Bahrain court bans opposition group for three months


A court in Bahrain has suspended leading Shia opposition group al-Wefaq a month before parliamentary elections are due, their defence lawyer says.
Abdullah al-Shamlawi told the Associated Press al-Wefaq's activities will be frozen for three months.
The group had planned to boycott the elections, claiming the government did not try to reconcile with them following their anti-monarchy protests.
Shia-dominated demonstrations against the Sunni monarchy began in 2011.
Al-Wefaq said they had no immediate comment on the court's ruling.
Republican protests
On 11 October, the group, alongside four other parties, said they would not participate in the 22 November elections because the results would be "fully controlled by the ruling authority".
In a statement they added that voting districts favoured the minority Sunnis and that any elected parliament would lack sufficient power.
The elections will be the first since the 2011 protests against the monarchy that left dozens dead.
The protesters had been demanding more rights and an end to discrimination against the majority Shia community by the Sunni royal family.
The demonstrations have continued up to now and thousands have been arrested. Reconciliation talks aimed at quelling the unrest have been unsuccessful.
Al-Wefaq was founded in 2002, a year after Bahrain announced political reforms in which the country became a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament and an independent judiciary.


Iran hangs Reyhaneh Jabbari despite campaign


Iran has executed a woman who killed a man she said was trying to sexually abuse her.
Reyhaneh Jabbari, 26, was hanged in a Tehran prison despite an international campaign urging a reprieve.
Jabbari was arrested in 2007 for the murder of Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, a former employee of Iran's ministry of intelligence.
Human rights group Amnesty International said she was convicted after a deeply flawed investigation.
A campaign calling for a halt to the execution was launched on Facebook and Twitter last month and appeared to have brought a temporary stay in execution.
However, government news agency Tasnim said on Saturday that Jabbari had been executed after her relatives failed to gain consent from the victim's family for a reprieve.
It said her claims of self-defence had not been proved in court.
'True intentions'
Jabbari's mother, Shole Pakravan, confirmed the execution in an interview with BBC Persian, saying she was going to the cemetery to see her daughter's body.
Global executions for 2013
  • China: 1,000+
  • Iran: 369+
  • Iraq: 169+
  • Saudi Arabia: 79+
  • United States: 39
  • Somalia: 34+
  • Sudan: 21+
  • Yemen: 13+
  • Japan: 8
  • Others: 42+ (in 12 countries)
Source: Amnesty International
Rise in number of global executions
Ms Pakravan had been allowed to see her daughter for an hour on Friday.
After her arrest, Jabbari had been placed in solitary confinement for two months, where she reportedly did not have access to a lawyer or her family.
She was sentenced to death by a criminal court in Tehran in 2009.
Amnesty said that although Jabbari admitted to stabbing Abdolali Sarbandi once in the back, she alleged that there was someone else in the house who actually killed him.
Jalal Sarbandi, the victim's eldest son, said Jabbari had refused to identify the man.
He told Iranian media in April: "Only when her true intentions are exposed and she tells the truth about her accomplice and what really went down will we be prepared to grant mercy,"
The United Nations says Iran has executed about 250 people this year.


Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf urges world help on Ebola


Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says the whole world has a stake in the fight against Ebola.
In a "letter to the world" broadcast on the BBC, she said the disease "respects no borders", and that every country had to do all it could to help fight it.
President Johnson Sirleaf added that a generation of Africans were at risk of "being lost to economic catastrophe".
The Ebola outbreak has killed more than 4,500 people across West Africa, including 2,200 in Liberia.
International donations have so far fallen well short of the amounts requested by UN agencies and aid organisations.
In the worst-affected countries - Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone - about 9,000 people have been found to have the Ebola virus, which kills an estimated 70% of those infected.
Fragile states
The letter, commissioned by the BBC and read out on the World Service's Newshour programme, starts with the words "Dear World".
She goes on to say that the fight against Ebola "requires a commitment from every nation that has the capacity to help - whether that is with emergency funds, medical supplies or clinical expertise".
"We all have a stake in the battle against Ebola," she says. "It is the duty of all of us, as global citizens, to send a message that we will not leave millions of West Africans to fend for themselves."
She said it was not a coincidence that Ebola had taken hold in "three fragile states... all battling to overcome the effects of interconnected wars".
Liberia, she noted, had about 3,000 qualified doctors at the start of the civil war in the late 1980s - and by its end in 2003 it had just three dozen.
"Ebola is not just a health crisis," she added. "Across West Africa a generation of young people risk being lost to an economic catastrophe."
Donation shortfall
The latest crisis in West Africa is the worst-ever Ebola outbreak.
The virus spreads between humans by direct contact with infected blood, bodily fluids or organs, or indirectly through contact with contaminated environments.
Donors have given almost $400m (£250m) to UN agencies and aid organisations, short of the $988m requested.
Separately, the UN has also appealed for donations to a $1bn Ebola trust fund, intended to act as a flexible source of back-up money to contain the disease.
Graphic showing pledges in fight against Ebola - 16 October 2014
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said on Friday that the fund, which was launched in September, had received just $100,000 (£62,000) in donations so far.
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told the BBC he was "bitterly disappointed" with the international community's response.
"If the crisis had hit some other region it probably would have been handled very differently," he said in a BBC interview.
How not to catch Ebola:
  • Avoid direct contact with sick patients as the virus is spread through contaminated body fluids
  • Wear goggles to protect eyes
  • Clothing and clinical waste should be incinerated and any medical equipment that needs to be kept should be decontaminated
  • People who recover from Ebola should abstain from sex or use condoms for three months
Ebola basics: What you need to know
How Ebola attacks
What virus has hit - in maps
Uncertainty over figures
How Ebola spreads
Have you been affected by the issues raised in this story? You can email haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk
Send your pictures and videos to yourpics@bbc.co.uk or text them to 61124 (UK) or +44 7624 800 100 (international). Or you can upload here.


UK police asked to investigate alleged Bahraini hacking of exiles’ computers


  • The Guardian,

  • The police National Cyber Crime Unit has been asked to investigate claims that computers and mobile phones used by exiled Bahraini pro-democracy activists living in the UK are under illegal surveillance.
    A complaint about Bahraini officials’ alleged monitoring of the devices was compiled by the civil liberties group Privacy International (PI) and submitted to the Metropolitan police on Monday.
    The remote interference is said to have started after Dr Saeed Shehabi, Jaafar al-Hasabi and Mohammed Moosa Abd-Ali Ali inadvertently downloaded malicious software or had their machines infected by the programs. The intrusive technology is able to copy and transmit documents, remotely turn on cameras and microphones to record, as well as send emails from other people’s accounts, according to PI.
    It said the technology involved was FinFisher, software once owned by Gamma International, a company that used to be based in Andover, Hampshire, but is now run by a firm based in Germany.
    The complaint is partially based on evidence published in August by Bahrain Watch and WikiLeaks, which, it is said, details exchanges between Bahraini officials and Finfisher staff who were providing technical support.
    The three men allegedly targeted are human rights activists who oppose the current regime in Bahrain and have been granted asylum in the UK.
    Moosa Abd-Ali Ali and Hasabi had both been detained and tortured in Bahrain. Shehabi has been sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia and had his Bahraini citizenship revoked.
    “We often had the feeling that they were spying on us but we had no physical evidence of intrusion,” said Shehabi, 60, who is a journalist. “I have lived here since 1971. I thought I was under British protection.”
    His only direct evidence of computer interference was when his Twitter account inexplicably began following more and more people; on another occasion, he said, his daughter’s travel plans were disclosed to Bahraini government officials. Three years ago his home in the UK was the target of an arson attack.
    Hasabi, 43, an IT specialist, said he had received numerous emails which he did not open because they appeared suspicious. He was alarmed to see his computer’s details appear in the WikiLeaks list online.
    Moosa Abd-Ali Ali, 33, a TV camera operator, said: “Many times I received notices from my friends that I had sent them emails when I had not. Once I opened up my Facebook page and found that someone was writing it. Later I found it had been deleted. On other occasions I received notices from Gmail saying someone had tried to hack into my account.
    “When I first came to the UK I felt safe but I don’t any more. They have hacked my computer.”
    PI said: “It is clear from the Gamma documents published online that among those targeted by the Bahraini government with FinFisher technology were Mohammed, Jaafar and Saeed, along with prominent Bahraini opposition politicians, democracy activists and human rights lawyers.
    “FinFisher was developed and produced by the British company Gamma International. Promotional material for FinFisher shows that it allows its user full access to a target’s infected device and everything contained within it, even enabling them to turn on functions such as cameras and microphones.
    “Reports from the Citizen Lab suggest that FinFisher command and control servers have been found in 35 countries, including Ethiopia, Turkmenistan, Bahrain, and Malaysia.”
    The National Cyber Crime Unit is part of the National Crime Agency. Earlier this year PI made a similar complaint to police about alleged surveillance of the computer of an Ethiopian activist living in the UK.
    Commenting on the alleged surveillance of the Ethiopian, a Metropolitan police spokesperson said: “On 28 February 2014, we received an allegation that a man in Islington had had his computer accessed without authorisation. This matter is currently under investigation by Islington CID.”
    PI alleges that surveillance carried out by Bahraini authorities amounts to unlawful interception of communications under section 1 of the UK’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) 2000.
    FinFisher and its previous owner Gamma have previously claimed they only sold their products to responsible governments. The German-based firm did not respond to requests for a comment, nor did the embassy of Bahrain.


    Close to 350,000 eligible to vote in Bahraini polls


    Manama: Around 350,000 Bahraini men and women are eligible to cast their votes in the parliamentary elections scheduled for November 22.
    “Following the finalisation of the lists upon the court verdicts regarding challenges, there are 349,713 people eligible to vote in the elections,” Abdullah Al Bu Ainain, the executive director of the elections, said. “The supervisory committees have received 330 requests that included 227 to include names and 103 to change home addresses.”
    In 2010, 318,668 Bahraini men and women were eligible to cast ballots. The next stage of the elections process is for male and female candidates to sign up their names.
    “All those who wish to run in the parliamentary and municipal elections should present their candidacies between October 15 and October 19, from 5 pm to 9 pm,” he said. “We need them to make sure that they have the proper documents that allow them to be candidates in the polls.”
    Under Bahrain’s laws, candidates must be Bahrainis and at least 30 years old on the day of the elections. Potential candidates who have acquired the Bahraini nationality must have been naturalised at least 10 years prior to their candidacies unless they are citizens of a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) country.
    Candidates must also have full political and civil rights and must speak and write Arabic fluently.
    Bahrain had its first parliamentary elections in modern times in 2002 after almost 30 years of constitutional hiatus. Elections were subsequently held in 2006 and 2010.
    In 2011, by-elections were held to replace the 18 lawmakers from the Al Wefaq society who resigned in February at a time when dramatic events were unfolding in the country.
    Although the opposition has yet to announce its stance on the elections, with statements oscillating between participation and boycott, several societies and independent candidates have already said that they would take part in the quadrennial national polls.
    Bahrainis will closely monitor how religious societies and women will be faring in the polls. Religious groups dominated the 2006 elections, marking a clear distinction from the 2002 polls where liberals dominated. In 2010, independent candidates fared well and emerged as clear winners.
    Women have endured a long struggle to secure seats in parliament. They all lost in 2002, but Lateefa Al Gaood made history in 2006 when she became the first woman candidate to win a parliament seat in the GCC. She repeated her victory in 2010 and she was joined one year later by Sawsan Taqawi who made it to the history records by becoming the first Shiite woman to win a seat. Two more women won in the 2011 by-elections. The upper chamber has 11 appointed women.
    Optimism is running high among women as they seek consolidate their political gains alongside their economic and social empowerment.
    “Constitutionally, women have the right to run and vote in parliamentary and municipal elections and their achievement in the area is the 15 women who are members of parliament, in both chambers, representing 19 per cent of the total members,” Maysa Al Thawadi, the director of Media Follow-up at the Information Affairs Authority (IAA), said at a GCC Forum.
    “Bahraini women have been essential partners in drawing up and implementing plans and programmes for a comprehensive development of the country. They have had a pivotal role in the nation-building process. We have three women ministers, one undersecretary, 12 assistant undersecretaries, 17 judges, three ambassadors, and scores of teachers, bankers, journalists and doctors. Women make up more than 35 per cent of the country’s employment force and more than 47 per cent of the public sector. Bahrain has 24 women’s societies,” she said.


    Prince Nasser of Bahrain torture ruling quashed


    Prince Nasser of Bahrain is not immune from prosecution over torture claims, the High Court in London has ruled.
    Prince Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa has been accused of being involved in the torture of prisoners during a pro-democracy uprising in Bahrain in 2011.
    Judges overturned the Crown Prosecution Service's decision that the prince had state immunity from prosecution.
    The Bahrain government said it "categorically denies" the claims, calling them politically motivated.
    The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said the issues raised by the judicial review were "academic" because the police would have to launch an investigation first, and the possibility of immunity was not one of the reasons for them not doing so.
    A dossier of torture allegations, dating back to 2011, had been given to the CPS in 2012 while the prince was in the UK for the London Olympics.
    The arrest and prosecution of the prince was then sought. However, he was allowed to return to Bahrain after the CPS decided he had diplomatic immunity.
    Clive Coleman, BBC legal affairs correspondent
    Under the UN Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment 1987, states must criminalise torture and pursue public officials of other nations when they are present in the state's territory.
    In other words, states are justified in prosecuting torture wherever it takes place because the offenders are - as was said in one well-known case - "common enemies of all mankind and all nations have an equal interest in their apprehension and prosecution".
    A principle was established in the case involving former Chilean dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, that there be "no safe haven" for former public officials involved in torture or crimes against humanity.
    There are very limited exceptions for heads of state, heads of diplomatic missions and their families, and foreign ministers.
    The case arose after a refugee from Bahrain, referred to as FF, sought the arrest of Prince Nasser.
    FF said he had been tortured by the Bahraini authorities - but not by Prince Nasser directly - during a pro-democracy uprising by the majority Shia community between February and March 2011.
    Protesters had demanded more rights and an end to claimed discrimination against the community by the Sunni royal family.
    The anti-government demonstrations led to a crackdown by the Bahraini authorities and the deaths of several protesters.
    'Frequent visitor'
    In a statement, FF said the prince had now "lost his immunity" and will need to "consider the risk of investigation, arrest and prosecution when he is travelling outside Bahrain".
    FF's lawyers said the police could now conduct an investigation the next time the prince - a "frequent visitor" to the UK - entered the country.
    A Bahrain government spokeswoman said: "The Crown Prosecution Service said the decision on immunity was academic as it had solid fact-related grounds for the basis on which it determined it could not prosecute Sheikh Nasser.
    "All this was made plain in court today. In short, the situation has not, and will not, change as there is no evidence for the allegations."
    Deborah Walsh, deputy head of special crime and counter-terrorism at the CPS, said it could "no longer maintain our position that the prince could have immunity, in line with recent case law on this issue".
    She said: "We have always maintained that the issues raised by this judicial review are academic as before the DPP can consent to any application for a private arrest warrant, there needs to be an investigation by police.
    "The likelihood of immunity is not considered a bar to prosecution and is a matter that should be considered on a case's individual facts and merits, after some investigation."




    The escalation of violence in Iraq since January has caused 26,733 victims, of which 9,347 dead and 17,386 injured, with over half of these attributable to the offensive launched three months ago in the north by the Islamic State insurgents. The numbers are revealed in a 29-page report drawn up by the United Nations Human Rights Office and the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). The report records at least 11,159 civilian casualties between 1 June and 31 August, which includes at least 4,692 civilians killed, and 6,467 wounded. According to the report, the actual numbers could be much higher, considering that the toll of civilians who have died from the secondary effects of violence, such as lack of access to basic food, water or medicine, are unknown.
    “The array of violations and abuses perpetrated by Islamic State and associated armed groups is staggering, and many of their acts may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity”, said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, calling on Baghdad authorities to recognize the competence of the ICC (International Criminal Court).
    The UN experts reveal in the report evidence of “systematic” and vast violations by the Islamist forces, including “abductions, rape and other forms of sexual and physical violence perpetrated against women and children, forced recruitment of children, destruction or desecration of places of religious or cultural significance, wanton destruction and looting of property, and denial of fundamental freedoms”. The widening conflict has forced 1.8 million Iraqis to flee their homes, especially in the Anbar province and Iraqi Kurdistan.
    Meanwhile, a battle is underway for control over the area of Heet, in west of Anbar. The Islamic State has already proclaimed victory, claiming to have enetered the city, but the mayor rejected the claim, indicating “ongoing fighting” and “heavy losses” in the rebel lines, with at least 40 fighters killed. Based on first reports released by medical and security sources, at least 11 police officers were killed in Heet and another 6 in Ramadi in two separate attacks by the Islamic State gainst army and police bases in the western province.
    Baghdad authorities continue conducting airstrikes that, according to the UN, have caused “significant casualties”. The northern regions are under international coalition force airstrikes, in the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. [VV/BO]
    © 2014 MISNA - Missionary International Service News Agency Srl - All Right Reserved.


    Bahrain human rights activist arrested over tweets


    Leading Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab has been arrested over Twitter remarks deemed "denigrating" to government institutions.
    Rajab, who heads the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, had just returned to the country after an advocacy tour abroad.
    He had served two years in prison for organising anti-government protests before being released in May.
    Despite being a majority Shia country, Bahrain's government is Sunni-led and has faced ongoing protests since 2011.
    Mr Rajab was often seen in the forefront of those demonstrations and is a vocal critic of the ruler, King Hamad al-Khalifa.
    He is also a prominent voice on social media, with almost 240,000 followers on Twitter.
    'Ideological incubator'
    The Gulf Center for Human Rights confirmed that Mr Rajab had been arrested on Wednesday.
    He was summoned for questioning at Bahrain's Cyber Crimes Department before being detained overnight, the statement said.
    Bahrain's interior ministry confirmed that Mr Rajab had been summoned and said that he had "acknowledged the charges".
    He is due to appear before the public prosecutor on Thursday, the interior ministry said in a statement.
    It did not mention which Twitter postings the charges related to.
    Bahraini anti-government protesters wave national flags during a march in Malkiya, (16 May 2014) Bahraini anti-government protesters have held regular rallies since 2011
    In a tweet made on Sunday, however, Mr Rajab said that many Bahrainis who had joined the Islamic State (IS) militant group had come from state security institutions.
    These institutions served as the "ideological incubator" for IS, the tweet alleged.
    Before his imprisonment in July 2012, Mr Rajab was repeatedly detained in connection with the pro-democracy protests that erupted the previous year.


    ISIS just stole $425 million, Iraqi governor says, and became the ‘world’s richest terrorist group’


    Of the many stunning revelations to emerge out of the wreckage of Mosul on Wednesday — 500,000 fleeing residents, thousands of freed prisoners, unconfirmed reports of “mass beheadings” — the one that may have the most lasting impact as Iraq descends into a possible civil war is that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria just got extremely rich.
    As insurgents rolled past the largest city in northern Iraq, an oil hub at the vital intersection of Syria, Iraq and Turkey, and into Tikrit, several gunmen stopped at Mosul’s central bank. An incredible amount of cash was reportedly on hand, and the group made off with 500 billion Iraqi dinars — $425 million.
    The provincial governor of Nineveh, Atheel al-Nujaifi, said that the radical Islamists had lifted additional millions from numerous banks across Mosul, as well as a “large quantity of gold bullion,” according to the International Business Times, which called ISIS the “World’s Richest Terror Force.”
    The declaration isn’t an easy one to fact-check. Not only is the definition of “terrorist” nebulous — are murderous but wealthy Mexican cartels terrorists? — it’s also exceedingly difficult to quantify a terrorist organization’s finances. One of the closest stabs anyone has made comes from the well-versed Money Jihad.
    According to its analysis, which drew on journalistic and academic accounts, the cash seizure would make ISIS the richest terrorist organization in the world — at least for the time being.
    The Taliban, the New York Times reported, had a one-time annual operating budget of somewhere between $70 million and $400 million. Hezbollah was working with between $200 million and $500 million. FARC in Colombia had annual revenues of $80 million to $350 million. Al-Shabab in Somalia had between $70 million and $100 million socked away. And Al-Qaeda, meanwhile, was working with a $30 million operating budget at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
    The newfound wealth at ISIS’s disposal now makes it richer than many small nations, including Nauru, Tonga and the Marshall Islands.
    For a terrorist group that operates more and more like a de facto state governing a huge swath of land spilling across Syria and Iraq, the potential impact could be huge. By nearly every measure, Iraq is embroiled in civil war. With lightning speed, not deterred by Iraqi soldiers running scared, the insurgency on Wednesday moved within 70 miles of Baghdad, which analysts say is “definitely vulnerable,” according to The Washington Post’s Liz Sly and Loveday Morris.
    Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called a national state emergency and said in a televised news conference that “Iraq is undergoing a difficult stage.” He called on everyone in the government “to confront this vicious attack, which will spare no Iraqi.”
    Complicating that call to action, however, is ISIS’s money. It will “buy a whole lot of Jihad,” regional analyst Brown Moses wrote on Twitter. “For example, with $425 million, ISIS could pay 60,000 fighters around $600 a month for a year.”
    According to research by the intelligence consultancy Soufan Group, ISIS may not have much trouble attracting that many fighters — if it doesn’t have that many already. Soufan Group said ISIS has attracted 12,000 militants from abroad already, 3,000 of whom are from the West.
    Iraqi government forces, meanwhile, appear deflated and disillusioned. “The state is weak,” one infantryman told the New York Times. “This will be an endless battle.”
    Another officer conceded to the Independent that “we can’t beat them. They’re trained in street fighting and we’re not. We need a whole army to drive them out of Mosul. They’re like ghosts; they appear to hit and disappear within seconds.”


    FBI 'identifies Jihadi John'


    The head of the FBI has announced US authorities believe they have unmasked the British murderer of James Foley, Steven Sotloff and David Haines

    10:00PM BST 25 Sep 2014
    The terrorist known as “jihadi John”, who murdered a British aid worker and two US hostages in Syria, has been identified by the security services ahead of an historic vote by MPs to authorise air strikes in Iraq.
    The FBI announced that it has discovered the identity of the man, who speaks with a London accent, by working with “international partners” including MI5 and MI6.
    The man was filmed beheading James Foley and Steven Sotloff, two US journalists, and David Haines, an aid worker who earlier this month became the first Briton to be murdered by Isil.
    He is now threatening to kill Alan Henning, a second British hostage, despite desperate pleas from his family to spare his life.
    The daughter of David Haines has called for Isil to be “eradicated” with a combination of air strikes and ground forces “if that’s what it takes”, while David Cameron has vowed to “hunt down” Mr Haines’ killers.
    MPs are expected to vote in favour of Britain joining air strikes in Northern Iraq on Friday to ensure Isil is defeated and end the "barbaric acts" being carried out against religious minorities.
    Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, said that British air strikes in Iraq will go on for the "long haul" for at least three or four years to ensure Isil is defeated.
    However Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, the former head of the RAF, warned that Britain’s air force will struggle to mount a sustained campaign because it has been cut down to the “bare bones”.
    He said that the RAF “rock bottom” after years of cuts and sustaining air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil) fighters would be “quite a stretch”.
    He told The Telegraph: “To sustain this operation is going to be quite a stretch. The lack of combat air craft is a major weakness in our make up. This has been raised time and time again and basically ignored. We really are at rock bottom.”
    Six RAF Tornados have been stationed in Cyprus for the past six weeks and have been flying surveillance flights over northern Iraq.
    The jets could begin dropping Paveway IV guided bombs and Brimstone missiles within hours of the vote, while Downing Street confirmed that soldiers will be deployed on the ground in “non-combat roles” to co-ordinate air strikes.
    Both David Cameron, the Prime Minister, and Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, have also raised the prospect of MPs returning for a second vote to authorise air strikes in Syria.
    Senior military figures have suggested military action Iraq will be "meaningless" without further action in Syria because Isil does not recognise international borders.
    However, it is likely to be opposed by a significant number of MPs amid concerns it would be illegal and that Syrian air defence systems could shoot British aircraft down.
    Downing Street said that Britain also reserves the right to carry out rescue operations in the "event that British personnel require assistance", raising the prospect of the involvement of special forces.
    It came as Haider al-Abadi, the new Iraqi Prime Minister, warned that Isil is plotting to carry out terrorist attacks on underground railways in Paris and the US.
    In an interview with the House magazine, Mr Fallon said: "John Kerry [the US secretary of state] has estimated two to three years, that looks like a long haul to me.
    "But we have to face up to this. This kind of extremism has been spreading, taking root in democracies. I was really struck at the Nato summit by countries as far apart as Norway and Australia concerned about returning fighters, about the threat from re-importing terrorism.
    "We all have a very direct interest. Britain does above all, we’ve seen already terrorist attacks here, the London Tube, London buses, the murder of Lee Rigby, the attack on Glasgow airport, we’ve already been under attack from this kind of extremism and we have to deal with it."
    It yesterday emerged that one of the United Arab Emirates pilots who has been taking a leading role in the bombing raids in Syria was a woman, Major Mariam al-Mansouri. She is the first female fighter pilot to serve for the UAE.
    It also emerged that one of the Saudi Arabian pilots involved in the air strikes was a member of the royal family, Prince Khaled bin Salman
    In England Anjem Choudary, the radical preacher, was one of nine men arrested by Scotland Yard officers as part of an investigation into Islamist terrorism.
    The motion being voted on by MPs states there is a “clear legal basis that this provides for action in Iraq”, but adds that it does “not endorse air strikes in Syria”.
    James Comey, the director of the FBI, on Thursday became the first official on either side of the Atlantic to claim to have identified Jihadi John.
    "I believe that we have identified him, I’m not going to tell you who I believe it is," he said, according to NPR.
    Asked if he would prioritise capturing the jihadist, he said: “We will do and expend the effort that I think the American people would want us to and expect us to.”
    He refused to say whether the FBI believed the masked man actually carried out the murders of the three Westerners or if they were killed by someone else off-camera.
    Aki Peritz, a former CIA officer who analysed execution videos during the Iraqi insurgency, told The Telegraph that the identification of Jihadi John would help intelligence agencies identify the man's "network of confederates" in the UK.
    "The easy part was identifying the man in black. Now that intelligence services reportedly have a name to match, the hard part will be tracking him down and bringing him to justice," he said.
    "Identifying him will allow both US and UK security services to begin to identify his network of confederates, perhaps finding new links back to the West.
    "He's probably somewhere in Syria right now- since we're now bombing that country, his personal safety is not assured anymore.
    "The importance is not taking out the man in black. It's about shutting down the whole network."


    Apocalypse Now, Iraq Edition

    Author of "Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent" and "We Meant Well"

    Fighting in Iraq Until Hell Freezes Over
    Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com
    I wanted to offer a wry chuckle before we headed into the heavy stuff about Iraq, so I tried to start this article with a suitably ironic formulation. You know, a déjà-vu-all-over-again kinda thing. I even thought about telling you how, in 2011, I contacted a noted author to blurb my book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, and he presciently declined, saying sardonically, “So you're gonna be the one to write the last book on failure in Iraq?”
    I couldn't do any of that. As someone who cares deeply about this country, I find it beyond belief that Washington has again plunged into the swamp of the Sunni-Shia mess in Iraq. A young soldier now deployed as one of the 1,600 non-boots-on-the-ground there might have been eight years old when the 2003 invasion took place. He probably had to ask his dad about it.  After all, less than three years ago, when dad finally came home with his head “held high,” President Obama assured Americans that “we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.” So what happened in the blink of an eye?
    The Sons of Iraq
    Sometimes, when I turn on the TV these days, the sense of seeing once again places in Iraq I'd been overwhelms me. After 22 years as a diplomat with the Department of State, I spent 12 long months in Iraq in 2009-2010 as part of the American occupation. My role was to lead two teams in “reconstructing” the nation. In practice, that meant paying for schools that would never be completed, setting up pastry shops on streets without water or electricity, and conducting endless propaganda events on Washington-generated themes of the week (“small business,” “women's empowerment,” “democracy building”).
    We even organized awkward soccer matches, where American taxpayer money was used to coerce reluctant Sunni teams into facing off against hesitant Shia ones in hopes that, somehow, the chaos created by the American invasion could be ameliorated on the playing field. In an afternoon, we definitively failed to reconcile the millennium-old Sunni-Shia divide we had sparked into ethnic-cleansing-style life in 2003-2004, even if the score was carefully stage managed into a tie by the 82nd Airborne soldiers with whom I worked. In 2006, the U.S. brokered the ascension to power of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia politician handpicked to unite Iraq. A bright, shining lie of a plan soon followed. Applying vast amounts of money, Washington’s emissaries created the Sahwa, or Sons of Iraq, a loose grouping of Sunnis anointed as “moderates” who agreed to temporarily stop killing in return for a promised place at the table in the New(er) Iraq. The “political space” for this was to be created by a massive escalation of the American military effort, which gained a particularly marketable name: the surge.
    I was charged with meeting the Sahwa leaders in my area. My job back then was to try to persuade them to stay on board just a little longer, even as they came to realize that they'd been had. Maliki’s Shia government in Baghdad, which was already ignoring American entreaties to be inclusive, was hell-bent on ensuring that there would be no Sunni “sons” in its Iraq.
    False alliances and double-crosses were not unfamiliar to the Sunni warlords I engaged with. Often, our talk -- over endless tiny glasses of sweet, sweet tea stirred with white-hot metal spoons -- shifted from the Shia and the Americans to their great-grandfathers' struggle against the British. Revenge unfolds over generations, they assured me, and memories are long in the Middle East, they warned.
    When I left in 2010, the year before the American military finally departed, the truth on the ground should have been clear enough to anyone with the vision to take it in. Iraq had already been tacitly divided into feuding state-lets controlled by Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds. The Baghdad government had turned into a typical, gleeful third-world kleptocracy fueled by American money, but with a particularly nasty twist: they were also a group of autocrats dedicated to persecuting, marginalizing, degrading, and perhaps one day destroying the country’s Sunni minority.
    U.S. influence was fading fast, leaving the State Department, a small military contingent, various spooks, and contractors hidden behind the walls of the billion-dollar embassy (the largest in the world!) that had been built in a moment of imperial hubris. The foreign power with the most influence over events was by then Iran, the country the Bush administration had once been determined to take down alongside Saddam Hussein as part of the Axis of Evil.
    The Grandsons of Iraq
    The staggering costs of all this -- $25 billion to train the Iraqi Army, $60 billion for the reconstruction-that-wasn’t, $2 trillion for the overall war, almost 4,500 Americans dead and more than 32,000 wounded, and an Iraqi death toll of more than 190,000 (though some estimates go as high as a million) -- can now be measured against the results. The nine-year attempt to create an American client state in Iraq failed, tragically and completely. The proof of that is on today's front pages.
    According to the crudest possible calculation, we spent blood and got no oil. Instead, America's war of terror resulted in the dissolution of a Middle Eastern post-Cold War stasis that, curiously enough, had been held together by Iraq’s previous autocratic ruler Saddam Hussein. We released a hornet’s nest of Islamic fervor, sectarianism, fundamentalism, and pan-nationalism. Islamic terror groups grew stronger and more diffuse by the year. That horrible lightning over the Middle East that’s left American foreign policy in such an ugly glare will last into our grandchildren's days. There should have been so many futures. Now, there will be so few as the dead accumulate in the ruins of our hubris. That is all that we won.
    Under a new president, elected in 2008 in part on his promise to end American military involvement in Iraq, Washington’s strategy morphed into the more media-palatable mantra of “no boots on the ground.” Instead, backed by aggressive intel and the “surgical” application of drone strikes and other kinds of air power, U.S. covert ops were to link up with the “moderate” elements in Islamic governments or among the rebels opposing them -- depending on whether Washington was opting to support a thug government or thug fighters.
    The results? Chaos in Libya, highlighted by the flow of advanced weaponry from the arsenals of the dead autocrat Muammar Gaddafi across the Middle East and significant parts of Africa, chaos in Yemen, chaos in Syria, chaos in Somalia, chaos in Kenya, chaos in South Sudan, and, of course, chaos in Iraq.
    And then came the Islamic State (IS) and the new “caliphate,” the child born of a neglectful occupation and an autocratic Shia government out to put the Sunnis in their place once and for all. And suddenly we were heading back into Iraq. What, in August 2014, was initially promoted as a limited humanitarian effort to save the Yazidis, a small religious sect that no one in Washington or anywhere else in this country had previously heard of, quickly morphed into those 1,600 American troops back on the ground in Iraq and American planes in the skies from Kurdistan in the north to south of Baghdad. The Yazidis were either abandoned, or saved, or just not needed anymore. Who knows and who, by then, cared?  They had, after all, served their purpose handsomely as the casus belli of this war. Their agony at least had a horrific reality, unlike the supposed attack in the Gulf of Tonkin that propelled a widening war in Vietnam in 1964 or the nonexistent Iraqi WMDs that were the excuse for the invasion of 2003.
    The newest Iraq war features Special Operations “trainers,” air strikes against IS fighters using American weapons abandoned by the Iraqi Army (now evidently to be resupplied by Washington), U.S. aircraft taking to the skies from inside Iraq as well as a carrier in the Persian Gulf and possibly elsewhere, and an air war across the border into Syria.
    It Takes a Lot of Turning Points To Go In a Circle
    The truth on the ground these days is tragically familiar: an Iraq even more divided into feuding state-lets; a Baghdad government kleptocracy about to be reinvigorated by free-flowing American money; and a new Shia prime minister being issued the same 2003-2011 to-do list by Washington: mollify the Sunnis, unify Iraq, and make it snappy. The State Department still stays hidden behind the walls of that billion-dollar embassy. More money will be spent to train the collapsed Iraqi military. Iran remains the foreign power with the most influence over events.
    One odd difference should be noted, however: in the last Iraq war, the Iranians sponsored and directed attacks by Shia militias against American occupation forces (and me); now, its special operatives and combat advisors fight side-by-side with those same Shia militias under the cover of American air power. You want real boots on the ground? Iranian forces are already there. It’s certainly an example of how politics makes strange bedfellows, but also of what happens when you assemble your “strategy” on the run.
    Obama hardly can be blamed for all of this, but he’s done his part to make it worse -- and worse it will surely get as his administration once again assumes ownership of the Sunni-Shia fight. The “new” unity plan that will fail follows the pattern of the one that did fail in 2007: use American military force to create a political space for “reconciliation” between once-burned, twice-shy Sunnis and a compromise Shia government that American money tries to nudge into an agreement against Iran's wishes. Perhaps whatever new Sunni organization is pasted together, however briefly, by American representatives should be called the Grandsons of Iraq.
    Just to add to the general eeriness factor, the key people in charge of putting Washington’s plans into effect are distinctly familiar faces. Brett McGurk, who served in key Iraq policy positions throughout the Bush and Obama administrations, is again the point man as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran. McGurk was once called the “Maliki whisperer” for his closeness to the former prime minister. The current American ambassador, Robert Stephen Beecroft, was deputy chief of mission, the number two at the Baghdad embassy, back in 2011. Diplomatically, another faux coalition of the (remarkably un)willing is being assembled. And the pundits demanding war in a feverish hysteria in Washington are all familiar names, mostly leftovers from the glory days of the 2003 invasion.
    Lloyd Austin, the general overseeing America’s new military effort, oversaw the 2011 retreat. General John Allen, brought out of military retirement to coordinate the new war in the region -- he had recently been a civilian advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry -- was deputy commander in Iraq's Anbar province during the surge. Also on the U.S. side, the mercenary security contractors are back, even as President Obama cites, without a hint of irony, the ancient 2002 congressional authorization to invade Iraq he opposed as candidate Obama as one of his legal justifications for this year's war. The Iranians, too, have the same military commander on the ground in Iraq, Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps's Quds Force. Small world. Suleimani also helps direct Hezbollah operations inside Syria.
    Even the aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf launching air strikes, the USS George H.W. Bush, is fittingly named after the president who first got us deep into Iraq almost a quarter century ago. Just consider that for a moment: we have been in Iraq so long that we now have an aircraft carrier named after the president who launched the adventure.
    On a 36-month schedule for “destroying” ISIS, the president is already ceding his war to the next president, as was done to him by George W. Bush. That next president may well be Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state as Iraq War 2.0 sputtered to its conclusion. Notably, it was her husband whose administration kept the original Iraq War of 1990-1991 alive via no-fly zones and sanctions. Call that a pedigree of sorts when it comes to fighting in Iraq until hell freezes over.
    If there is a summary lesson here, perhaps it’s that there is evidently no hole that can't be dug deeper. How could it be more obvious, after more than two decades of empty declarations of victory in Iraq, that genuine "success," however defined, is impossible? The only way to win is not to play. Otherwise, you’re just a sucker at the geopolitical equivalent of a carnival ringtoss game with a fist full of quarters to trade for a cheap stuffed animal.
    Apocalypse Then -- And Now
    America’s wars in the Middle East exist in a hallucinatory space where reality is of little import, so if you think you heard all this before, between 2003 and 2010, you did. But for those of us of a certain age, the echoes go back much further. I recently joined a discussion on Dutch television where former Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra made a telling slip of the tongue. As we spoke about ISIS, Hoekstra insisted that the U.S. needed to deny them “sanctuary in Cambodia.” He quickly corrected himself to say “Syria,” but the point was made.
    We've been here before, as the failures of American policy and strategy in Vietnam metastasized into war in Cambodia and Laos to deny sanctuary to North Vietnamese forces. As with ISIS, we were told that they were barbarians who sought to impose an evil philosophy across an entire region. They, too, famously needed to be fought “over there” to prevent them from attacking us here. We didn't say “the Homeland” back then, but you get the picture.
    As the similarities with Vietnam are telling, so is the difference. When the reality of America's failure in Vietnam finally became so clear that there was no one left to lie to, America's war there ended and the troops came home. They never went back. America is now fighting the Iraq War for the third time, somehow madly expecting different results, while guaranteeing only failure. To paraphrase a young John Kerry, himself back from Vietnam, who'll be the last to die for that endless mistake? It seems as if it will be many years before we know.
    Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during the Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. A Tom Dispatch regular, he writes about current events at his blog, We Meant Well. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent.
    Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me.



    WASHINGTON, Sept 23 — The Pentagon announced that the United States and five Arab partner nations launched a series of airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria for the first time early today.
    The Arab nations that participated to the strikes are: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, CNN reported.
    According to NBC News, manned and unmanned air assets were deployed to carry out the strikes, including F-22s, F-16s, F-15s, and F/A-18s, B-1 bombers.
    Ships in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea were also employed. The aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush is currently in the Persian Gulf while the guided missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke is in the Red Sea.
    The bombing began at approximately 3.30am today Syrian time. According to ABC, up to 20 locations were targeted in and around the Syrian city of Raqqa.
    Among the targets were fuel and weapons depots, training sites, troop encampments, as well as the Islamic State headquarters, NBC News reported.
    The strikes are part of a military campaign authorised by the Obama administration nearly two weeks ago to neutralize the Islamic State, after the Sunni extremist group killed thousands of people in Syria and Iraq and carried out the savage beheadings of two American journalists and a British aid worker. — Reuters


    Lapo Pistelli: ‘The more we spend on Ebola, the less we will spend in the future’ 0


    Brussels – On the 22nd and 23rd of September, EU Health Ministers will gather for an informal meeting in Milan, during which a session will be devoted to discuss EU measures deployed to fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The European Commission has already announced 150 million euros of aid devoted to the crisis, and funding pledged by the Member States amounts to a total of 78 million. Afronline.org spoke to Italian Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lapo Pistelli, on Italy’s response to the crisis.
    Mr. Pistelli, how is Italy fighting against Ebola in Sierra Leone at the moment?     
    Italy’s presence in Sierra Leone is not a recent phenomenon. Our organisations have been working there on a steady basis for several years. The main ones are Medici con l’Africa Cuamm, Emergency and the Italian branch of Médecins Sans Frontières. We also tackle different aspects of the virus: some of our NGOs focus on treating Ebola-infected cases, others on spreading awareness in society, and some work on issues of containment in regions far away from the centre. We aim to provide one hundred treatment units by the end of this month. Our level of activity should also increase, as the Italian budget will disburse an additional four million euros before the end of the year. The more we spend now, the less we will spend in the future.
    Today you are gathered here in Brussels to coordinate this aid with other Member States. What are the main decisions you have made so far?
    There will be an informal meeting in Milan next week where our health minister will wrap up today’s discussions. It appears the issues are twofold. First we need to create strong advocacy within Member States in order to raise money to fight the virus – as I said, the more we spend now the less we will spend in the future. Secondly we must be prepared for the treatment of potential Ebola cases in Europe. This does not simply involve a medical team or doctors, but requires efficient coordination between the various assets single Member States have already put in place. In this regard, I am happy to say Italy is one of the best equipped, but we need to consider every single member and their contribution to the whole system. Over the next fifteen days, we hope to establish a common framework of action that adds value to the individual assets provided by Member States. The informal meeting in Milan next week will be crucial.
    By Joshua Massarenti – Afronline.org
    Photo credit: Salvatore Contino



    “The time has come for a religious revolution”, said the Muslim academic Taj Hargey, director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford, born and raised in South Africa. He is the mind behind the Open Mosque inaugurated today in Cape Town, where women-imam are allowed to lead prayers, Shiites kneel alongside Sunnis and non-Muslims, and gay worshippers are welcome.
    The mosque was inaugurated on the Muslim Friday day of prayer in the Wynberg area, despite protests from the local Islamic Council on “integrity” and “purity”. “We have a theological mafia that controls the Muslim community”, said Hargey, “coloured”, one of seven sons of a supermarket clerk and an illiterate mother. He is no stranger to fighting, first against the apartheid regime and then against conservative and intollerant interpretations of Islam. “In South Africa and the world we need places of worship that reflect the XXI century and not baseless uthopias and dogma”, he insists.
    Hargey described his mosque as a necessary “religious revolution”, especially in the Islamic world, following on from the political revolution twenty years ago.
    The source remains obviously the Koran, rejecting restrictive interpretations, such as in respect to the role of women. “This idea of female invisibility is an innovation that came after Muhammad, unfortunately it has become entrenched”, he said.”This idea of female invisibility is an innovation that came after Muhammad, unfortunately it has become entrenched,” he said. Already today his mosque was Open to men and women, bearded or not, black, white and coloured, who were all able to pray together. Without distincion among Shiites and Sunnis, who also in the small community of South Africa (2%) they are a majority.
    On what he described as a “great day”, Hargey chose a sermon focused on inter-faith relations. “Chapter 5 verse 82 of the Koran says: ‘You will find the most cordial friends among worshippers (Muslims) are those who say: «We are Christians!’”. A citation in response also to ptotesters against the inauguration who also threw a molotov bomb against the mosque entrance. In his sermon Hargey condemned the increasing hatred in the world between Muslims and Christians.
    He blamed this on “warped theology” that gives rise to “fanatical” groups like “the Islamic State, al Shabab or Boko Haram, to which we say: you are criminals, you do not represent Muslims and betray the teachings of the Koran”. [VG/BO]
    © 2014 MISNA - Missionary International Service News Agency Srl - All Right Reserved.

    Bahrain court releases Mariam Al Khawaja


    Dubai: Bahrain’s high criminal court on Thursday ordered the release of Mariam Al Khawaja, a statement from the interior ministry said. “In accordance with an order from the high criminal court, Mariam Abdul Hadi Al Khawaja was released dependent on a guarantee of her place of residence,” the statement said. “A ban has been imposed on her travel.” According to the brief statement, the lawyer of the accused requested her release after she was arrested on charges of assaulting a female officer and a policewoman at Bahrain International Airport on August 30.


    Kosovo Arrests Several Imams in Push to Stem Flow of Islamic Fighters



    At least nine imams were among 15 people arrested in Kosovo on Wednesday in the second major operation in weeks to try to stem the flow of young ethnic Albanians joining Islamist fighters in Iraq and Syria.
    A police source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the 15 faced charges including “terrorism, threatening the constitutional order, incitement and religious hate speech.”
    In the last such operation on Aug. 11, 40 people were arrested on suspicion of fighting in Iraq and Syria or recruiting insurgents.
    Police said among the imams arrested was an influential Muslim cleric from the Grand Mosque in the capital Pristina. Another was the leader of an Islamic-rooted political party.
    “The majority of those arrested are imams of different mosques belonging to the Islamic Community of Kosovo,” police spokesperson Baki Kelani said.
    Most of Kosovo's 1.8 million people are ethnic Albanian Muslims and lead largely secular lives.
    But video of police officers arresting imams may fuel anger among the Islamic faithful in Kosovo and raise questions about religious freedoms. The officers wore black masks to protect their identities in case of reprisals.
    Radicalization fears
    A spokesman for the Islamic Community, that hires and pays imams, said: “No one is above the law and if there is proof that our employees have threatened the constitutional order, then everyone is equal before the law.”
    Fears of a creeping radicalization among their Muslim communities are stirring in other Balkan countries - such as Serbia and Bosnia - with dozens of their citizens also known to have joined Islamist fighters in the Middle East.
    Intelligence officials in Kosovo believe between 100 and 200 Kosovars are fighting in Iraq and Syria, where Islamic State militants have seized swaths of land, drawing U.S. air strikes. At least 20 are reported to have been killed in the past year.
    Landlocked and impoverished, Kosovo won independence from Serbia in 2008, almost a decade after a U.S.-led NATO air war drove out Serbian forces accused of killing and expelling Albanian civilians during a counter-insurgency campaign.
    The United States ambassador in Kosovo, Tracey Jacobson, tweeted: “Once again I commend Kosovo on its proactive approach against foreign fighters and extremism.”

    Ebola outbreak: Health team 'found dead' in Guinea


    Officials in Guinea searching for a team of health workers and journalists who went missing while trying to raise awareness of Ebola have found several bodies.
    A spokesman for Guinea's government said the bodies included those of three journalists in the team.
    They went missing after being attacked on Tuesday in a village near the southern city of Nzerekore.
    More than 2,600 people have now died from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
    It is the world's worst outbreak of the deadly disease, with officials warning that more than 20,000 people could ultimately be infected.
    West African media divided on response to Ebola
    The three doctors and three journalists disappeared after being pelted with stones by residents when they arrived in the village of Wome - near where the Ebola outbreak was first recorded.
    One of the journalists managed to escape and told reporters that she could hear the villagers looking for them while she was hiding.
    A government delegation, led by the health minister, had been dispatched to the region but they were unable to reach the village by road because a main bridge had been blocked.
    'Killed in cold blood'
    On Thursday night, government spokesman Albert Damantang Camara said eight bodies had been found, including those of three journalists.
    He said they had been recovered from the septic tank of a primary school in the village, adding that the victims had been "killed in cold blood by the villagers".
    The reason for the killings is unclear, but correspondents say many people in the region distrust health officials and have refused to co-operate with authorities, fearing that a diagnosis means certain death.
    Last month, riots erupted in the area of Guinea where the health team went missing after rumours that medics who were disinfecting a market were contaminating people.
    Map of Guinea showing the capital Conakry and the southern city of Nzerekore - 18 September 2014
    Speaking on Thursday, President Francois Hollande said France was setting up a military hospital in Guinea as part of his country's efforts to support the West African nations affected by the outbreak.
    He said the hospital was a sign that France's contribution was not just financial, adding that it would be in "the forests of Guinea, in the heart of the outbreak".
    Speaking on Thursday, President Francois Hollande said France was setting up a military hospital in Guinea as part of his country's efforts to support the West African nations affected by the outbreak.
    He said the hospital was a sign that France's contribution was not just financial, adding that it would be in "the forests of Guinea, in the heart of the outbreak".
    The World Health Organisation said on Thursday that more than 700 new cases of Ebola have emerged in West Africa in just a week, showing that the outbreak was accelerating.
    It said there had been more than 5,300 cases in total and that half of those were recorded in the past three weeks.
    The epidemic has struck Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria and Senegal.
    A three-day lockdown is starting in Sierra Leone at 00:00 GMT in a bid to stop the disease spreading.
    Ebola virus disease (EVD)
    • Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
    • Spread by body fluids, such as blood and saliva
    • Current outbreak has mortality rate of about 55%
    • Incubation period is two to 21 days
    • There is no proven vaccine or cure
    Press divided on response to Ebola
    Ebola: Mapping the outbreak
    How bad can it get?
    'Biological war': A week on the Ebola frontline


    Strikes in Iraq, Syria expected under new war plan


    WASHINGTON (AP) -- As U.S. forces gear up for airstrikes in Syria, the first demonstration of President Barack Obama's more aggressive military campaign against the Islamic State group is likely to unfold first in Iraq as early as next week, officials say.
    In Syria, U.S. planes and drones will be gathering intelligence on targets and air defense threats in preparation for airstrikes there. At the same time, a wider range of targets - perhaps including Islamic State leaders - are expected to come under attack in Iraq.
    U.S. warplanes have launched 158 strikes in Iraq over the past five weeks while emphasizing a relatively narrow set of targets. The focus has been Obama's initial goal of defending U.S. personnel, protecting critical infrastructure such as major dams and enabling humanitarian relief operations.
    New strikes Friday destroyed two Islamic State armed vehicles in an effort to support Iraqi troops near the Mosul Dam and in defense of Irbil, the military's U.S. Central Command said.
    More U.S. troops, along with additional intelligence-gathering aircraft, are expected to arrive in northern Iraq next week. That will enable an expanded surveillance effort over Syria by a range of aircraft, including Predator and Reaper drones as well as Navy EA-18G electronic warfare planes that are capable of jamming air defense radars and striking ground targets.
    Without citing a specific timeline, the Pentagon's press secretary, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, said the air campaign in Iraq, which began Aug. 8, will enter a new, more aggressive phase designed to exploit the Islamic State group's vulnerabilities, which include a lack of effective defenses against U.S. warplanes.
    "In coming days we're going to be more aggressive and shift a focus from what has been to date primarily defensive in nature to more offensive in nature," he said. He suggested that this will include strikes at Islamic State leaders in Iraq.
    "When you are going after a network like this, one of the things that you also want to go after is their ability to command and control and to lead their forces," Kirby said.
    The aim is not to destroy the Islamic State forces in Iraq by air power alone, but rather to erode their capabilities and limit their freedom of movement so that Iraqi ground forces can regain control of territory they lost in recent months.
    One of the risks being weighed by Obama and his military commanders as they prepare to extend the airstrikes into Syria is that country's air defenses, which have been described as formidable. They are less prominent, however, in the more desolate eastern stretches of Syria where U.S. warplanes are likely to fly.
    Kirby declined to discuss the air defense threat in detail.
    "Generally speaking, the eastern part of the country is more desolate, more remote, less critical infrastructure there than in the western part of the country, so, generally speaking, one would assume that most of their air defense systems are based around the west and around major facilities and major cities," he said.
    But, he said, air defense systems can be moved and thus must be monitored.
    "As we plan and prepare for the possibility of conducting airstrikes across that border, we're obviously factoring in every possible contingency that we can," he said.
    The Obama administration has sought to portray the president's strategy, as outlined in his speech Wednesday, as more than a military campaign. It says regional and international diplomacy are equally important. And it has been careful to distinguish this effort from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Pressed on whether the United States was engaging in a new war, White House press secretary Josh Earnest argued that it was the Islamic State group that was waging war on the world and that the U.S. was leading a coalition to ultimately destroy it.
    "What you can conclude from this is the United States is at war with ISIL in the same way that we are at war with al-Qaida and its al-Qaida affiliates all around the globe," Earnest said, using an acronym for the Islamic State.
    A key element of the Obama strategy is developing a viable opposition force inside Syria that can not only exploit gains created by U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State but also advance the U.S. goal of ousting Syrian President Bashar Assad. A first step in that direction is a Pentagon plan for training and arming Syrian rebels - a project Saudi Arabia has agreed to host on its territory.
    Kirby said the Pentagon foresees training more than 5,000 Syrian rebels in Saudi Arabia over the coming year. He said it would be "a number of months" before that effort would start, in part because prospective Syrian rebels must be vetted in advance to ensure their reliability as a U.S. partner in Syria.
    Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

    Kerry meets Saudi and Bahraini officials


    Jeddah, Saudi Arabia -
    US Secretary of State John Kerry is in Saudi Arabia to try to pin down Middle Eastern allies on what support they will give to worldwide efforts to beat back the Islamic State militant group that has seized large swathes of Iraq and Syria.
    Kerry arrived in the Red Sea city of Jeddah on Thursday and held talks with his Saudi and Bahraini counterparts.
    He is expected to meet later in the day with officials from across the Gulf Arab region as well as envoys from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey to press his case for greater regional support.
    The US already has launched more than 150 airstrikes against militants in Iraq over the past month, and has sent military advisers and millions of dollars in humanitarian aid. - Sapa-AP


    Obama to reveal Isis strategy – but pledges 'no Iraq war'


  • The Guardian,

  • perhmerga
    Barack Obama will soon announce his plan to tackle Isis, which may include sending more support to Kurdish peshmerga troops fighting Isis in Iraq. Photograph: Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters
    Barack Obama will announce a new US "game plan" for an offensive against Islamic State (Isis) this week, the US president said on Sunday as efforts to build an international coalition against the extremists made progress.
    The US president – who had been derided for saying last month he did not have a strategy to contend with Isis – said he would seek congressional support on Tuesday and then "describe what our game plan's going to be" in a speech on Wednesday.
    "I just want the American people to understand the nature of the threat and how we're going to deal with it and to have confidence that we'll be able to deal with it," the president told NBC's Meet the Press programme, broadcast on Sunday. "The next phase is now to start going on some offence."
    The US said on Sunday it had carried out five strikes on an Isis patrol threatening the Haditha damIraq's second biggest hydroelectric facility.
    On the same day, the Arab League called on members to support international efforts against Isis, with its head, Nabil Elaraby, calling on member states to confront it both militarily and politically.
    It is unclear whether Elaraby's appeal, made at a foreign ministers' meeting in Cairo, will succeed in galvanising Arab state support for a US-led coalition against the Islamists. Arab governments have been reluctant to take an active role for fear of becoming targets of the new wave of violent jihadism that has swept through Syria and Iraq.
    A so-called "core coalition" of 10 countries to tackle Isis announced at last week's Nato summit in Wales by the US secretary of state, John Kerry, had no Arab members and included only one Muslim state, Turkey.
    Obama went out of his way to stress that the new offensive would not represent the unravelling of his most prized foreign policy achievement, the extrication of his country from costly and bloody wars abroad, reiterating his administration's pledge that it would not send ground troops to either Iraq or Syria, where Isis controls a large swath of territory.
    "This is not the equivalent of the Iraq war," he said. "What this is similar to is the kinds of counter-terrorism campaigns that we've been engaging in consistently over the last five, six, seven years.
    "We are going to be a part of an international coalition, carrying out air strikes in support of work on the ground by Iraqi troops, Kurdish troops," he said, adding that increased US military commitment was inevitable in the face of the looming menace. Obama said that there was no intelligence suggesting an imminent Isis threat to the US homeland, but he pointed out that the group, which has publicly murdered two American journalists, has attracted foreign fighters from western nations who could travel to the US "unimpeded" and eventually pose a threat.
    David Cameron will brief MPs on the outcome of the Nato summit before a full-day debate on Wednesday which will give MPs a chance to discuss but not vote on any specific form of military action. Ministers are keen to see if there is support for action against Isis in Syria as well as in Iraq.
    The government is increasingly confident that a broad-based new government will be formed in Baghdad this week, and hopes that this will encourage the Sunni population in Iraq to support efforts to tackle Isis in Sunni-held areas.
    Britain will not join the US in carrying out air strikes against Isis until the formation of a government in Baghdad, a meeting of the UN security council and further practical expressions of Arab support for attacking Isis.
    The outgoing head of the British army, General Sir Peter Wall, said Britain should not rush into military action. He told the Telegraph that the government must be cautious because it has little idea of the capabilities and strengths of the organisation.
    A key element of Obama's US strategy will be to build a regional alliance to contain and ultimately reverse the spread of Isis. Kerry spoke to Elaraby by telephone before the weekend meeting of Arab foreign ministers.
    The Arab League chief said it was necessary for its members to take a "clear and firm decision for a comprehensive confrontation" of what he described as "cancerous and terrorist" groups.
    "What is happening in Iraq, and the presence of an armed terrorist group that not only challenges the state authority but its very existence and that of other countries … is one of the examples of the challenges that are violently shaking the Arab world, and one the Arab League, regrettably, has not been able to confront," he said.
    Kerry is also expected to head a US delegation travelling to the Middle East this week to rally support. He is hoping to enlist countries in the region before a meeting of the UN security council hosted by Obama in the week of 22 September in New York.
    Iraq has welcomed greater US military involvement, but the Obama administration has been keen to emphasise that its offensive against Isis does not amount to tacit support for the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. Rather, the US sees the spearhead of its campaign against Isis in Syria as another wing of the anti-Assad opposition, the Free Syrian Army, which America is helping to train and equip. However, Obama's remarks made it clear that the US priority in Syria now was taking on Isis rather than the regime.
    "Our attitude towards Assad continues to be that through his actions, through using chemical weapons on his own people, dropping barrel bombs that killed innocent children, that he has foregone legitimacy," the president said. "But when it comes to our policy and the coalition that we're putting together, our focus specifically is on [Isis]."
    "I will reserve the right to always protect the American people and go after folks who are trying to hurt us wherever they are.
    "But in terms of controlling territory, we're going to have to develop a moderate Sunni opposition that can control territory and that we can work with," he said. "The notion that the United States should be putting boots on the ground, I think would be a profound mistake. And I want to be very clear and very explicit about that."