by MICHAEL DORSTEWITZ | BIZPAC REVIEW | JANUARY 26, 2015
A British medical student who lived with and gained the trust of Islamic State militants has news for Americans: They’re planning a bigger splash than merely beheading kidnap victims.
“They are full of hate. You can see fire in their eye,” Ahmad Rashidi told NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.” “If you smell like European, they are going to kill you.”
Rashidi said his odyssey began when, at the request of a friend, he traveled from London to Syria in search of the friend’s twin teenage daughters, who had left home to become terrorists’ brides.
Against all odds, Rashidi said, he located one of the girls in the small city of Manbij in northern Iraq. But before he could rescue the girl, he was taken prisoner and tortured, accused of being a spy and a journalist.
“In the first one week, two weeks, it was brutal,” Rashidi told Engel.
Eventually, though, Rashidi, a first-year medical student, said he gained the jihadists’ trust by claiming he was a physician who wanted to join their cause.
He was soon permitted to roam freely through Islamic State facilities, and even log on to one of its computers. That’s how he learned the terrorists aren’t as disconnected from the rest of the world as he’d thought.
Rather than worry about the U.S. bombing campaign, Rashidi said, Islamic State is “happy about it,” because the attention has elevated the group’s status to that of al-Qaida.
“They want to be more better than al-Qaida,” he said. “They want to do something more better than the World Trade Center.”
Rashini was cleared by an Islamic State court on condition he remain in Syria to work for the cause. Instead, he slipped across the border into Turkey.
Taken aback by the fulsome praise the recently deceased King Abdullah has garnered from world leaders, RT has decided to assess whether his record stands up to scrutiny.
The majority of eulogies went beyond the requirements of diplomatic etiquette, while some epithets used by Western politicians made people believe they had stepped through the looking glass. UK Prime Minister David Cameron said the monarch, who died at 90, “strengthened understanding between faiths,” while IMF chief Christine Lagarde called him “a strong advocate of women,” albeit a “discreet” one. And almost all political grandees seemed to agree that the scion of the House of Saud, was – in the words of Tony Blair – “a skillful modernizer,” who “led his country into the future.”
One is invited to do a reality check and examine how far the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques really brought his country into the 21st century.
1. No elections, no parties, no parliament, no dissent
Continuing its consistent decades-long record, Saudi Arabia received the lowest possible marks for civil and political freedoms in the annual Freedom House rankings in 2014. The countries placed alongside it were North Korea, Turkmenistan, and smattering of the most brutal African dictatorships.
The regime’s disregard for any accountability to its people is brazen. There are no national elections, no parties, and no parliament – only a symbolic advisory chamber, known as Majlis al-Shura. Criticism is strictly forbidden: only last year, prominent opposition activist Abd al-Kareem al-Khoder joined hundreds of the country’s political prisoners, when he was sentenced to eight years for demanding the changeover to a constitutional monarchy. Just days before King Abdullah’s death, blogger Raif Badawi was given the first 50 of his 1,000 lashes – for calling for free speech on his blog.
King Abdullah introduced municipal elections upon his official ascension to the throne – as a largely symbolic valve mechanism. At the same time, high-profile petitions demanding greater reform a decade ago landed their authors in prison.
The country’s sizable and restive Shia minority in the east – which led a series of public protests from 2011 onwards – is also systematically starved of political representation, somewhat inevitably, in a country led by a single Sunni family.
2. Equality: Jobs for the Saud boys – all 7,000 of them
The grip of the House of Saud on the country’s levers of power and purse strings would be the envy of any medieval court. More than 7,000 princes bearing that family name are alive – with some experts speculating that the real number of titled family members approaches 30,000. Every single one has to be allocated a job commensurate with his lineage – creating hundreds of sinecures – while conversely, all talented candidates are shut out from key jobs if they do not bear the correct surname.
Saudi Princess Lulwa Khaled Al-Saud (L) (Reuters/Fahad Shadeed)
3. Power transfer: Half Brezhnev-era USSR, half Game of Thrones
Ironically, with such a large pool of descendants to choose from, the House of Saud is crippled by particularly outdated succession laws. Instead of primogeniture – where the title is inherited by the first-born son of the ruler – Saudi Arabia uses agnatic seniority, or the passing of power across to one’s brothers. This means that the 90-year-old Abdullah has been succeeded by 79-year-old half-brother Salman, while Crown Prince Muqrin turns 70 this year.
Underneath the geriatric cadre of leaders, there exists a viper’s nest of intrigue, as the exponentially bigger younger generation plans to stake its claim on the throne, with factions aplenty split among the different branches of the sprawling family. It is not obvious how such a system guarantees the increasing prosperity and stability of a 21st-century state, and King Abdullah did little to reform its basic tenets.
4. Law: Scimitars and whips
It may have become almost an online cliché to compare the legal systems of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic State, but the links between the two are fundamental. Both use the same ultra-conservative Hanbali school of jurisprudence, and many of the IS “judges” are Saudis, due to their familiarity with this concept of justice.
Among the punishments distributed is anything from hands and feet being chopped off for theft, lashes for adultery and other “social” misdemeanors, to beheading, which can be handed down for crimes as varied as sedition, carjacking, sorcery and drug smuggling.
Eighty-seven people are thought to have been beheaded in 2014, which is in line with the national average over the past five years, despite ever-growing external pressure on Saudi Arabia. Only this month, a video emerged online, showing an executioner repeatedly hacking away at the neck of a screaming condemned woman, as people looked on open-mouthed. Unlike solving some of Saudi Arabia’s deep-seated problems, the curtailing of such “justice” would have just required one firm intervention from King Abdullah. It is clear, this was not a priority for him.
5. Human rights: Torture and gavel
There is no legal code in Saudi Arabia, leaving it to individual judges to set the punishment for a crime in accordance with their interpretation of Islamic scriptures. This gives them unlimited power, creating arguably one of the most inconsistent justice systems in the world, in which crimes and punishments are simply made up, leaving the convicts no obvious way to appeal.
In addition, much of the legal process hinges on a “confession” from the defendant, which in turn encourages torture. In practice, the information obtained this way is even less reliable than that received from inmates at Guantanamo, as instead of trying to extract provable data, the torturers are merely demanding admissions of guilt – by all means available.
King Abdullah attempted to rationalize the system, by creating more appeal courts, and introducing a stricter selection of judges. However, he did not question the value of the legal system as a whole, and all judges that have been appointed in the past two decades have been personally approved by him.
6. Women’s rights: Female (non-)drivers
Over the past decade, the battle lines have been drawn on the symbolic issue of women drivers in Saudi Arabia. The Gulf monarchy is the last country in the world, where women are still not allowed to drive.
The issue is not near resolution, and women caught behind the wheel – whether during a symbolic protest, or an ordinary drive – can still end up sentenced to lashings. In fairness, King Abdullah did intervene in at least one case in 2011, to commute a punishment.
But of course, for the majority of Saudi women, driving is the least of their problems.
Many would prefer to be able to leave the house, make a purchase, sign any legal document – in fact perform almost any official action, from agreeing to surgery, to signing up to a class – without the consent of a guardian, either the husband or the father. Yet, even these suffocating measures give only scant impression of the status of Saudi women in a society where even their court testimony is worth half of that of a man.
King Abdullah encouraged more women to go into education, and allocated them a fifth of the seats in his advisory chamber, also allowing them to vote and run in the 2015 municipal elections. As with other reform areas, these are top-down symbolic gestures that have done little to affect most Saudi women, who – outside of warzones – remain some of the most disadvantaged anywhere in the world. Still, Abdullah’s admirers can hope that his first steps will lay the foundation to profound change, not patronizing concessions.
7. Terrorism fight: Friend or foe?
A voluntary $100 million donation to the UN’s counter-terrorism center last year was a show of generosity from Riyadh, but what the Saudis give with one hand, they seem to take away with the other.
According to the diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks in 2010, the US regards Saudi Arabia as the biggest source of Sunni terrorism funding in the world, and a “crucial” piggy-bank for Al-Qaeda and other radical groups. While much of its funding comes from private individuals, their identity is unlikely to have been a secret to King Abdullah, who did nothing to rein in his family members.
In fact, one could be tempted to feel that the House of Saud is only against the “wrong” kind of terrorist – mostly Shia, but also splinter Sunni groups that threaten its hegemony over the region. When the “right” kinds of terrorist – Russia’s Chechen militants, or anti-Assad rebels – appear, then those in Riyadh palaces not only support them with funds, but see them as a legitimate tool for spreading influence and the favored Wahhabi ideology.
Fighters of al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant carry their weapons during a parade at the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, near the border with Turkey January 2, 2014. (Reuters/Yaser Al-Khodor)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is sending the first wave of about 100 US forces to the Middle East in the coming days to train and equip Syrian opposition fighters battling Islamic State militants.
The US troops, mostly special operations forces from the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), will begin arriving in countries outside Syria in the next few days, Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said on Friday.
“They’re going to … take a look at what’s there and prepare for further deployments,” according to Kirby, who last week said several hundred troops from foreign governments were also expected to train the Syrian fighters.
The total number of US troops connected to the mission is expected to reach over 1,000 in the weeks ahead, including about 400 trainers and several hundred support forces.
The exact location of the training sites hasn’t been revealed, but Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have offered to host facilities where American forces could train members of the Syrian opposition, ostensibly to battle elements of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). However, given that the coalition governments have all proven their commitment to removing Syrian President Bashar Assad from power, some observers suspect an ulterior motive in the US-led plans.
In September last year, the United States, together with a loose coalition of Arab states, including Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, opened a bombing campaign in northern Syria against IS fighters. However, at the same time, the US has been reportedly arming members of the Syrian opposition, which has been engaged in a civil war against Assad’s forces.
US airstrikes have assisted Kurdish forces in their effort to liberate the Syrian town of Kobani near the Turkish border. Kirby told reporters that the Kurds now control about 70 percent of the town.
The Pentagon spokesman said Major General Michael Nagata had been appointed to oversee the training mission.
The US-led mission is expected to start as early as March, the Army Times, quoting Defense Department spokeswoman Cmdr. Elissa Smith, reported last week.
In addition to the 400 military specialists, so-called “enabling forces,” which are to serve as a security detail, will also accompany the trainers, Smith said.
The Pentagon, which said it plans to train 5,000 Syrian fighters a year for three years, foresees the first batch of US-trained rebels returning to Syria around the end of the year.
According to the most recent UN statistics, the Syrian conflict has claimed 220,000 lives, placed 12 million people in severe need, left 7.6 million internally displaced, and rendered 3.3 million people refugees.
Iran now controls four capitals in the region: Sana, Baghdad, Damascus, and Beirut. None of Iran’s jawdropping success in the region would have been possible without Obama’s tacit support and sanction. They have postponed “nuke talks” to the point where deadlines mean nothing. Every time Iran misses a deadline, Obama just moves it. And Iranians arm, build and enrich uranium. Whatever the US asks (begs, cajols, suggests) is laughed off. Iran is the world’s number one state sponsor of terror.
“Three Arab capitals have today ended in Iran’s hands and belong to the Islamic Iranian revolution”. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, boasted that Sanaa has now become the fourth Muslim capital that is on its way to joining the Iranian revolution.
Alireza Zakani, a loyalist of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, said that Iran considered the Yemeni revolution to be an extension of its own and that 14 out of 20 provinces would soon come under the control of the Houthis and that they would not stop there:
“Definitely, the Yemeni revolution will be not be confined to Yemen alone. It will extend following its success into Saudi territories. The Yemeni-Saudi vast borders will help expedite its reach into the depth of Saudi land.”
Photo: First satellite images of a new long-range Iranian missile on a launch pad outside Tehran. (Channel 2 screenshot). It’s the first time we have ever seen it in the West. also capable of carrying a conventional or non-conventional warhead “far beyond Europe,” the report added.
U.S. to Award Iran $11.9 Billion Through End of Nuke Talk, By Adam Kredo, Free Beacon, January 22, 2015
The Obama administration on Wednesday paid $490 million in cash assets to Iran and will have released a total of $11.9 billion to the Islamic Republic by the time nuclear talks are scheduled to end in June, according to figures provided by the State Department.
Today’s $490 million release, the third such payment of this amount since Dec. 10, was agreed to by the Obama administration under the parameters of another extension in negotiations over Tehran’s contested nuclear program that was inked in November.
Iran will receive a total of $4.9 billion in unfrozen cash assets via 10 separate payments by the United States through June 22, when talks with Iran are scheduled to end with a final agreement aimed at curbing the country’s nuclear work, according to a State Department official.
Iran received $4.2 billion in similar payments under the 2013 interim agreement with the United States and was then given another $2.8 billion by the Obama administration last year in a bid to keep Iran committed to the talks through November, when negotiators parted ways without reaching an agreement.
Iran will have received a total of $11.9 billion in cash assets by the end of June if current releases continue on pace as scheduled.
The release of this money has drawn outrage from some Republican lawmakers who filed legislation last year to prevent the release of cash due to a lack of restrictions on how Iran can spend the money.
These cash payments by the United States have been made with no strings attached, prompting concerns that Iran could use the funds to finance its worldwide terror operations, which include the financial backing of Hamas, Hezbollah, and other rogue entities.
Senators—including Mark Kirk (R., Ill.), Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.), and John Cornyn (R., Texas)—sought last year to put a hold on the cash infusions until the White House could certify that Iran was not using the money to support terrorism.
Kirk, who is preparing to offer legislation that would tighten sanctions on Iran, said that the ongoing payments could help Iran fuel its terror empire well into the near future.
“Between November 2014 and July 2015, the interim deal’s direct forms of sanctions relief will allow Iran access to roughly $4.9 billion in frozen money,” Kirk told the Washington Free Beacon “That’s equal to what it’d cost Iran to fund Hezbollah for as much as 50 years.”
The Pentagon estimates Iran has spent $100 to $200 million per year funding Hezbollah.
Entities likely to receive support from Iran include the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, the legislation suggests.
When final negotiations between the United States and Iran failed in November, negotiators decided once more to extend the talks through June of this year. The terms of that extension granted Iran the 10 payments of $490 million, a State Department official said.
“With respect to sanctions relief, the United States will enable the repatriation of $4.9 billion of Iranian revenue held abroad during the extension,” the official said.
The first two payments were made in December, followed by Wednesday’s payment.
The next release is scheduled for Feb. 11, with two more scheduled for March. The rest of the frozen cash assets will be given back to Iran on April 15, May 6, May 27, and June 22, respectively.
Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), said the ongoing release of these assets has provided Iran with a critical “financial lifeline.”
“The Obama administration provided Iran with a financial lifeline through both direct sanctions relief and the de-escalation of sanctions pressure that helped the regime stabilize its economy after a severe sanctions-induced economic crisis in 2012 and 2013,” Dubowitz said. “It is not a surprise that this has increased Iranian negotiating leverage and hardened the supreme leader’s nuclear intransigence.”
In addition to decrying the lack of restrictions in place to ensure that Iran does not use the released funds to sponsor terrorism, critics of the sanctions relief protest that Iran is benefitting while the United States receives little in return.
Iran has continued to enrich uranium under the interim deal, adding what one critic, Rep. Brad Sherman (D., Calif.) referred to as “about one bomb’s worth” to its reserves.
Iran also has continued to make advances on the plutonium track, which provides it with a second path to a nuclear bomb.
President Hassan Rouhani of Iran announced last week that the country has begun constructing two new light water nuclear reactors, a move that the U.S. State Department said is permissible under the terms of the interim agreement.
Published on Jan 24, 2015
Thousands of people have demonstrated in Yemen against the Houthis, a minority Shi’ite group that now dominates the country. Two days ago it forced the president and prime minister to step down, leaving the country in political limbo.
Ramzi al-Amri was at Saturday’s rally, one of the biggest since the Houthis started their push for power.
“We are protesting now to overthrow the armed militias and kick them out of the capital Sanaa,” he said.
Meanwhile two US security officials said the collap…