assyrians here. If we don’t separate our ethnicities now, another IS will emerge in Iraq in a few years.”

After the meal, Kado and his men head back out to continue guarding the destroyed churches, providing instruction to a few trash collectors as they rake up debris, and keeping watch over the entrances and exits to a city that doesn’t have anything left to steal. They have also erected a new cross before the city.

A Family Returns

Few families have returned to Qaraqosh, but the Abosh family is one of them: Two old brothers have returned with their wives and one of their sons.

“No one forced us to come here and no one is giving us any support, either,” says Hazem Abosh, a 62-year-old man with the hands of a laborer. Before IS arrived, he says, they had a “great life” here and the Aboshs were successful chicken farmers. But IS built tunnels under their old sheds and stole their tractors. The NPU militia delivers water and produces electricity with generators, but there’s nothing else.

The Abosh’s home is located on a ravaged street in the city and the neighboring houses are riddled with bullet holes. A portrait of a saint hangs on the wall of the living room and there’s a sofa, but someone stole the television and tiles are missing on some of the walls. “We Christians are the losers in this conflict,” Hazem Abosh, says. “But we want to live here.”

In the kitchen, the women are preparing vegetables they purchased in Erbil – part of their effort to instill a sense of normality in the ghost town. “After the fall of Saddam Hussein, it was the job of the international community to protect minorities,” Hazem Abosh says in the living room. “But no one supported us.”

Hazem Abosh and his wife have 11 children, but only one of them, Samer, has stayed with his parents. A shy man, Samer feels safer with his parents than on his own. The Aboshs are angry and hope for financial support, protection, a state and a government. Thus far, though, no one is doing anything for them.

“To us, it feels like there was a plan to drive the Christians out of Iraq,” says Hazem Abosh, adding that he doesn’t know anyone who wants to move back to Qaraqosh. “But we’re going to stay here. It’s our right. And we’re old and we would rather die here than in a foreign country or a refugee camp.”

The relatives, neighbors and friends of the Aboshs who are still in Iraq are living in the Ashti refugee camp near Erbil, which is providing refuge to 6,000 Christians. Hundreds of men and women have gathered there on a recent afternoon in a provisional church. Many are wearing cross necklaces; you can see the fatigue in their faces. Almost all are from Qaraqosh. They miss the city, but they don’t yet dare to return.

The church is as spacious as a gymnasium and standing at the center is Ibrahim Lallo, a stocky, affable man who once served four churches in the Nineveh province. He’s leading today’s sermon and he wants to do the Way of the Cross. The cross is made of solid wood and the faithful carry it outside on their shoulders. The crowd slowly proceeds, sandwiched between corrugated metal structures and aid agency tents as they chant their prayers.

Lallo clutches the microphone tightly and reads from the Bible as they reach each station of the cross. He’s the father of five children, four of whom have left Iraq, and he wants to create a home for the last Christians here. Lallo leafs through the pages until he gets to the spot where Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. His voice trembles as he speaks the words of his faith and the people repeat his words. It’s a historical moment – this celebration is the last remaining expression of Christianity in Iraq.

Later, at the camp’s office, Lallo says it’s unlikely he will ever return to Qaraqosh. “No one can protect us,” he says. “We’re afraid it will be a calamity for us.” He then wants to talk about the Bible passage with Judas, which so moved him. He says that nobody here will forget the fact that it was their Muslim brothers from neighboring towns who ultimately betrayed the Christians.


The German attack on Russia in 1941- Operation Barbarossa

July 13, 2017

by Harry von Johnston, PhD

Stripped of prolix discussions of troop strengths and various German military plans for operations against Soviet Russia , Operation “Barbarossa” comes down to whether or not it was a manifestation of growing megalomania on Hitler’s part or a legitimate preventive attack on a nation preparing to invade him. The initial military planning was considered to be a study of the nature of a war with the Soviet Union should such an event prove necessary. The first studies were instituted in July 1940 after the defeat of France and the expulsion of the British military from continental Europe. Parallel with the purely military studies was Hitler’s own political analysis of the relationship between Germany and Russia. There is no question that Stalin was exerting pressure along his western borders and increasing the number of military units in these areas. In August of 1940, Stalin had a total of 151 infantry divisions, 32 cavalry divisions and 38 mechanized brigades available to him. Of these, 96 infantry divisions, 23 cavalry divisions and 28 mechanized brigades were available for use against Germany. By June 1941, as a result of an extensive mobilization of his military, Stalin had 118 infantry divisions, 20 cavalry divisions and 40 mechanized brigades in position on the Russo-German border with an additional 27 infantry divisions, 5 1/2 cavalry divisions and 1 mechanized brigade in reserve in European Russia. The bulk of these units was in place to the north of the Pripyat marshes and the remainder to the south of this large natural barrier of swampy forest. Although German military intelligence had difficulties in obtaining exact figures of the Soviet buildup, there could be no question that such a massive increase in military forces was in progress. German Luftwaffe reconnaissance overflights, foreign diplomatic reports and increased Soviet military radio traffic all pointed to the heavy concentration of Russian forces.

The question is whether the Soviet troop concentrations were defensive or offensive in nature. Historians have argued that no proof of Soviet intentions to invade Germany have ever surfaced and a balanced view of the troop movements could well indicate that either purpose could be valid. There is the question of the placement of Soviet artillery units along the border. The Soviets used their artillery en masse as a preliminary to a major attack and the positioning of this artillery close to the German lines would tend to support the thesis that it was to be used to open an attack, not defend against one. The positioning of armored and mechanized infantry units behind the artillery would be reasonable if these forces were intended to spearhead an attack. A defensive posture would have the artillery towards the rear areas of the Soviet forward units to bombard an advancing enemy. A defensive posture would also prohibit the massing of armored units so close to the front lines.They would be held much further back to strike at an enemy penetration with more freedom of movement. These are merely comments, not meant to be taken as proof of anything but a more important opinion is one given by General Franz Halder, Chief of Staff of the German Army at the inception of “Barbarossa.” Halder was a bitter enemy of Hitler, who eventually fired him, and in his postwar writings disparaged the Führer as a military commander.

In his book, Hitler as Military Leader published as Hitler als Feldherr in Munich, 1949 and subsequently translated as Hitler as War Lord  and published in England in 1950, Halder devotes considerable space to the “Barbarossa” operation and deserves to be quoted at some length.

“…the horizon in the East grew steadily darker. Russia was moving with ever-growing strength into the Baltic States, which had been conceded as her sphere of interest; on the Russo-German demarcation line there stood over a million Russian soldiers in full battle order with tanks and aircraft opposite a few German security formations sparsely stretched over wide sectors of the line; in the South-East, Russia had occupied Rumanian territory in Bessarabia and Bukovina. Moreover, she was showing herself unresponsive to Hitler’s political maneuvers. The last attempt to gain her as a partner in the division of the world according to Hitler’s plans had foundered at a two-day meeting with Molotov in the middle of November 1940. Hitler the Politician has come to the end of his devices.

In December 1940, he issued his order to the three services – the “Barbarossa” Order – to make military preparations for an attack on Russia against the possibility of Russo-German relations undergoing a fundamental change. It was a prepatory measure, no decision had then been taken. One must admit the politician’s right to delay taking the final decision until the last moment. Precisely when Hitler did take it, can probably no longer be established. Statements, speeches and orders with which he prepared the machine, both materially and psychologically, in case it should be required, cannot be regarded as meaning anything with this master of duplicity. It can be assumed, however, that it was not taken until after the quick successes of the Balkan campaign, in the course of which Russia’s hostility towards Hitler had been unmistakably revealed.

The decision for the attack on Russia came anything but easily to Hitler. His mind was occupied with the warnings of his military advisers; the shadow of Napoleon, with whom he liked to hear himself compared, lay across the mysterious spaces of that country. On the other hand, he had a firm and not unfounded conviction that Russia was arming for an attack on Germany. Today we know from good sources that he was right. Russia would naturally choose a moment for the attack when Germany was in a position least favorable to herself…in other words when the West was once again ready for action. The war on two fronts, which the army general staff memorandum had forecast as long ago as 1938, would then be a fact.”

Halder certainly was in a position to know the facts, many of which were found by German units after the invasion and the rout of Soviet forces, but as a severe critic of Hitler, Halder’s comments which reflect on the necessity for military action on Hitler’s part are far more valid than some apology written by one of Hitler’s supporters.

The partisan warfare that raged behind German lines during the campaign, was savage in the extreme. Neither side showed any quarter and the Soviets specialized in invading a peaceful area, committing acts against the German rear area and leaving their fellow countrymen to bear the brunt of reprisals. Müller’s comments about the Commissars and Communist party leaders is basically correct and the fact that members of both groups were subject to death when captured is also correct. Warlimont was tried at Nuremberg for his part in the promulgation of various anti-partisan orders and was never used by the United States after his release from prison.


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