Abducted Israeli teens found dead near Hebron


The three Israeli teenagers who were abducted earlier this month in the West Bank have been found dead.
An Israeli military spokesman said their bodies were found in a pit near the town of Halhul, north of Hebron.
Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar, both aged 16, and 19-year-old Eyal Yifrach were last seen at a junction near Hebron as they hitchhiked home.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas was responsible, a claim the Palestinian militant group has denied.
At the start of a meeting of the Israeli security cabinet, Mr Netanyahu said the three were "kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by animals" and promised: "Hamas will pay".
But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told the AFP news agency that any action to punish the movement would "open the gates of hell".

Analysis: Yolande Knell, BBC News, Jerusalem
This site where the teenagers' bodies were found is just 10 minutes' drive from where the young Israelis were last seen two-and-a-half weeks ago.
Halhul is a turnoff from Route 60 - a busy road connecting the southern West Bank with Jerusalem. I watched Israeli soldiers operate a roadblock at this junction in the first days of their search.
Israeli officials accuse the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas of killing the young Israelis. There are now calls for the group to be "eradicated".
These deaths are a tragedy for the families of the Israeli students, but they could also have deep political implications.
Israel's Shin Bet security service earlier said the main suspects in the case were two men named Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisheh and that they were "Hamas operatives".
Forensic teams were in the area and searches were continuing in an effort to capture "all those involved in this attack", it added.
Israeli security forces have set up blockades and closed down whole areas around Halhul, which is just a few kilometres from where the teenagers were last seen.
Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett wrote on Facebook: "Murderers of children and those who direct them cannot be forgiven. Now is a time for actions, not words."
Israeli President Shimon Peres said the "whole nation is in deep grief". "Amid our deep sorrow, we remain determined to fiercely punish the criminal terrorists," he added.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has called an emergency meeting of the Palestinian leadership to discuss the teenagers' deaths.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said: "We obviously condemn in the strongest possible terms violence that takes the lives of innocent civilians," AP reports. Naftali Frenkel held dual Israeli-American citizenship.
The abduction of the three Jewish seminary students on 12 June sparked a huge search operation in Palestinian towns and cities across the West Bank.
More than 400 Palestinians have been arrested, while five have been killed in fighting with Israeli troops.
Earlier, there were reports of clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians in the Halhul area.
The case has put serious strain on relations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Mr Netanyahu has said the incident is a consequence of "the partnership" between Hamas and the Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The two signed a reconciliation deal in April after years of division and formed a unity government earlier this month.


Libyan human rights activist Salwa Bughaighis killed


A prominent Libyan human rights lawyer and activist has been assassinated in her home in Benghazi.
Armed men fought their way into the house of Salwa Bughaighis before shooting her.
Ms Bughaighis was an outspoken critic of many of the armed groups, which still control much of Libya.
Her husband Issam has disappeared, and relatives believe he has been kidnapped.
The killing is the latest in a string of attacks on politicians, activists and journalists who have spoken out against the actions of certain militias.
Ms Bughaighis was killed hours after she had cast her vote in Libya's parliamentary elections.
A medical source at a Benghazi hospital confirmed she died of a gunshot wound to the head.
An eyewitness has said she was attacked by five armed men, four of whom were masked.
Analysis: Rana Jawad, BBC News, Tripoli
It is not just Salwa Bughaighis' family and friends who are mourning her but many across Libya.
In 2011, in the early days of the uprising against Col Gaddafi, she was one of the few who kept me up-to-date on the deadly crackdown on protestors.
She and other lawyers and activists braved the streets to protest against the heavy-handed response. She was most recently heavily involved in moves to set up a National Dialogue to discuss Libya's many problems.
As a civil and woman's rights activist, she would not mince her words - often speaking bluntly about the dangers posed by Islamist groups and the failures since Gaddafi was ousted. As a lawyer, she frequently spoke of the urgent need for the rule of law.
Those who knew her and worked with her have also been reflecting on the wider context of Benghazi's continuous killings that have so far gone unpunished. One tribute reads: "What now? Does she become just another poster to carry? Another name lost? Another death that we owe a debt to?"
She gave a live TV interview just a couple of hours before being killed.
The BBC's Rana Jawad in Tripoli says there was a battle raging outside and the crackle of gunfire could be heard during the interview. Despite this, Ms Bughaighis was urging Benghazi residents to go out and vote.
She had also been a strong critic of Muammar Gaddafi and joined some of the first protests against him in 2011.
She later became an adviser to Libya's National Transitional Council which governed the country during and directly after the uprising. She leaves behind three sons.
The US Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones said the killing was "heartbreaking".
She described the killing as a "cowardly, despicable, shameful act against a courageous woman and true Libyan patriot".
Earlier this week a candidate standing in parliamentary elections in the southern city of Sabha was assassinated, local media reported.
Libya has suffered from instability and violence since the downfall of Gaddafi in 2011.
The government has struggled to disarm the various armed groups that remained from the war.


Bahrain court acquits opposition leader Khalil Marzook


A leading Bahraini Shia opposition figure has been cleared of all charges at a closely-watched trial in Manama.
Khalil Marzook, assistant secretary general of Wefaq, was accused of "inciting terrorism" and supporting a youth movement blamed for many attacks.
Mr Marzook was arrested in September after giving a speech at a rally.
He was released on bail the following month, after the opposition boycotted national dialogue talks in protest at his detention and the lack of progress.
The government formally suspended the dialogue in January and it has not since reconvened.
However, earlier this month the information minister said meetings between government and opposition representatives were continuing.
'Rare good news'
Mr Marzook was acquitted on Wednesday following a brief hearing. As he left the court building, he told journalists that he expected a travel ban put in place after he was charged to be lifted.

Start Quote

My innocence was inevitable from day one”
End Quote Khalil Marzook Assistant Secretary General, Wefaq
"My innocence was inevitable from day one," he said. "The political process has to develop and become effective for us to lead Bahrain to the shores of safety through negotiations and a comprehensive process that serves the interests of all the citizens of Bahrain."
The prosecution had accused Mr Marzook of exploiting his position at Wefaq to "call for crimes that are considered terrorist acts under the law".
It alleged that in his speech to a rally in the village of Saar on 6 September, he had openly supported the February 14 Coalition, a youth protest movement that the authorities have designated a terrorist organisation and blamed for a series of bombings and other attacks.
However, Human Rights Watch said it had seen a video of the speech and that Mr Marzook had not promoted violence at any point. It quoted him as saying: "We can only support a movement as long as it is peaceful. We transparently declare: the dividing line for us is violence."
However, at the end of the speech, a masked man handed Mr Marzook a flag that appeared to bear the emblem of the coalition, which he then held for 45 seconds, Human Rights Watch said.
Mr Marzook is a former deputy speaker of parliament who resigned along with other Wefaq MPs when the government launched a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in February 2011.
The protesters were demanding more rights and an end to discrimination against the majority Shia community by the Sunni royal family.
Brian Dooley, the director of the US-based campaign group Human Rights First, welcomed Mr Marzook's acquittal as a "rare piece of good news from Bahrain".
"Marzook needs to be out of jail to be part of a negotiated settlement to Bahrain's crisis. But so do other political leaders still in prison. If real dialogue is ever to begin it will have to include opposition figures beyond Wefaq," he said in a statement.


Bahrain: Award-Winning Photographers Targeted


(Beirut) – Authorities in Bahrain are arbitrarily detaining photographers who have covered protests and convicting them in unfair trials. Four award-winning Bahraini photographers are either in jail or facing criminal charges in what appears to be part of a policy that violates photographers’ right to freedom of expression.

On June 22, 2014, Hussain Hubail, who won a 2013 award for his photographs of anti-government protests, will appeal a five-year sentence for taking part in an “illegal gathering” and inciting hatred of the government. On June 25, Ahmed Humaidan, who also took award-winning photos of protests and recently won the 2014 John Aubochon Press Freedom Award, will appeal a 10-year sentence for allegedly attacking a police station. Family members told Human Rights Watch that both were mistreated in pre-trial detention.

“The images that Ahmed Humaidan and Hussain Hubail captured portray a reality that the Bahraini government would prefer that the world – and other Bahrainis – not see,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “Throwing photographers in jail isn’t going to keep either the protests or the accounts of what happens in Bahrain out of the world’s sight.”

Authorities have targeted two other award-winning photographers in the last year, and two videographers are also in detention. Other photographers have told Human Rights Watch that security forces targeted them because of their profession and then subjected them to serious mistreatment in custody. The appeal courts should ensure that any allegations that the photographers were tortured in detention are properly investigated and throw out evidence secured by torture, Human Rights Watch said.

Ahmed al-Fardan, a photojournalist whose photograph of protests in Bahrain won first prize in Freedom House’s “Images of Repression and Freedom” competition in April 2013, faces charges of participating in an “illegal gathering” on December 16, 2013, at which 60 people allegedly attacked police vehicles.

Security forces arrested him in the early hours of December 26. “The first question they asked me was, ‘Where is your camera?’” he told Human Rights Watch. He said that police in civilian clothes confiscated two cameras, hard drives, and flash drives from his room. The police took him to Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) headquarters, where police blindfolded and handcuffed him in a cell known as “the freezer,” because it was kept so cold, he said. CID officers and a public prosecutor asked him about his photography awards during interrogations. His first trial session is scheduled for September 14, 2104.

Plain-clothes officers arrested Sayed Ahmed al-Mousawi, another award-winning photographer, and his brother Mohamed at 5 a.m. on February 10. They did not present a warrant. Their father, who visits his sons every week, told Human Rights Watch that the two did not make contact with the family for six days. He said that Sayed told him then that interrogators humiliated and beat him and that he signed a confession to avoid further physical and psychological punishment.

Al-Mousawi’s father said that police questioned his son about his work as a photographer. Sayed al-Mousawi began by taking pictures of wildlife, but started taking pictures of protests after the anti-government uprising of February 2011. On May 29, 2014, a judge authorized his detention for a further 45 days, although he has yet to be formally charged.

Another professional photographer who requested anonymity told Human Rights Watch that police arrested him and three other men in the aftermath of a funeral in the town of Jidhafs on January 21, 2012, at which he had been taking photos. He said that police took them to an empty building and beat them with sticks and pipes. He claims that his beating was especially severe because he had been seen taking photos of the funeral. “This will teach you not to take photos,” he said one officer told him.

Videographers Jaffar Marhoon and Qassim Aldeen have also been in detention, since December 26, 2013, and August 2, 2013, respectively. It is not clear what charges Marhoon is facing, although his family told a local source that they believe it to be illegal gathering. Aldeen was sentenced to six months in prison in December on a charge of illegal gathering and to three months in January 2014 on another similar charge.

The former head of the photography department of Al Watan newspaper, Abdullah Hassan, told Human Rights Watch that authorities have been targeting photographers because “photographers have played a leading role in challenging the authorities’ version of events” during and since the anti-government protests of 2011. Hassan said he was fired by the pro-government daily in April 2011, along with three other photojournalists, none of whom have been reinstated.

In May 2011, officers at Riffa police station detained Hassan for six days, during which time he was beaten with a hose and interrogated about his work as a photographer. “Why do you take pictures? Where do you publish them?” an officer who identified himself as “high-ranking” asked Hassan, then told him, “you will never find another job.” Police held him for six days without charge, then released him.

On November 3, 2013, Hassan was hired by Al Ayam newspaper but fired four days later. He was told by the newspaper that the firing was on “orders from above.” He said he has not worked as a photographer since. “I still take photos, but not of demonstrations,” he told Human Rights Watch.

A local journalist, who requested anonymity, said that security forces have detained at least 25 photographers or cameramen since 2011, including the five currently in detention and Ahmed Fardan.

Humaidan’s father told Human Rights Watch that plain-clothes police officers arrested his son as he went into a movie theater on December 29, 2012. Humaidan’s lawyer, Fadel al-Sawad, told Human Rights Watch that he did not see his client until January 14, 2013, two weeks later. At Humaidan’s trial, prosecutors offered no proof linking his client to an attack on Sitra police station and refused to divulge in court the source of their information that Humaidan was involved, the lawyer said. On March 26, 2013, Humaidan was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in the alleged attack.

Plain-clothes officers arrested Hubail on July 31, 2013, as he was preparing to board a flight to Dubai. His mother told Human Rights Watch that her son had told her that in the days following his arrest, officers at the CID headquarters blindfolded and handcuffed him behind his back and left him exposed to cold temperatures for long periods of time. He told her he signed a confession under duress. On April 28, 2014, he was sentenced to five years in prison on charges that included using social media networks to “incite hatred of the regime,” calling on people to ignore the law, and calling for illegal demonstrations.

The 2011 Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry documented that authorities arrested and interrogated an unspecified number of media personnel during the events of February and March 2011, and that two journalists died in police or National Security Agency custody. In April 2012, Ahmed Ismail, a videographer, was fatally shot while filming protests in the town of Salmabad. Later that month, authorities deported a Channel 4 film crew, and in April 2013, they deported another film crew from ITV.

Article 32 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights protects the right to freedom of expression. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bahrain has ratified, also protects this right and indicates that the scope of protection covers photography: “[E]veryone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

Trouble in the Village: A Review of Dak’ Art 2014


Dak’ Art 014 is an art exhibition showing over 120 artists of African descent. It opened on 9th May, with a main international showcase at the Village de la Biennale, a television studio along Route de la Rufisque in Dakar’s industrial area.While it is the only art biennale of its scope today with a mandate to include all artists of African descent, a critical tour of the international exhibition at the Village revealed a daunting diversity of artworks, styles and traditions that made one ask questions about what exactly defines contemporary African art, how contemporaneity might be defined amongst artists of African descent at the Dakar biennale, and whether living on or away from the continent of Africa influences the contemporaneity of the art one produces.
While great emphasis was placed on the Village–an ironic title for an international exhibition–where three curators were invited to select artists, respectively, from North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and the diaspora, the biennale had several other “main” events, including an exhibition of guest artists dedicated to cultural diversity at the Musée de l’Ifan, a clearly unfocussed exhibition with selected artworks reflecting no central theme; the African sculpture park. There was also tribute exhibitions to three Senegalese artists: Mamadou Diakhaté, Moustapha Dimé and Mbaye Diop. In addition, an epistemological exhibition titled ‘Green Art’ on the campus of Cheikh Anta Diop University. These latter exhibitions seemed to have a separate, and specific, focus on the local.

Continue reading on Africa is a Country
by Serubiri Moses

An enclave strategy for Iraq


Can Iraq hold together? It’s worth examining what is happening in that country through a broader prism. If you had looked at the Middle East 15 years ago, you would have seen a string of strikingly similar regimes — from Libya and Tunisia in the west to Syria and Iraq in the east. They were all dictatorships. They were all secular, in the sense that they did not derive their legitimacy from religious identity. Historically, they had all been supported by outside powers — first the British and French, then the superpowers — which meant that these rulers worried more about pleasing patrons abroad than currying favor at home. And they had secure borders.
Today, across the region, from Libya to Syria, that structure of authority has collapsed and people are reaching for their older identities — Sunni, Shiite, Kurd. Sectarian groups, often Islamist, have filled the power vacuum, spilling over borders and spreading violence. In Iraq and elsewhere, no amount of U.S. military power can put Humpty Dumpty back together.
There are exceptions. Algeria remains an old-fashioned secular dictatorship. Egypt, perhaps the longest-functioning state in the world, has reasserted the old order by using force. The Gulf monarchies — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates — have withstood the turmoil partly because of greater legitimacy and mostly because of massive patronage systems. And most hopefully, Morocco, Jordan and Tunisia have reformed enough to keep revolutionaries at bay.
The old order was probably unsustainable. It rested on extreme suppression, which was producing extreme opposition movements, and on superpower patronage, which couldn’t last. The countries with significant sectarian divides and in which minority groups ruled — Iraq and Syria — became the most vulnerable.
Let’s be clear. The Iraq war was the crucial trigger, and the U.S. occupation needlessly exacerbated sectarian identities rather than building national ones. But once the old order broke, Iraq’s Shiites, who had been suppressed for decades, in some cases brutally, were not likely to sign up to share power easily with their former tormentors.

Iraqi men brandish their weapons as they show their willingness to join Iraqi security forces in the fight against Jihadist militants who have taken over several northern Iraqi cities on June 19, 2014, in the southern city of Basra. (Haidar Mohammed Ali/AFP/Getty Images)
During and immediately after the surge — 2007-08 — Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki behaved differently. But if it took the danger of civil war, the presence of about 200,000 foreign troops, a particularly skilled American general (David Petraeus) and billions of dollars to force him to make nice for a brief while, it was unlikely to be a long-term arrangement.
It is doubtful that a Shiite government in Baghdad — using an increasingly Shiite army to defend itself — will ever fully regain the allegiance of the Sunnis. The Sunnis have done enough killing to keep the Shiites wary for decades. Washington has urged the Baghdad government to be inclusive. It has hinted that the best outcome would be a new Iraqi government with a broad coalition. That’s true, but it’s also unlikely. Washington needs a Plan B.
Plan B should be an enclave strategy. The United States should recognize that Iraq is turning into a country of enclaves and work to ensure that these regions stay as stable, terrorism-free and open as possible. The Kurdish enclave, bolstered by having captured the vital city of Kirkuk, is already a success story. The Shiite region of the south can be stable. It will be possible to work with countries such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan to influence the Sunni groups in the middle of the country, purging terrorists and empowering moderate Sunnis.
A comparable strategy in Syria would allow groups such as the Kurds and Sunnis to protect their own areas from Bashar al-Assad’s brutality but recognize that they will not be able to topple the regime. There will be places where the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and similar groups gain strength. In those areas, Washington would have to use drones, counterintelligence and occasional Special Operations forces strikes — just as it does in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The world of enclaves already exists. Washington simply has to realize that parts of Iraq are now in it.
The polyglot Middle East has been dying for a while, but it is now on its last legs. Countries rich in minorities, such as Iraq, have seen their Christian populations flee or be massacred. Where minorities remain, communities are segregating themselves.
The United States can’t stop a tidal trend. What it can do is try to limit the fallout, bolster stable countries and zones, support those who believe in reconciliation, and protect itself and its friends.


THE INDEPENDENT: Iraq crisis: Opinion from the experts – what's happened and what's next?


Sir Ming Campbell
Last week, Sir Ming was with The Intelligence security committee, an annual visit to the US where he met with agencies and legislators from both  the Congress and the senate.
“If the Americans were to think that there was some activity or action which was going to directly impinge upon their interests then obviously in these circumstances a military intervention might come up the agenda. But, Obama’s problems are on the left and on the right. The left who were really opposed to military action against Iraq whilst the right are isolationist and for Obama to find any kind of public consensus over military action would be very difficult indeed. He’s got a big election in October and risks losing the senate, in which case his next two years will be total stalemate. Domestic American politics will be as influential as any kind of strategic view.
"Maliki couldn’t get enough MPs to declare a state of emergency so he’s got no authority, or not much and so the questions for the Americans is 'are you going to intervene and support someone who doesn’t have authority and may be gone very shortly.' Not only is your intervention blunted but so too is your credibility. The alternative however is far far worse, I can imagine there are a lot of cold towels being wrapped around heads in the both the pentagon, the state department and indeed the White House.There are only bad options and some are worse than others.
"Iraq is an issue that simply refuses to lie down. Here in Britain, the Chilcot inquiry looks as if it is closer to publication, albeit with some restrictions. But for the United States, the problem may be even greater. Only the US has the resources to make any kind of impact on events in Iraq, but I had the clear impression that there was no suggestion of military intervention, although President Malaki has publicly invited the United states to provide air strikes. The American position still appears to be that all options are on the table but that doesn’t cover for finding it difficult to reach any clear view on what should be done. As of now, all the options in relation to Iraq are poor and some of them are even worse. The survival of the Malaki government must be in considerable doubt and for the American ,it would be deeply damaging if they were to support a government which may well be on the way out.
"There is one wild card which is the close relationship between Iran and the Shia-led government in Iraq which might prompt Tehran to consider giving genuine military assistance, but that of itself would raise further problems for the US.
"The reality is that the United Kingdom is not in any position to take independent action but the Americans would no doubt like to believe that they would have at least political support from the UK for any action which they might take, but I’m convinced that the extent of any action would be the supply of equipment and weapons, possibly intelligence but the probability of American air strikes is very low indeed.
Isis have got the winds in their sails but we just don’t have enough assets. If the Americans do anything, they always want to think that we’re with them. In any event, I couldn’t see any party or combination of parties agreeing to anything, look what happened over Syria. If Maliki can’t  stabilize this to the extent that the army will even take Isis on then they’ll be toast."

Joseph Willits
Joseph Willits works for the Council for British-Arab Understanding (Caabu).
"Death and destruction have been normalised in Iraq. The international community has forgotten and failed Iraq. Even the events of the last few days have not stirred the moral obligation the West has towards Iraq. If an Isis takeover cannot propel Iraq’s breakdown into the British political consciousness, then what can?
"We should not try to diminish what has happened with the Isis takeovers of Mosul and Tikrit as anything but war. This is not a crisis, an uprising or an incursion, rather a full scale war. It has largely gone unnoticed that before al-Qa'ida inspired splinter group Isis made these significant advances, nearly 1,100 people had been killed in violence in Iraq in May 2014 alone – the figure for the whole of 2014 has now risen beyond 4,500. Yet Iraq remains a political non-issue.
"Iraq has become a by-word for failure, disenchantment, exploitation and shame; failed by Iraqis, regional players and the international community alike. From the sceptre of the 2003 invasion and the anticipation of the continually delayed Chilcot inquiry, the seriousness of Iraq’s problems have been consistently avoided and deliberately forgotten. The power vacuum inside Iraq, worsened by Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s sectarian regime, is further intensified by an international community that abdicates responsibility. Despite the invasion and the devastating implications of it, Iraq shame is a convenient excuse for inaction, a useful state of being for political establishments to wash their hands of a bloody mess. Western military intervention would be a clumsy reflex reaction to a war that has long been forgotten. Military action is not the only mechanism to counter years of Iraq neglect. It would also endorse a Maliki administration that has fed off sectarianism and neglected Iraq’s Sunnis and other major constituencies.
"A political solution of all regional players, that includes Iran, is urgently needed. All of Iraq’s representatives must be supported by the international community to achieve a solution not influenced by sectarianism. International assistance of any form must be dependent on guarantees of an inclusive pluralistic approach to politics in Iraq that respects the needs and aspirations of all communities rather than one grouping.
"As predicted, simultaneous chants of 'I told you so' versus 'it was the right thing to do' with regards to the 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, are dominating the British political debate. One thing is certain, the hundreds of thousands who have fled Mosul to Kurdistan in recent days, and those in the midst of their country imploding, won’t be engaging in this very British way of discussing Iraq."

Hayder al-Khoei
Hayder al-Khoei is an associate fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House and researcher at the Centre for Academic Shi’a Studies in London.
"The West cannot afford to allow the democratic process and territorial integrity of Iraq to collapse at the hands of thousands of extremist jihadists hell-bent on destroying the country.
"Extremist jihadists – mainly belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq al-Sham, a group too extreme even for al-Qa'ida – have made a series of spectacular assaults on a number of cities in Iraq’s Sunni heartland.
"There has been little to no will from the Shia-dominated armed forces to fight back in areas that they were not welcome in. Conversely, Iraq’s Sunni Arab community in the north effectively welcomed the jihadists with open arms.
"Whilst the West must continue to press the Iraqi government to make serious reforms to stop the systematic abuses being carried out across the country, it should also provide Baghdad with immediate counter-insurgency relief to turn the tide against the extremist jihadists. Isis must not be allowed to consolidate their gains or expand any further.
"Whilst Americans in Washington are scratching their heads, the Iranians are already on the ground helping to boost the morale of Iraqi forces preparing to confront the terrorists. Whatever differences Iran and America may have across the Middle East, Isis is a common enemy and Iraq is uniquely placed as a country where their interests can, and should, converge.
"The West can play a constructive role in bringing Iraq’s different communities together to negotiate a political settlement. However, jihadists who have a twisted interpretation of Islam can play no part in this. Nor can fascist Baathists who want a return to the pre-2003 order.
"If the West does nothing, more and more ordinary Iraqis – not organized armed groups and militias – will start picking up their weapons to defend themselves and their communities. As we have already seen before in Iraq, this will drag the country down a path that few people want to go.
"Iraq is not Syria. There is already a democratic process in place and the overwhelming majority of its people have no desire to see the state collapse. It is far from perfect but the political process needs to be strengthened - not weakened - by the international community.
"If the West doesn’t have the stomach for military intervention in Iraq it could do the entire region a favour by putting more pressure on its allies, especially Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, to stop the endless supply of funds that terrorist groups receive from these countries."

RT Hon Ann Clwyd
Ann Clwyd is the MP for Cynon Valley and served as special envoy to Iraq on human rights 2003-10.
"On Sunday, along with five colleagues from the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, I was due to head off to Iraqi Kurdistan. We are in the middle of writing a report on the relationship between the UK and Kurdish Regional Government. It looks as though we might have to rewrite our terms of reference!
"Prime Minister Maliki should have got his act together after the election but he didn’t. He now needs to get key actors in place. The head of the Army has cleared off. There is no head of administration. Mr Maliki seems to be fulfilling all functions!
"The US and UK have in practice disengaged from Iraq. They took their eyes off the ball. At least now they should give the Iraqi Government help to protect key strategic areas such as damns, oil fields, and help police the borders. Immediate humanitarian aid is needed for those 500,000 refugees and more who have fled cities like Mosul is essential. It is extremely hot in Iraq right now and whole families with the very young and very old need help.
"Yesterday, I met with women MPs form all over the world who have been discussing violence against women in war. Already we hear women are being raped and threatened with Sharia law by the Isis terrorists in Iraq. The UK invested human lives and much money in liberating Iraq from Saddam. We have a continuing responsibility to help the people of Iraq rebuild."
Frank Ledwidge
Frank Ledwidge, a writer and barrister, commanded a small unit in Iraq tasked with looking for Weapons of Mass Destruction. Has appeared as a TV commentator military affairs.
"After the fiasco in Iraq, the slow motion car-crash of Helmand and the anarchy of ‘free’ Libya, it is clear even to retired generals peeping from behind their defence consultancies to opine on Iraq that military  ‘intervention’ (i.e. invading, bombing) in civil war does not end well. 
"Besides, there is more than enough military power in Iraq to deal, at least temporarily, with the rag-tag Isis militias; and let’s be clear that’s what Isisis- ragtag. The trouble is that the military power concerned is not the very well-equipped Iraqi Army (the one we trained).  Rather it is the Kurdish Pershmerga and our former enemies the Shi’a militias.  The effectiveness of an Iraqi Army of course, or lack of it, is reflective of the viability of Iraq itself- and it is concerning the viability of Iraq that the difficult decisions will need to be made.
"The ‘West’ could have a real positive effect on the Middle East.  This would require understanding that a lasting solution may be radical, including some redrawing of the borders we imposed nearly a century ago and some concessions to adversaries.  In an ideal world with a confident, realistic and strong western understanding of its long-term objectives, potential and indeed limits- in other words a strategy- there would be negotiations moving towards a grand settlement. This must include Iran, the Kurds, Syria, Russia and, unfortunately, the grotesque gaggle of Western armed and sustained monarchies on the Arabian peninsula who bankroll Isis and their like.
"Unfortunately in this, the real world there is no strategy, no vision from the ‘West’. Instead we are entirely beholden to a United States foreign policy driven more by its own domestic politics than any concern for the continuing suffering of the people of the region into whose affairs the US, with its supine cohorts, regularly intrudes.  We can expect more years of chaos before there is a realization that deep and lasting political initiatives will be required to bring it to a halt. "

Gareth Stansfield
Gareth Stansfield is al-Qasimi Professor of Gulf Studies at University of Exeter. Lived and worked in pre-regime Iraq, and served as a Senior Political Adviser to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).
"The situation in Iraq today is unprecedented. Even at the height of the civil war of 2006-8, the integrity of Iraq was not threatened, nor was the legitimacy of the Iraqi state itself. Now, with a vast swathe of territory under the control of Isis, from Mosul to the Sunni Arab dominated towns north of Baghdad and to the west around Fallujah, and with the Kurds in the north advancing into Kirkuk to bring previously disputed territories into their autonomous region, Iraq has been divided into three clear zones of control: the Kurdish-dominated north; the Sunni Arab areas between Baghdad and Mosul, dominated by the jihadist Isis with their pre-2003 Ba’thist allies from the regime and former elite military units (including the Special Republican Guard); and Shi’a-dominated Iraq stretching from Baghdad to Basra in the south.
"Baghdad is now threatened by Isis in its bid to remove what it sees as the domination of the Shi’a and their Iranian supporters, although the ultimate, stated, aim of the leader of ISIS, Ibrahim al-Badri (otherwise known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, or Abu Dua) is to destroy the Shi’a holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, and who is to say that the strategically minded ISIS leader would not be minded to attack the southern oil-rich governorates via Anbar, thus bypassing the heavily populated areas of Baghdad and the mid-Euphrates?
"In the north, the Kurds have moved quickly and firmly not only to protect their border from Isis, but to bring in the oil-rich disputed regions of Kirkuk under their control. With the Kurds now in full control of the three oil-producing domes of Kirkuk, and the entirety of the Kirkuk oil and gas infrastructure, with Kurdish peshmerga and security flooding into the region, the resolution of the disputed territories – which has for so many years been such a dangerous issue in Iraq – has seemingly been resolved by a straightforward military occupation at a time of Baghdad’s incapacitation. This new reality will prove to be durable, and it should be expected that Erbil will continue to advance its bilateral oil sales to Turkey, making the Kurdistan Region an independent state in all but name.
"In this situation, the UK has very few, if any, levers to pull. With little political clout to use in Baghdad, and with no military forces of any size anywhere near the theatre, even if the UK government were minded to intervene, the options to do so in any meaningful, interventionist, way are non-existent. Rather, the UK now needs to engage in the speculative world of horizon-scanning – getting a sense of who the new actors, stakeholders, and interests will be going forward, perhaps in a ‘post-Iraq’ setting. Indeed, even if the integrity of Iraq is maintained, it now seems clear that power, in all of its forms, will now be very much regionalized to those best placed to project it – to the Kurds in the north, whatever manifestation of an ISIS regime may emerge in the ‘Jazeera’ region, and whichever stakeholders emerge from among the Shi’a in Baghdad, the holy cities, and Basra. This is a new and unpredictable world, but one in which the old rules of the game – of working directly with Baghdad in the vain attempt to uphold Iraq’s territorial integrity – need to be radically rethought."

Fawaz A Gerges
Fawaz A Gerges holds the Emirates Chair in Contemporary Middle Eastern Studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is author of several books, including 'The New Middle East: Social Protest and Revolution in the Arab World'.
"Far from a surprise, the current crisis in Iraq has been in the making for years. At the very heart of the fierce struggle raging in the war-torn country is a broken political system, one  based on muhasasa or distribution of power along communal, ethnic and tribal lines, and put in place after the US invaded and occupied the country in 2003.
"Although the US bears responsibility for Iraq’s current predicament, the post-Saddam Hussein ruling group is as responsible, if not more so. After eight years in office and monopolizing power,
"Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has delivered neither reconciliation nor security and prosperity. Under his watch, a sectarian and ideological rift has deepened and widened, particularly with Sunnis Arabs who feel excluded and disfranchised by what they view as al-Maliki’s sectarian-based policies.
"It is no wonder then that al-Qa'ida factions — or the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (Greater Syria) known by its Arabic acronym, “Daish” — has revived and found shelter and even hadaneh shabiyaa or social base among dissatisfied Sunnis. Daish or Isis is a manifestation of a spreading Arab Sunni (tribal) insurgency against al-Maliki’s sectarian authoritarianism.    
"In the long-term, the most effective means to deny Isis its power base is to bridge the deep rift in Iraqi society by establishing an inclusive national unity government. There is an urgent need to reconstruct the dysfunctional political and social system along new lines of citizenship and the rule of law as opposed to dividing the spoils among Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Sunni Kurds. Neither reconciliation nor institution building would occur without a new social contract.
"A small force of few thousands militants, Isis’ strength stems more from the state’s impotence than its own fighting capabilities. In contrast, the Iraqi security forces which number hundreds of thousands are riven with corruption and lack professionalism, command-and-control and unifying national ideology. Isis’ surge shows in stark terms the failure of state building in Iraq.
"While in the short term, efforts by Iraq and its regional and international allies must focus on stopping the bleeding of the state forces, as well as Isis military advance, the challenge facing Iraqis revolves around the restructuring of their institutions and reconciling with one another."

Zenonas Tziarras
Zenonas Tziarras is a PhD candidate and teaching assistant in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick, and expert on foreign policy and conflict analysis .
"The unfolding situation in Iraq is at least partly a product of the 2003 US-led invasion, which opened up the “Pandora’s Box” of the region’s sectarian divisions. In addition, it is a result of Western tactical and strategic miscalculations with regard to Syria’s civil war. Although the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis), formerly the Islamic State of Iraq, emerged from within Iraq, it was reinforced and empowered by Western and regional pro-Western (e.g. Turkish) “corridors” of humanitarian, logistical, and other support in Syria. Thus it has been serving as a Western proxy against the Syrian regime.
"Now, both the West and its regional allies are eager to contain what they have helped grow. A real Islamist threat which advances rapidly in Iraq and Syria and can very well challenge the regional balance of power, threaten Western interests in the region, as well as shake global economy and energy security.
"In this context, United Kingdom, as one of the leading powers that were involved in Iraq, is expected to have a say in how the West (the US in particular) will try to manage the crisis. However, its decisions are not expected to diverge from but rather remain in coordination with the U.S. line of action.
"Among other options, the US and UK can consider limited involvement with air support and targeted air strikes against Isis – as Baghdad has requested – as well as direct or indirect (through regional allies) logistical, military support to the Iraqi government. The deployment of ground forces is not an option. Another is the direct or indirect support of Iran which is expected to play a big role in helping Baghdad – after all, US and Iran have been on a reconciliation track for a while. One of the best options might be the (parallel) support of Iraqi Kurdish forces (Peshmerga) – one of the best military forces currently in Iraq.
"These are plausible and not mutually exclusive scenarios. To be sure, the stakes are too high for the US, the West, as well as for actors such as Turkey, Iran, Israel and even Russia. Therefore, they must not and will not stay indifferent."

Dr Glen Rangwala
Dr Rangwala is a lecturer at the University of Cambridge, an expert on Middle East politics especially the Levant, political debate, state-building processes and international law in politics.
"In the areas taken over so far by Isis, the hold and legitimacy of the Iraqi government has been weak, almost non-existent, since the civil war wound down in 2008. What Isis have done is brought the various local truces to an end: political groups in Mosul, Tikrit and Diyala province have had to choose between Isis and the return of the Iraqi army, and it’s instructive to see that many of them have chosen to side with the militants rather than a government they see as externally-imposed and fundamentally malign.
"The challenge for external actors is not to make a terrible situation even worse. Direct military action may provoke a wider Isis-led alliance, in which one part of Iraq’s population is radicalised even further. Support to Iraq’s government would need to be tied to building a more inclusive, more accountable body, one that all of Iraq’s population can see as legitimate. In the wake of the recent national elections, the potential for a broad-based coalition to form is there.
"One major role is in humanitarian assistance. It’s been largely unsung, but Britain’s help to Syria’s refugees has been extensive and well-focused. It has helped preserve political stability in Jordan and Lebanon, and saved many lives. A similar approach is needed in Iraq.
"There is another flashpoint waiting in the wings. Kurdish forces have now fully taken over the divided city of Kirkuk. It’s the first time in 90 years that the Kurdish parties have sole political and military control over the city, which they see as their historic capital, their ‘Jerusalem’. They will not be willing to leave. It cannot but provoke a reaction, and become a rallying cry for its Arab population. The long-promised referendum on Kirkuk’s status has been delayed for seven years. External mediation may be necessary to prevent the long-standing grievances over disputed areas between the autonomous Kurdish region and the rest of Iraq from drawing the Kurdish forces into a protracted three-way conflict.

Rodney Wilson
Rodney Wilson is a retired professor (retired) in the School of Government and International Affairs at Durham Uni, expert in Islamic economics and finance.
"My view is that the United Kingdom should not get involved in Iraq again. Public opinion would not stand it, and it would further antagonise British Muslims. Getting involved would be more of a threat to British security than doing nothing. Furthermore, as in Syria, there is no 'good' side in Iraq. The government of Iraq is totally corrupt and it supports sectarian discrimination.
"William Hague should discuss the situation with other EU foreign ministers, in particular what can be done about the European jihadists, including British nationals, who are fighting with the rebels. They need to be identified so that when they return to the United Kingdom and other EU countries they can be monitored, and if necessary charges brought against them through the legal system.
"The other priority for the Foreign Office should be protecting British nationals who are legitimately in Iraq for business or family reasons. If the situation deteriorates further there should be plans in place to ensure the safe evacuation of all British citizens who wish to leave.   "

Louise Fawcett
Louise Fawcett is Associate Professor of Politics at Oxford, and author of books and articles on the Middle East.
"It is all too easy to forget that the departure of foreign troops from Iraq only a year or so ago, was accompanied by a chorus of ‘never again’s.  The high cost of the war was uppermost in everyone’s minds as was the sense that the decision to fight had been ill-judged.  Investigations into the legality of the war continue.   It is perhaps unsurprising therefore that we have been caught ‘napping’, to coin a phrase that is already popular among commentaries on the current events.  Nobody wanted another intervention in Iraq and the default position was to hope for the best and therefore ignore some quite hard facts on the ground about the fast unraveling security situation.  This hoping for the best, has now given way quickly to fearing the worst in the light of the Isis advance and the apparent debility (and this has surprised many) of the Iraqi army. 
"What to do now? There are two starkly opposing options: to learn from the past and stay out.  Getting things badly wrong in Iraq once was enough; we are unlikely to do better the next time.  This has been the lesson of repeated interventions in the Middle East and should never be forgotten.  Action should be therefore be restricted to moral suasion, humanitarian assistance and support of a non-military kind.  On the other hand, if, as other voices argue, we left Iraq too early and bear a burden of guilt for so doing, do we not then have a responsibility to act to prevent further slaughter and contain unrest? Is the moral imperative of action more compelling? To this second option, the very real and present danger of getting things wrong again remains. It is important here to recall the increasing criticism and doubts expressed as to the capabilities of the current Iraqi regime headed by President Maliki; the fears of a more strident authoritarianism, coupled with, for the West and its allies, the anxiety presented by the perceived growth of Shi’a influence in the region.  Further Iraq is not alone in presenting a vision of uncertainty and turmoil in the region.  There are other Iraqs.  Any policy taken on Iraq today will have immediate repercussions and implications for the wider region, which is already facing immense challenges, not least in Syria.  The longstanding and extensive external penetration of the region has not hitherto yielded good outcomes; there is little reason to believe that these can be corrected by a further act of military intervention."

Colonel Richard Kemp
Colonol Richard Kemp served in Iraq 2005 and headed Iraq assessments team for the Joint Intelligence Committee 2004-2006.
"The current dire situation in Iraq became inevitable when the leaders of Britain and the United States abandoned the country with indecent haste, their decisions dominated by electoral rather than strategic considerations. Left entirely to their own devices the Iraqi army discarded the Coalition counter-insurgency techniques that had isolated insurgents and brought violence down to record lows.
"Al-Qa'ida extremists remained intent on fomenting civil war in Iraq. The Army’s heavy-handed tactics combined with Al Maliki’s political and economic policies served to alienate the Sunni minority. This played right into al-Qa'ida’s hands, leading to a progressive upsurge of violence since the US left in 2011. The opportunities presented by civil war in Syria gave even more power to al-Qa'ida’s elbow in Iraq.
"Iraqi forces in the north of the country, where al-Qa'ida have achieved their bloody successes in recent days, were largely demoralized Sunni troops whose loyalty to the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad proved insufficiently strong to make them stand and fight.
"The al-Qa'ida offensive seems to have been blunted by a combination of stronger Shia-dominated forces and the formidable Kurdish Peshmerga, who are now preparing an offensive to re-take lost territory. This may eventually contain the current flare-up but it will only be a temporary and partial fix.
"US air power is needed to pulverize al-Qa'ida in Iraq as it has done in the Pakistan tribal areas. But air power cannot be used in isolation. Western intelligence networks need to be re-established and special forces deployed to deal with targets that cannot be hit from the air. Military advisers need to be re-attached to Iraqi forces to coordinate their actions with Western strike operations, and to encourage them to re-adopt the successful counter-insurgency strategy abandoned when the US left.
"All of this is no doubt unpalatable to President Obama who has already ruled out deployment of ground troops. It is equally unpalatable to our own Prime Minister who did not have the stomach for any meaningful reaction to Syrian use of chemical weapons.
"But there are other alternatives. The first is to stand by and watch as Iraq descends into bloody civil war in which al-Qa'ida consolidates its position across Iraq as well as Syria, and from which it can present an increasing threat to Western interests in the region and beyond. The second is to yield ever more influence in Iraq to the destabilizing forces of Iran and Russia. According to rumour, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Force troops have already been sent by Iran to the aid of their ally Al Maliki as they were sent to the aid of their Syrian ally Al Assad."
Colonel Lieutenant Richard Williams
Colonel Richard Williams led the SAS during the Iraq war in undercover operations.
"We need to know a lot more. It’s a bit disappointing that we know so little but that reflects the fact that our intelligence optics has not been over this part of Iraq in ways that it used to be, because it’s been diverted elsewhere. We really don’t know very much and that’s surprising considering what Edward Snowden’s told us. The reality is that we only know where we look and for some reason we weren’t looking here.
"Angelina Jolie and friends demanded that drones and other capabilities went in to loom for the schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria but that’s not a threat to the United Kingdom and the United States, this potentially is. If the threshold of drones deployed to Nigeria were if Angelina Jolie asked for it, then I think we’re probably beyond the threshold now of deploying drones and other things into the region to improve our ability to understand what’s happening.
"This is not something we can just leave the Iraqis to solve. I doubt very much that Baghdad is going to fall… We probably don’t need to do anything really quickly to stabilize the situation  and so it’s probably better that we sit and understand it a bit and then enable a much more precise targeting of (Isis leader) al-Baghdadi and his friends, which hopefully is combined with the type of political outreach that Malaki should be doing should start to stabilize things. It certainly isn’t (because they very rarely make a positive difference), the deployment of conventional forces, the army etc into the region because they just provide targets. It’ll be, counter terrorist advisory services into the area which will involve discreet elements of our armoury, American armoury and anyone else who wants to get involved who thinks it’s important.
"As long as Iraq doesn’t collapse and becomes run by al-Baghdadi, which isn’t going to happen, we can afford to take a bit of time. The only problem with taking time is, is if there’s a vacuum because we’re not going there and having serious engagement with Malaki and the only people he can turn to is the Iranians for his salvation, that might not be the perfect solution. We’ve probably got to move very quickly to engage with Malaki, offer him real alternatives to simply turning to the republican guard in Iran for protection.
"We crippled al-Qa'ida in Iraq from 2005-10 but it took that amount of time. It required a sustained effort.
"We’ve got to be very robust. al-Baghdadi’s ambition is to not just set up a caliphate that attacks the Middle East but attacks us. Lee Rigby x1000 or whatever it is, that’s what they’re trying to do. You don’t need to invade the country and have thousands of troops die and have a very unpopular war and then the Chilcots afterwards to do something about that, but what you can’t do is let it slide. What you’ve got to do as a government is very clearly state to the country, 'we are going to assist the Iraqis in suppressing al-Qa'ida within western Iraq in ways that free the Sunni population and in ways to secure the United Kingdom” because you’re going to have a link what happens in Iraq and what happens here. With respect to al-Qa'ida, inaction has generally been punished. Actions have had consequences but the consequences are arguably, and I suppose the jury is out on this, less than inaction.
"There was an impression that the Iraqis believed and that the world believed that people under Abu Musab al-Zarkawi are some kind of super men, the Ghengis Khan of this world that have an absolute authority and control over a population by political argument, it’s not the case, it was by intimidation and you’ve got to smash that and everything else collapses. There’s a slight difficulty as Syria is alongside. If the local Sunni had to make a deal with al-Baghdadi because they’re so pissed off with Malaki, there’s nothing else they can do, you’re going to have to prove that al-Baghdadi isn’t as strong as he is and you’re going to have to offer something good.
"You’re not going to solve this in a couple of months with a couple of drone strikes. This is going to be, like a lot of the Middle East which is effectively a failed region, this is going to be ongoing business for a long time, like what’s happening in Ukraine, it’s going to be going on for years, so we shouldn’t expect quick results.
"This is a question of constant relentless pressure to produce a political outcome that is sustainable, but that constant relentless pressure could last for years. We’ve got to get involved in it so we know what’s going on because it is a direct threat to the UK. Al-Qa'ida guys, British passport holders or whoever it is are going to come wheeling back here with their version of post-traumatic stress disorder and other general disturbances, are going to be chopping the heads off people here in the UK, I know that sounds alarming but we’ve seen it before and it’s likely to happen again. So we’ve got to be involved for that reason, we’re not occupying anything, we’re going into Basra or Helmand and telling the locals to accept our version of government, that’s not what we’re doing, this is the nature of conflict of our generation and you’ve got to decide which conflict you get involved with and which you don’t and it all comes down to you rather selfishly working out what’s in the national interest.
"The reason we are sending people to Iraq is to support the government, contain the situation because if the situation escalates, it will because it’s al-Qa'ida connected, threaten the UK directly, but our interests abroad and our interests in the Middle East.
"People don’t want there to be conflict, people don’t want people to be killed and all that other stuff but unfortunately it will happen if you do nothing.
"We’ve got to get the country out of its thinking where it’s 'if we go, we’re going to have a Helmand with RAF Brize Norton and Help for Heroes and all that, or we’re going to have a Basra with dead RMP’s'. The answer is we’re not going to have that, the French didn’t have that in Mali, we didn’t have that in Libya, although that wasn’t a perfect outcome.
"I don’t know if it will come out in Chilcot, but the first British offer to the Americans for their coalition that they were leading to remove Saddam Hussain, were special forces, Naval forces and air forces, and the Americans said 'we’ll take that, we don’t need any army'. The lobby for army involvement didn’t come from military needs in the theatre; it came from the wish for the army to be involved. Actually back in 2003, Britain was very sensibly under the leadership of Tony Blair and his government, trying to do the bare minimum and just imagine if that’s what we’d done, we’d have been in a much better position than we are now, so I’d see us doing the same thing.
"Being cautious is the right thing. We’ve got to be careful because there’s a lot of cynicism but if I was going to be involved in the debate now, I’d say, don’t be cynical about Iraq, our original plan didn’t involve one armoured division in Basra and for some reason that emerged. We needn’t have done what we’ve done so as we go forward, let’s for God’s sake not let the military lobby for involvement for defence structure purposes lead the debate. Let the Foreign Office, let the intelligence services, let the diplomats, let DIFID, work out what we need to do to make sure the country safe and do it. Whatever we do, don’t deploy people from Horse Guards Parade go and be targets in Iraq, it doesn’t work.

Iraq conflict: Iran's Rouhani 'ready to help'


Iran is ready to assist the Iraqi government in its battle against extremist Sunni insurgents, President Hassan Rouhani has said.
But he denied Iran had sent troops into Iraq to help bolster Iraqi government forces' defences.
The insurgents - from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) - have seized the cities of Mosul and Tikrit and are moving closer to Baghdad.
They regard Iraq's Shia majority as "infidels".
Iran has close ties with the Shia-dominated Iraqi leadership which came to power after the toppling of President Saddam Hussein, whose powerbase was the country's Sunni minority.
ISIS is a hardline Islamist militant group that grew during the US-led occupation and is one of several jihadist militias fighting the rule of Bashar al-Assad in neighbouring Syria.
"If the Iraqi government asks us for help, we may provide any assistance the Iraqi nation would like us to provide in the fight against terrorism," said President Rouhani at a news conference to mark the first anniversary of his victory in Shia Iran's presidential election.
"However, the engagement of Iranian forces has not been discussed. Providing help and being engaged in operations are different."
Answering a question from the BBC, he said that so far the Iraqi government had not requested help from Iran.
President Rouhani did not rule out co-operating with Iran's traditional foe the United States in combating ISIS: "We can think about if we see America starts confronting the terrorist groups in Iraq or elsewhere."
According to unnamed sources quoted by both the the Wall Street Journal and CNN, Iran has already sent several elite units of its Revolutionary Guard to help Iraq, but Iranian officials have denied this. More...

Saudi Mers response hobbled by institutional failings


Riyadh/London: When Saudi Arabia announced last week that it had found 113 more cases of the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers), it didn’t just force a rethink of the threat the virus poses, it exposed institutional failings.
Saudi health sources and international virologists said poor communication and a lack of accountability in government departments, besides inadequate oversight have all hindered Saudi Arabia’s battle against the Sars-like virus.
They say it is too soon to tell if reforms introduced by a new acting health minister can overcome what they see as underlying problems.
Some top Saudi health officials say they accept that delays in reporting Mers cases were caused by poor communication between hospitals, laboratories and government departments, but they stress things have improved significantly since the appointment of the new minister in late April.
The health ministry “has put in place measures to ensure best practices of data gathering, reporting [and] transparency are strictly observed”, it says, adding that the corrective measures seek “to ensure that, from now on, case information will be accurate, reliable and timely”.
The vast majority of cases of Mers — a viral infection that can cause severe cough, fever and pneumonia — have been reported in Saudi Arabia since it was first found in humans two years ago.
International concerns over Saudi Arabia’s handling of the outbreak grew last week when it said it had under-reported cases by a fifth and revised the case numbers to 688 from 575.
People in the kingdom are still becoming infected with the virus and fatalities continue to increase, while sporadic cases have been found outside Saudi Arabia as infected people travel. The worldwide death toll from Mers now stands at more than 313.
International scientists have complained of a lukewarm response from Saudi authorities to offers to help with the scientific research needed to get a handle on the outbreak, and have questioned the quality of data collection and distribution that could help reveal how the disease works.
Tareq Madani, head of the scientific advisory board at the health ministry, said 58 of the 113 cases added last week had been confirmed to have tested positive in government hospitals and laboratories, but the results had simply not been passed on by those institutions to the ministry.
Another 22 cases tested positive at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Jeddah, but duplicate samples were not sent to government laboratories and the institution did not communicate the results to the health ministry, he said.
A spokesperson for King Faisal Specialist Hospital declined to comment further and referred all queries back to the health ministry.
The remaining 33 cases had tested positive in private laboratories but showed as negative in government ones, Madani said.
Madani said he did not believe the under-reporting had been deliberate and he thought a 20 per cent shortfall in reported cases was not unusual in a disease outbreak.
“This can happen anywhere in the world, that 20 per cent of patients may not be reported. This is within the limit. It’s actually less than 20 per cent,” he said.
However, Ian MacKay, an associate professor of clinical virology at Australia’s University of Queensland who has been tracking the Mers outbreak since the virus was first identified in 2012, is sceptical about the notion that it is normal for 20 per cent of cases to go unreported.
“I know of no global scientific norms that define a threshold below which it is normal to under-report cases of any viral cluster, outbreak or epidemic,” he said.
Madani said that, in some cases, patients intermittently shed the virus, so it is not caught in a test. The ministry’s policy, he said, had been to say that if there was a discrepancy between test results, only government laboratory results should stand.
The new acting health minister Adel Faqih has changed that policy, Madani said, and from now on positive tests from any laboratory accredited by the health ministry will count as confirmed cases.
The appointment of Faqih has also led to other changes, Madani said. Authorities have brought in tighter infection procedures in hospitals and are trying to be more transparent about how they are tackling Mers.
“After the change of minister, they involved people more in preventative methods. There were text messages on hand washing, the public has been more involved,” said a Saudi public health expert who had been critical of the ministry earlier this year. He, like some others interviewed for this article, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to comment.
But some international scientists still complain that data published online by Saudi authorities, which includes daily updates on confirmed new infections and deaths in different cities, is not comprehensive enough to allow them to research the disease.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), for example, said it was not clear whether the new cases listed by Saudi authorities met the World Health Organisation’s definition of confirmed cases. The ECDC also noted the absence of detail such as age, gender, residence, probable place of infection and other information.
Madani said the ministry only published information it considered immediately relevant to the public. He said more detailed data, collected on all patients since the first confirmed case in June 2012, could be made available to scientists who wanted it and had already been given to the World Health Organisation.
A spokesperson for the WHO confirmed that the organisation had received detailed information, which it was verifying with Saudi authorities to ensure there was no double counting of cases in the WHO’s global tally.
“We collect extensive data on demographics, location of the patient, their nationality. Then we collect... data in terms of clinical manifestations, complications that happened to the patients while they are in hospital, and the outcome,” Madani said.
Officials also follow up contacts of known Mers cases daily for 14 days, he added, asking patients to stay home in isolation and admitting them to hospital if they show symptoms.


Bahrain rejects UNHRC statement charges


Manama: Bahrain has criticised a statement on the human rights situation in the country read out at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session in Geneva, saying that it didn’t take into account improvements made.
The statement was issued on Tuesday at the 26th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in the Swiss city.
“The delegation attending the session hit back at the Swiss representative who read a joint statement on behalf of a group of European countries, citing a number of allegations regarding the situation of human rights in Bahrain,” the Bahraini delegation said. “While acknowledging the positive steps undertaken by the Government of Bahrain to consolidate human rights, the statement failed to take into account the tangible improvements officially documented in a series of reports issued since the beginning of this year.”
The report said that the countries issuing the statement “welcomed the positive steps taken by the Government of Bahrain in order to improve the human rights situation.”
The statement referred in particular to the establishment of the Office of the Police Ombudsman, the Special Investigation Unit, the Prisoners’ and Detainees’ Rights Commission and the creation of a National Institution for Human Rights.
“We urge these institutions to proactively fulfil their mandate and encourage the Government to uphold the commitment to these institutions and their independence. We also welcome the recent report of the Ministry of Interior Ombudsman,” the statement said.
“We note with satisfaction that a recent visit of the OHCHR took place this year and that public consultations between all stakeholders, including civil society were conducted during the visit. We welcome the fact that the OHCHR was allowed to visit prisons and could support the parliament in the creation of the National Human Rights Commission to be in conformity with Paris Principles,” the statement said.
It added that there was concern about the situation in Bahrain and about cases of violence, harassment and imprisonment, and wanted the government to “appropriately address reports of ill-treatment.”
“We call upon the Government to address these concerns and to expedite the full implementation of the recommendations received from the BICI,” the statement said, referring to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, the international panel set by King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa to look into the dramatic events that unfolded in Bahrain in February and March 2011.
However, the delegation in Geneva rejected the claims and in a counter statement, it cited particularly the report issued in February by the unit in charge of following up the implementation of the BICI recommendations.
“The statement undermines the unrelenting and sincere efforts undertaken by the Kingdom of Bahrain to carry out human rights obligations, whether locally or internationally”, the delegation said, citing Bahrain’s commitment to implement the BICI recommendations and submit, of its own accord, a periodical report on the implementation of the periodical review recommendations.
The delegation said that it “deplored the fact that the joint statement put the chaos perpetrated by terrorists and extremists on par with the commitment of the security forces to utmost self-restraint when dealing with terrorist attacks endangering their lives as well as the lives of citizens and residents.”
“Extremists find in such statements an excuse to continue crisis-mongering and political and security escalation in Bahrain”, the delegation said, urging the UNHRC member countries to ensure the accuracy of their information about the situation in Bahrain before issuing statements that are based on subjective and inaccurate allegations.
It also called on UNHRC member countries to engage a bilateral and multilateral constructive dialogue with Bahrain and “take into account the efforts undertaken by the Government of Bahrain and its diplomatic mission to update them on human rights developments in Bahrain.”
Thee delegation said that it “reiterated Bahrain’s commitment to continue efforts to achieve progress and foster human rights, regardless of the stances of some countries, and despite the terrorist escalation.”


Bahrain: Human Right Violation


Bahrain rejects UNHRC statement charges

Today - 13:13 GMT
Manama: Bahrain has criticised a statement on the human rights situation in the country read out at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session in Geneva, saying that it didn’t take into account improvements made. The statement was issued on Tuesday at the 26th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in the Swiss city. “The delegation attending the session hit back at the...


OHCHR Denounces Bahrain Human Rights Violations

Today - 07:17 GMT
TEHRAN (FNA)- The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) censured the Bahraini regime for human rights violations in the country. On Tuesday, 46 members of the international body expressed deep concern over the Al Khalifa regime’s crackdown on peaceful protesters, press tv reported. The OHCHR also condemned the imprisonment of journalists and anti-regime …


Eritrea 'desolate' - Catholic bishops


Four Eritrean Catholic bishops have published a letter criticising life in the country - a rare move in one of the world's most tightly controlled states.
Although they were careful not to condemn the government directly, correspondents say the letter-writers are taking a huge risk.
The bishops describe the country as "desolate" because so many people had fled or were in prison or the army.
The Eritrean government has not yet commented on the letter.
Many of the migrants who drowned off Lampedusa last year were from Eritrea.
The bishops referred to this, saying: "There is no reason to search for a country of honey if you are in one."
Human rights groups have called Eritrea a "giant prison", with torture widespread.
Amnesty International last year said some 10,000 Eritreans had been imprisoned for political reasons since independence from Ethiopia in 1993. This was denied by the government.
Young men must do national service until the age of 40, prompting an estimated 3,000 to flee the country each month.
Handle detainees 'humanely'
In their 38-page letter written in Tigrinya, the bishops said Eritreans were going to "peaceful countries, to countries of justice, of work, where one expresses himself loudly, a country where one works and earns".
There was no-one left to look after the elderly, they said.
The letter was signed by Bishops Mengsteab Tesfamariam of Asmara, Tomas Osman of Barentu, Kidane Yeabio of Keren and Feqremariam Hagos of Segeneiti.
The bishops pointedly said that "all those who are arrested should first be handled humanely and sympathetically" and then be presented to court for trial.
After the Orthodox, the Roman Catholic Church is the second biggest in Eritrea and correspondents say the bishop of the capital, Asmara, in particular, wields considerable influence in the country.


U.S. Corporate Conflict Minerals Reports “Historic” But Incomplete 0


Washington – For the first time, nearly 1,300 U.S. companies have filed reports on whether the products they manufacture or sell are made with minerals that have bankrolled conflict in the Great Lakes region of central Africa.
Monday was the deadline for the filings, the first concrete results of a provision passed in 2010 by the U.S. Congress aimed at helping to end the long-running civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Yet the law’s regulatory details have since been the target of sustained legal attacks from companies and lobby groups that have warned that fulfilling the reporting requirements would be onerous and even unconstitutional.
By Tuesday, however, it appeared that most companies expected to file a report on the so-called conflict minerals in their supply chains had done so. Those reports are now publicly available through the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the federal regulator tasked with implementing the rule, formally known as Section 1502.
“This is a historic day. Five years ago this issue wasn’t on anyone’s radar, and now consumers can look under the hood of what’s in a product,” Sasha Lezhnev, a senior policy analyst at the Enough Project, a Washington-based watchdog group, told IPS.
“I think many people knew what companies like Apple, Intel or HP had been doing, as they have been pretty proactive on this issue. But no one has known what companies like Walmart or GM [General Motors] have been doing.”
In 2009, the U.N. Security Council formally recognised that revenues from minerals extraction were strengthening multiple armed groups operating in eastern DRC. The electronics industry has been one of the most significant users of these minerals, which include tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold.
Since then, Lezhnev reports, 95 mines in the DRC have been validated as “conflict free”, while two-thirds of the tin, tantalum and tungsten mines in the country’s east have been demilitarised. Gold remains a significant problem, however, and the Enough Project and others are calling for more concerted action in tightening sourcing decisions, particularly from the jewellery industry.
Under the SEC guidelines, companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges must now file annual reports describing their efforts to discern whether their products use conflict minerals and, if so, their plans for stopping this practice. Several thousand U.S. companies have been identified as potentially – and likely unwittingly – selling products containing conflict minerals.
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By Carey L. Biron - Ips Africa 


Lawmakers have said the tiny kingdom is a haven for booze and prostitution, particularly for conservative neighbors


Lawmakers have said the tiny kingdom is a haven for booze and prostitution, particularly for conservative neighbors
In an effort to shed Bahrain’s reputation as the "brothel of the Gulf," the tiny kingdom’s parliament has backed a proposal to ban the sale of alcohol on the grounds that it violates Islam and is linked to prostitution and public debauchery.
The country has already prohibited one- and two-star hotels from serving alcohol and hosting live music events, but parliament now hopes to enact a stronger measure. The proposed law, which would gradually outlaw the sale of alcohol until it is entirely unavailable, will now be taken to the country’s Cabinet for review.
“Drunken men and women, in addition to prostitutes, walk in the early hours of the morning unaware of their actions and not caring if they offend others,” parliament member Hassan Bukhammas, a supporter of the new bill, told Bahrain's Gulf Daily News.
Despite the Islamic state’s current partial restrictions on alcohol sales and consumption, it has garnered a reputation among its neighbors for its relatively permissive rules on booze and its vibrant nightlife, both of which attract tourists from conservative Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
But its parliament has recently asked the Culture Ministry to close down nightclubs and bars in the Juffair neighborhood, Bahrain’s social center. It previously tried to outlaw alcohol sales in 2010, but that proposal was vetoed by the country’s Shura Council, the Islamic body that has final say on new laws.
"I'm sorry to say, but Bahrain has become the brothel of the Gulf, and our people are very upset about it," parliamentarian Adel Maawdah, a supporter of the crackdown, told The Wall Street Journal when the movement to ban alcohol began to pick up steam in 2009. "It's not only the drinking that we oppose, but also what it drags with it: prostitution, corruption, drugs and people-trafficking."
If the new proposal passes, Bahrain would become one of the few countries in the world where the sale of alcohol is banned outright. Some countries with alcohol restrictions – including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – permit alcohol to be served at hotels and in some private residences. Others, like Iran and Pakistan, prohibit only Muslim residents from drinking and selling alcohol.
Despite the restrictions in some countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently found a relatively high rate of alcohol consumption among their residents. In a study released earlier this month, the WHO reported that drinkers in the UAE – excluding tourists but including expatriate residents – consumed almost twice the global average  per year.
Bahrain’s proposal caps a week that has seen conservative cultural norms in Gulf Arab countries clash with practices of the region’s large expatriate population.
In nearby Kuwait on Wednesday, the National Assembly approved a bill to ban two-piece bathing suits for women in public swimming pools and at hotels, according to the Kuwait Times.