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Friday, October 31, 2014

Kuwait says technical, not political, reasons behind oilfield closure

Kuwait says technical, not political, reasons behind oilfield closure Google Plus Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Email A Friend Print This Page Save as PDF Add to Reading List IN THIS ARTICLE Thomson Reuters RELATED Projects KJO - Al Khafji Oil Processing Facilities Expansion KJO - Al Khafji Oil Processing Facilities Expansion - Hout Field Offshore Associated Gas Facilities Photo Credit:Reuters/Hamad I Mohammed KHOBAR, Saudi Arabia, Oct 26 ( Reuters ) - A senior Kuwaiti official said on Sunday the Khafji oilfield, run jointly with Saudi Arabia, had been shut down for "purely technical and not political" reasons, state news agency KUNA reported. Crude production from the Khafji oilfield had been halted temporarily to comply with environmental rules, according to an industry source and an internal letter seen by Reuters . But the closure of the offshore field, which has an output of between 280,000 to 300,000 barrels per day, revived speculation of renewed tensions between the two countries. Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry undersecretary Khaled al-Jarallah, speaking in Riyadh after a meeting of Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers, said relations between the two countries were too strong to be affected by discrepancies over oil output from the field. "This discrepancy is related to the joint zone, joint production and the aspects of this production," he told journalists, according to KUNA. "The halt of oil production in the divided zone is due to purely technical, rather than political reasons," he said, adding that production could not resume until the technical matters were addressed. Sources told Reuters last week that an onshore gas gathering plant in Khafji needed to be repaired after a gas leak and that the repairs could take around six weeks. "Our brothers in the Kingdom (of Saudi Arabia) want to conduct maintenance work and take some measures linked to the environment which the Kuwaiti side understand and is aware of," Jarallah said. (Reporting by Reem Shamseddine; editing by Sami Aboudi and David Evans) ((Reem.Shamseddine@thomsonreuters.com; +966503335202; Reuters Messaging: reem.shamseddine.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net)) © Copyright Zawya. All Rights Reserved. Google Plus Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Email A Friend Print This Page Save as PDF Add to Reading List Be the first to comment PEOPLE WHO READ THIS ALSO READ Bank results affirm improving asset quality and profitability Kuwait oil minister says lower oil prices won't affect development plan -KUNA Saudi riyal market calms after jolt due to capital outflow Israel "assumes" Hezbollah has tunnelled across Lebanon border Sultanate may have to relook at new projects RELATED TO THIS ARTICLE Projects KJO - Al Khafji Oil Processing Facilities Expansion KJO - Al Khafji Oil Processing Facilities Expansion - Hout Field Offshore Associated Gas Facilities

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Kurdish convoy heads to Syria to take on Islamic State

SURUC, Turkey (AP) — Iraqi peshmerga troops were cheered Wednesday by fellow Kurds in southeastern Turkey as the fighters slowly made their way toward the Syrian Kurdish border town of Kobani to try to break a siege there by Islamic State militants. But the ability of the small force to turn the tide of battle will depend on the effectiveness of their weapons and on continued U.S.-led airstrikes against the extremists. "We are waiting for the peshmerga. We want to see what weapons they have," said 30-year-old Nidal Attur, who arrived in Suruc two weeks ago from a small village near Kobani. He and other euphoric Kurds waited for hours along streets in Suruc to catch a glimpse of the peshmerga troops they consider to be heroes. Most were seeing them for the first time. After a rousing send-off from thousands of cheering supporters a day earlier in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Irbil, the peshmerga forces landed early Wednesday at the Sanliurfa airport in southeastern Turkey. They left the airport in buses escorted by Turkish security forces and were expected to travel to Kobani later Wednesday. Others traveled to Turkey in trucks and vehicles loaded with cannons and heavy machine guns. They crossed into Turkey through the Habur border gate before daybreak Wednesday and were driving about 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) to Suruc. The peshmerga troops — about 150 in all — were expected to join up along the road to the Mursitpinar border crossing, where they were to enter Kobani. Separately, a small group of Syrian rebels entered Kobani from Turkey on Wednesday in a push to help Kurdish fighters there against the militants, activists and Kurdish officials said. The group of about 50 armed men is from the Free Syrian Army and is separate from Iraqi peshmerga fighters. The FSA is an umbrella group of mainstream rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad. The political leadership of the Western-backed FSA is based in Turkey, where fighters often seek respite from battle. Kurdish fighters in Syria, known as the People's Protection Units or YPG, have been struggling to defend Kobani against the Islamic State group since mid-September, despite dozens of coalition airstrikes against the extremists. It is not clear what impact this small but battle-hardened combined force of FSA and peshmerga fighters — and their combined weaponry — will have in the battle for Kobani. Kurdish fighters are already sharing information with the coalition to coordinate strikes against IS militants there, but the new force may help improve efforts and offer additional battlefield support. Nawaf Khalil, Europe-based spokesman for Syria's leading Kurdish Democratic Union Party, said the peshmerga force was "symbolic in number" but their weapons will play a positive role in Kobani. Syrian Kurds have begged the international community for heavy weapons — like the ones delivered by the U.S. and its allies to Iraq's Kurds — to bolster the outgunned defenders of Kobani. Earlier this month, the U.S. dropped weapons, ammunition and other supplies for the first time following concern that Kobani was about to fall. That, along with daily U.S. airstrikes and a fierce determination by the Kurdish fighters, has stalled the IS advance. "Kurds will remember this moment in history. They will speak of 'before and after Kobani' from now on," Khalil said of the peshmerga force's participation. Emotions were high among residents of Suruc, a predominantly Kurdish border town, as people waited for the peshmerga in a square and along a main street, where police patrolled with loudspeakers. "We are expecting them to go there and throw out IS from Kobani so we can go back to our homes," said Ahmed Boza, 68, from Kobani. Another Kobani resident, 57-year-old Mohammed Osman, said: "We are waiting for the peshmerga because we (Kurds) are all brothers. We are all part of one whole. If one side hurts, we are all in pain." The Islamic State group's offensive on Kobani and nearby Syrian villages has killed more than 800 people, activists say. The Sunni extremists captured dozens of Kurdish villages and control parts of Kobani. More than 200,000 people have fled into Turkey. The coalition has carried out dozens of airstrikes against the militants in and around Kobani, helping stall their advance. The U.S. Central Command said eight airstrikes struck near Kobani on Tuesday and Wednesday. The fighting in Kobani has deadlocked recently, with neither side getting the upper hand. Under pressure to take greater action against the IS militants — from the West as well as from Kurds in Turkey and Syria — the Turkish government agreed to let the fighters cross through its territory. But it only is allowing the peshmerga forces from Iraq, with whom it has a good relationship, and not those from the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. Ankara views the Syrian Kurds defending Kobani as loyal to what it regards as an extension of the PKK. That group has waged a 30-year insurgency in Turkey and is designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and NATO. Kurdish fighters in Syria have repeatedly said they did not need more fighters, only weapons. Kurds in Syria distrust Turkey's intentions, accusing it of blocking assistance to the Kobani defenders for weeks before giving in to pressure and shifting its stance. Many suspect Ankara is trying to dilute YPG influence in Kobani by sending in the peshmerga and the Turkey-backed FSA. The battle for Kobani is a small part in a larger war in Syria that has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people since 2011, according to activists. The conflict began with largely peaceful protests calling for reform. It eventually spiraled into a civil war as people took up arms following a brutal crackdown by Assad on the protest movement. Elsewhere in Syria, at least 10 civilians were killed Wednesday when army helicopters dropped two barrel bombs that landed at a makeshift refugee camp in the northern province of Idlib, opposition activists said. Video posted online by activists showed bodies scattered among torn tents in a wooded area and civil defense workers gathering remains of the dead. A car bomb exploded in a government-held district of the city of Homs, killing at least one person and wounding 25 others, a local official said. Karam reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Albert Aji and Diaa Hadid contributed from Damascus, Syria. Subjects General news, Militant groups, War and unrest, Civil wars People Bashar Assad Locations Turkey, Syria, Middle East, Iraq Organisations Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Free Syrian Army, Kurdistan Workers Party ================================================== Kurdish convoy heads to Syria to take on Islamic State Wed, Oct 29 15:43 PM EDT image 1 of 12 By Dasha Afanasieva and Alexander Dziadosz SURUC Turkey/BEIRUT (Reuters) - A convoy of peshmerga fighters from northern Iraq headed across southeastern Turkey on Wednesday towards the Syrian town of Kobani to try to help fellow Kurds break an Islamic State siege which has defied U.S.-led air strikes. Kobani, on the border with Turkey, has been under assault for more than a month and its fate has become a test of the U.S.-led coalition's ability to combat the Sunni Muslim insurgents. Weeks of air strikes on Islamic State positions around Kobani and the deaths of hundreds of their fighters have failed to break the siege. The Kurds and their international allies hope the arrival of the peshmerga, along with heavier weapons, can turn the tide. The Kurdish fighters were given a heroes' welcome as their convoy of jeeps and flatbed trucks, some bearing heavy machineguns, snaked its way for around 400 km (250 miles) through Turkey's mostly Kurdish southeast after crossing the border from northern Iraq. The presence of Kurdish forces passing with government permission through a part of Turkey which has seen a three-decade insurgency by local Kurdish PKK militants was an extraordinary sight for many residents. Villagers set bonfires, let off fireworks and chanted by the side of the road as the convoy passed. Thousands took to the streets of the border town of Suruc, descending on its tree-lined main square and spilling into side streets, some with faces painted in the colors of the Kurdish flag. "All the Kurds are together. We want them to go and fight in Kobani and liberate it," said Issa Ahamd, an 18-year-old high school student among the almost 200,000 Syrian Kurds who have fled to Turkey since the assault on Kobani began. An initial group of between 90 and 100 peshmerga fighters arrived by plane amid tight security in the nearby city of Sanliurfa early on Wednesday, according to Adham Basho, a member of the Syrian Kurdish National Council from Kobani. Saleh Moslem, co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), said the peshmerga were expected to bring heavy arms to Kobani - known as Ayn al-Arab in Arabic. "It's mainly artillery, or anti-armor, anti-tank weapons," he said. The lightly armed Syrian Kurds have said such weaponry is crucial to driving back Islamic State insurgents, who have used armored vehicles and tanks in their assault. Kurdistan's Minister of Peshmerga, Mustafa Sayyid Qader, told local media on Tuesday that no limits had been set to how long the forces would remain in Kobani. The Kurdistan Regional Government has said the fighters would not engage in direct combat in Kobani but rather provide artillery support. RADICAL ISLAM Islamic State has caused international alarm by capturing large expanses of Iraq and Syria, declaring an Islamic "caliphate" that erases borders between the two. Its fighters have slaughtered or driven away Shi'ite Muslims, Christians and other communities who do not share their ultra-radical brand of Sunni Islam. Fighters from the Nusra Front, al Qaeda's official affiliate in the Syrian civil war, have meanwhile seized territory from moderate rebels in recent days, expanding their control into one of the few areas of northern Syria not already held by hardline Islamists. Nearly 10 million people have been displaced by Syria's war and close to 200,000 killed, according to the United Nations. A Syrian army helicopter dropped two barrel bombs on a displaced persons camp in the northern province of Idlib on Wednesday, killing many, camp residents said. In Iraq, security forces said they had advanced to within 2 km (1.2 miles) of the city of Baiji on Wednesday in a new offensive to retake the country's biggest oil refinery that has been besieged since June by Islamic State. Islamic State has threatened to massacre Kobani's defenders, triggering a call to arms from Kurds across the region. The U.S. military conducted 14 air strikes on Tuesday and Wednesday against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, according to a statement from U.S. Central Command. Eight of the raids destroyed Islamic State targets near Kobani, it said. At least a dozen shells fired by Islamic State fighters fell on the town overnight as clashes with the main Syrian Kurdish armed group, the YPG, continued, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It said preparations were being made at a border gate which Islamic State fighters have repeatedly tried to capture before the arrival of the peshmerga, while YPG and Islamic State forces exchanged fire in gun battles on the southern edge of the town. The Observatory also said 50 Syrian fighters had entered Kobani from Turkey with their weapons, though it was unclear which group they belonged to. Turkey has pushed for moderate Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad to join the battle against Islamic State in Kobani. Rebel commander Abdul Jabbar al-Oqaidi said he had led 200 Free Syrian Army fighters into Kobani but there was no independent confirmation of this. The FSA describes dozens of armed groups fighting Assad but with little or no central command. It is widely outgunned by Islamist insurgents. DELICATE PARTNERSHIP The Iraqi Kurdish region's parliament voted last week to deploy some peshmerga forces to Syria and, under pressure from Western allies, Turkey agreed to let then cross its territory. The United States and its allies in the coalition have made clear they do not plan to send troops to fight Islamic State in Syria or Iraq, but they need fighters on the ground to capitalize on their air strikes. Syrian Kurds have called for the international community to provide them with heavier weapons and munitions and they have received an air drop from the United States. But Turkey accuses Kurdish groups in Kobani of links to the militant PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party), which has fought the insurgency against the Turkish state and is regarded as a terrorist group by Ankara, Washington and the European Union. That has complicated efforts to provide aid. A Syrian Kurdish official said in Paris on Wednesday that France, which has taken part in air strikes in Iraq and given Iraqi peshmerga fighters weapons and training, had yet to fulfill a promise to give support to Kurds in Syria. "France has said it was ready to help the Kurds, but we haven't been received by the French authorities. There has been no direct or indirect contact," Khaled Eissa, representative in France of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), said. French officials confirmed there had been no meetings in large part due to concern about historic links to the PKK. Ankara fears Syria's Kurds will exploit the chaos by following their brethren in Iraq and seeking to carve out an independent state in northern Syria, emboldening PKK militants in Turkey and derailing a fragile peace process. The stance has enraged Turkey’s own Kurdish minority, about a fifth of the population and half of all Kurds across the region. Kurds suspect Ankara, which has refused to send in its forces to relieve Kobani, would rather see Islamic State jihadists extend their territorial gains than allow Kurdish insurgents to consolidate local power. (Additional reporting by Isabel Coles in Arbil, Omer Berberoglu and Sasa Kavic in Sanliurfa, Tom Perry in Beirut, John Irish in Paris; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Giles Elgood and David Stamp) =======================================================

Monday, October 27, 2014

Battle for Jurf al-Sakhar

Suicide bomber kills 27 militiamen south of Iraqi capital Mon, Oct 27 16:10 PM EDT image 1 of 7 By Michael Georgy BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed at least 27 Shi'ite militiamen outside the Iraqi town of Jurf al-Sakhar on Monday after security forces pushed Islamic State militants out of the area over the weekend, army and police sources said. The attacker, driving a Humvee vehicle packed with explosives and likely stolen from defeated government troops, also wounded 60 Shi'ite Muslim militiamen, who had helped government forces retake the town just south of the capital. Iraqis are bracing for more sectarian attacks on Shi'ites, who are preparing for the religious festival of Ashura, an event that defines Shi'ism and its rift with Sunni Islam. At mosques and shrines across Iraq, millions of Shi'ites are expected to commemorate the slaying of Prophet Mohammad's grandson Hussein at the battle of Kerbala in AD 680. Violence has in the past marred the run up to the event, which will take place next week, and the festival itself. On Monday night, a car bomb killed at least 15 people in central Baghdad, police and medical sources said. The attack took place on a street with shops and restaurants in Karrada district, home to both Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims as well as other sects and ethnic groups. Islamic State sees Shi'ites as infidels who deserve to die and their attacks on them have brought violence back to levels seen in 2006 and 2007 at the height of a civil war. Holding Jurf al-Sakhar is critical for Iraqi security forces, who finally managed to drive out the Sunni insurgents after months of fighting and need to capitalize on their victory to keep the militants away from Baghdad. It could also allow Iraqi forces to sever Islamic State connections to their strongholds in western Anbar province and stop them infiltrating the mainly Shi'ite Muslim south. PRESSURE ON BAGHDAD The group has threatened to march on Baghdad, home to special forces and thousands of Shi'ite militias expected to put up fierce resistance if the capital comes under threat. Gains against Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot made up of Arab and foreign fighters, are often fragile even with the support of U.S. air strikes on militant targets in Iraq and neighboring Syria. The United States led nearly a dozen air strikes against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq on Sunday and Monday, including the besieged Syrian Kurdish border town of Kobani, according to the U.S. military. As Iraqi government soldiers and militias savored their victory and were taking photographs of Islamic State corpses on Sunday, mortar rounds fired by Islamic State fighters who had fled to orchards to the west rained down on Jurf al-Sakhar. The rounds hit the militiamen, killing dozens and scattering body parts, according to a Reuters witness. The next significant fighting near Baghdad is expected to take place in the Sunni heartland Anbar province. The town of Amriyat al-Falluja has been surrounded by Islamic State militants on three sides for weeks. Security officials say government forces are gearing up for an operation designed to break the siege. Gains in the Islamic State stronghold of Anbar could raise the morale of Iraqi troops after they collapsed in the face of a lighting advance by the insurgents in the north in June. In a meeting with Sunni tribal leaders from Anbar broadcast on state television, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said: "We need soldiers to sign up for the army to stay and defend the country, not to come to the army for livelihoods. "We should focus on one front when we attack instead of fighting on more than one front because terrorists can switch the battle to another area. We should defeat them in one place and then move to the other front." In order to stabilize Iraq, Abadi, a Shi'ite, must win over Sunnis, especially from Anbar, who have long believed Shi'ite leaders have a sectarian agenda. Some support Islamic State. NO LETUP TO THE VIOLENCE Islamic State kept up the pressure on security forces, attacking soldiers, policemen and Shi'ite militiamen in the town of al-Mansuriyah, northeast of Baghdad. Six members of the Iraqi security forces were killed, police said. Kurdish peshmerga fighters also made advances over the weekend against Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate in the heart of the Middle East and is determined to redraw the map of the oil-producing region. Much attention is focused on the planned deployment of peshmerga to Kobani, where fellow Kurds have been fending off an attack by Islamic State for 40 days. Iraqi Kurdish officials and a member of the Kurdish administration in Syria said the peshmerga had been due to head to Kobani via Turkey on Sunday but their departure had been postponed. Iraqi Kurdish forces will not engage in ground fighting in the Syrian town of Kobani but provide artillery support for fellow Kurds there, a Kurdish spokesman has said. Islamic State fighters have been trying to capture Kobani for over a month, pressing on despite U.S.-led air strikes on their positions and the deaths of hundreds of their fighters. (Additional reporting by Dasha Afanasieva in Mursitpinar and Isabel Coles in Arbil, Oliver Holmes in Beirut and Jonny Hogg in Ankara; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Are UAE residency visas through property ownership valid for 99 years?

Are UAE residency visas through property ownership valid for 99 years? Keren Bobker October 26, 2014 Updated: October 26, 2014 12:07 PM       Related Does UAE property ownership provide a residency visa? Does UAE property ownership provide a residency visa? Only a few ways to obtain a UAE residency visa for non-GCC nationals Residency visas in the UAE are linked to employment UAE residency visa should not be cancelled until end of notice period and all monies due paid What are the UAE residency visa requirements when my children turn 18 years old? Topics: UAE visas, On your side I have seen your recent comments regarding visas linked to property ownership. You stated that one of the conditions of acquiring a residency visa through property ownership is having a minimum salary of Dh10,000 per month. Is this always the case? Also must the salary only come from one source or can someone show proof of their monthly salary through various projects? You have also mentioned that visas are valid for six months, but I have read on real estate broker websites that they can be valid for 99 years. DA, Dubai It is possible to get a residency visa from ownership of a property and I have previously referred to “income”, not specifically a salary. A person can have income from multiple sources, such as from overseas, from investments or a pension, to satisfy the requirements. A salary from employment in the UAE is not relevant as employees must be sponsored by their employer and provided with a visa that way. A property visa is for people who are not in employment in the UAE. Property-related visas have never been for 99 years. There was a time when they were issued for three years, but that was a number of years ago and the validity is now for six months at a time. Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets in Dubai, with more than 20 years of experience. Contact her at keren@holbornassets.com. Follow her on Twitter at @FinancialUAE The advice provided in our columns does not constitute legal advice and is provided for information only. Readers are encouraged to seek appropriate independent legal advice

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Satellite predictions and other astronomical data customised for your location

Moon
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Location: Adelaide
(34.9286°S, 138.6000°E)
Time: 22:41:15
(UTC+10:30)
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Moon

 Year Month Day Time      

Position
Altitude1.2°
Azimuth253.0°
Right ascension 15h 12m 50s
Declination-15° 7' 7"
Range386,249 km
ConstellationLibra

Appearance

Diameter 30.94'
Illumination of disk 3%
Libration in longitude -5.022°
Libration in latitude -3.447°

Event Time   Altitude  Azimuth
Sets20:57-0.8°252°
Rises07:07-0.8°107°
Maximum altitude14:0169.1°359°

Monthly phases

 New moon24 October 2014 08:27
 First quarter31 October 2014 13:18
 Full moon07 November 2014 08:53
 Last quarter15 November 2014 01:46
 New moon22 November 2014 23:02
Appearance of the Moon, celestial north is upwards
Appearance of the Moon, celestial north is upwards
 

DLR


Friday, October 24, 2014

Saudi Arabia's Shi'ites fear they are at mercy of region's tumult

Saudi Arabia's Shi'ites fear they are at mercy of region's tumult Fri, Oct 24 02:03 AM EDT By Angus McDowall RIYADH (Reuters) - The Shi’ite Muslim minority in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province have long felt marginalized by the Sunni ruling dynasty, and protests for greater rights as part of the 2011 Arab Spring brought a crackdown on both protesters and demands for reform. But now, death sentences for three Shi'ite Muslims including a prominent dissident cleric suggest that the region’s wider turmoil is further hardening attitudes toward the sect at home. The news has not triggered the sort of clashes that left three people dead after the arrest of the cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, in 2012, but it did lead to consecutive nights of protests for the first time in months. It also prompted a warning from Iran, the regional Shi'ite power that Riyadh accuses of fomenting unrest among its Shi'ites, and that is vying with Saudi Arabia's Sunni rulers for influence in conflicts raging from Lebanon to Yemen, Iraq, Bahrain and, most acutely, Syria. "There is nothing formal, but when they are angry about Iran, their doubts over Shi'ites increase, and sectarian sentiments rise as well. It certainly affects policy making and behavior," said Tawfiq al-Seif, a Shi'ite community leader in Qatif, one of the two main centers of the sect in Saudi Arabia, along with al-Ahsa. Saudi Shi'ites, long regarded by the kingdom's official Wahhabi Sunni school as heretics, have for decades been tarred by many compatriots as more loyal to their coreligionists across the Gulf than to the Saudi ruling dynasty. Protests in Qatif in 2011 and 2012 were dismissed by the government as instigated by a ‘foreign power’, code for Iran, and Nimr was accused of serving Iranian interests. The demonstrators and Iran both denied the accusation. But the encouragement of such protests by Iranian media, and comments such as one last week by a general in Iran’s Basij militia that Nimr’s execution would make the world into "a hell" for the dynasty, do nothing to allay Saudi fears that Iran is fomenting Shi’ite unrest not only in Saudi Arabia but also in Yemen and Bahrain. CRACKDOWN ON ISLAMISTS It is notable that during the years from 1993-2006, when Saudi Shi'ites felt the government in Riyadh was most amenable to addressing what they see as entrenched discrimination, Iran appeared less determined to square up to the Al Saud dynasty. Saudi authorities say they do not discriminate against Shi'ites and that their security and judicial treatment is the same as for Sunnis. It is also true that the crackdown on dissent since the Arab Spring has also targeted Sunni groups committed to the cause of Islamist rule. But that, too, has Shi'ites worried. Some argue that the Al Saud are taking a tougher position against Shi'ite activists as a message to the Sunni majority that its crackdown against Islamists is not aimed exclusively at Sunnis. "The government is appearing as if it's heavy-handed against Sunni Islamists. There are a lot of sections of Saudi society who find that very puzzling and unacceptable," said Madawi al-Rasheed, visiting professor at the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics, and a critic of the Saudi dynasty. The Al Saud have always depended on conservative Sunnis as the foundation of their support in a country where tribal and regional divisions still linger, and where there are no elections to provide democratic legitimacy. But while Riyadh has backed relatively moderate Sunni rebel groups fighting Iranian-backed governments in Iraq and Syria, it has also joined air strikes against the fundamentalist Islamic State and aided Egypt's military in its crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood. Unlike four Shi'ites sentenced to death so far for throwing petrol bombs at police during the 2011 protests, Nimr was not accused of active violence, except for allegedly ordering his driver to ram a police car while fleeing. Instead, he was convicted of a range of political crimes such as inciting people to disobey the ruler, calling for the overthrow of the government, inciting riots in the neighboring Sunni-ruled monarchy of Bahrain, and denouncing the judiciary. Other offences were bound up with Shi’ite beliefs, such as inciting sectarian sedition by defaming early Muslim figures who are revered by Sunnis but reviled by Shi'ites. "The death sentence for Nimr is very important at this point because it shows Saudis that they are not letting the Shia get away with protests," said Rasheed. (Editing by William Maclean and Kevin Liffey)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Al Hijri New Year holiday will not be moved to week day

Al Hijri New Year holiday will not be moved to week day The National staff October 20, 2014 Updated: October 20, 2014 03:09 PM UAE public holidays for 2014 announced by Abu Dhabi government Topics: Ministry of Labour ABU DHABI // Workers will not be given an extra day off work should the Islamic New Year fall on the weekend, the Federal Authority for Government Human Resources (FAGHR) has announced. The Al Hijri New Year holiday for the year 1436 will take place either on Friday, October 24 or Saturday, October 25. In a government circular, Hussain bin Ibrahim Al Hammadi, chairman of the FAGHR and Minister of Education, said the holiday would not be moved to a work day. According to paragraph 6 of Article 100 of the bylaws “A public holiday shall not be subject to postponement or compensation should it occur at the same time as another public holiday or on a weekend.” The Ministry of Labour also announced that private sector workers will be given the holiday off. Government sector workers and those who usually get a two-day weekend will not be affected either way. Mr Al Hammadi congratulated the leadership and the people of the United Arab Emirates and all Arabs and Muslims on the occasion of Al Hijri New Year. newsdesk@thenational.ae =================================== http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/general/one-day-islamic-new-year-holiday-for-private-sector-announced-1.1401461 One-day Islamic New Year holiday for private sector announced Public sector will not get a holiday, private sector to be given one-day holiday WAMPublished: 18:15 October 20, 2014Gulf News Reader comments (59)Share on facebookShare on twitterShare on emailShare on printMore Sharing Services340. Abu Dhabi: The private sector will get a one-day holiday for the Islamic New Year, according to a circular issued on Monday by Saqr Gobash, Minister of Labour. The public sector, however, will not get a holiday for the Islamic New Year, which might fall on Friday, October 24, or Saturday, October 25. The circular issued by Hussain Ebrahim Al Hammadi, Minister of Education and Chairman of Federal Authority for Human Resources (FAHR) refers to Cabinet Resolution No 13 of 2012, which stipulates that an official holiday will not be compensated for or moved if it falls on a weekend or another official holiday. Gobash and Al Hammadi extended their heartfelt congratulations on this occasion to President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Their Highnesses Supreme Council Members and Rulers of the Emirates, the people of the UAE, and Arab and Islamic nations. =========== Maliki’s Meeting with Shahrudi in Iran
Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 24 April 2012 14:04 For the time being, numerous factors militate against such a scenario. In the first place, historically, the Daawa has been more reluctant than other Shiite parties in Iraq to embrace the Iranian doctrine of clerical government (wilayat al-faqih). After all, this was what prompted its split from SCIRI as an umbrella organization in the 1980s and the relocation of several Daawa leaders from Iran. Even very recently, it is being reported that Maliki’s parliamentary bloc alongside the Kurds and Iraqiyya are resisting attempts by ISCI and Fadila to impose a federal supreme law clause that would provide clerical veto on Iraqi laws on the Iranian model. And of course, historically, Najaf has a record of posing resistance to Qum in Iran as a centre of Shiism.
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Monday, October 20, 2014

Total CEO de Margerie killed in Moscow plane accident: airport spokeswoman

Total CEO de Margerie killed in Moscow plane accident: airport spokeswoman Mon, Oct 20 21:13 PM EDT image 1 of 2 By Vladimir Soldatkin MOSCOW (Reuters) - The chief executive of French oil major Total (TOTF.PA), Christophe de Margerie, was killed in an airplane collision with a snow plow at Moscow's Vnukovo International Airport, airport spokeswoman Elena Krylova said on Tuesday. "Tonight, a plane crashed when it collided with a snow-clearing machine. Three crew members and a passenger died. I can confirm that the passenger was Total's head de Margerie," she said. The collision occurred during takeoff of the Dassault Falcon business jet in which de Margerie was a passenger late on Monday, just minutes before midnight Moscow time, an airport statement said. The plane was due to travel to Paris. A Total source in Moscow confirmed de Margerie died in a plane crash but offered no further details. De Margerie, 63, was on a list of attendees at a Russian government meeting on foreign investment in Gorki, near Moscow, on Monday. With his distinctive bushy mustache and outspoken manner, he was one of the most recognizable figures among the world’s top oil executives. De Margerie, a graduate of the Ecole Superieure de Commerce business school in Paris, became chief executive officer of Total in February 2007, taking on the additional role of chairman in May 2010, after previously running its exploration and production division. De Margerie said in July that he should be judged based on new projects launched under his watch, such as a string of African fields. He also said then that Total would seek a successor from within the company rather than an outsider. Philippe Boisseau, head of Total's new energy division, and Patrick Pouyanne, who was tasked with reducing the group's exposure to unprofitable European refining sectors, have long been seen as potential successors. A staunch defender of Russia and its energy policies amid the conflict in Ukraine, de Margerie told Reuters in a July interview that Europe should stop thinking about cutting its dependence on Russian gas and focus instead on making those deliveries safer. Total is one of the majors most exposed to Russia, where its output will double to represent more than a tenth of its global portfolio by 2020. A TOP INVESTOR IN RUSSIA Total is one of the top foreign investors in Russia, but its future there grew cloudy after the July 17 downing of a Malaysian passenger airliner over Ukrainian territory held by pro-Russian rebels worsened the oil-rich country's relations with the West and raised the threat of deeper sanctions. Total said last month that sanctions would not stop it working on the Yamal project, a $27 billion joint venture investment to tap vast natural gas reserves in northwest Siberia that aims to double Russia's stake in the fast-growing market for liquefied natural gas. De Margerie said then that Europe could not live without Russian gas, adding that there was no reason to do so. Total is the fourth largest by market value of the western world’s top oil companies behind Exxon (XOM.N), Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) and Chevron (CVX.N). Russia accounted for about 9 percent of Total's oil and gas output in 2013. The oil company had forecast in April that Russia would become its biggest source of oil and gas by 2020 due to its partnership with Russian energy company Novatek (NVTK.MM) and the Yamal project. Total SA is France's second-biggest listed company with a market value of 102 billion euros. Like other big oil companies, Total has been under pressure from shareholders to cut costs and raise dividends as rising costs in the industry and weaker oil prices squeeze profitability. (Additional reporting by James Regan, Dmitry Zhdannikov and Andrew Callus in Paris; Writing by Howard Goller; Editing by Gary Crosse, Toni Reinhold)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Iran says militants infiltrating from Pakistan

Iran says militants infiltrating from Pakistan . Associated Press . TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran has proof that militants are entering the country from neighboring Pakistan to carry out attacks and will be pursuing the matter through "diplomatic channels," an Iranian military official said Saturday. Abdollah Araghi, a senior Revolutionary Guard commander, was quoted by state TV as saying that his forces have provided documents to Iranian officials proving that militants cross the border to carry out attacks. "We have provided information and complete documents about the infiltration of terrorist elements (from Pakistan into Iran) to political and security officials to be pursued through diplomatic channels," he said. On Friday the spokesman for Pakistan's Frontier Corps said Iranian border guards opened fire at a patrol van, killing a member of the paramilitary border guard and wounding three other troops. The shooting came a day after Iranian Brig. Gen. Hussein Salami issued a stark warning to Pakistan, saying that Iranian forces may enter Pakistani territory to "prevent terrorists" from entering Iran. Last week, four Iranian guards were killed by unknown attackers in the eastern Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchistan, which borders Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province.

Why the Islamic State Is Losing

Car bombs kill 24 across Baghdad as violence rages Fri, Oct 17 16:22 PM EDT BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A string of car bombs killed at least 24 people across Baghdad on Friday night, medical and police officials said, amid a surge of violence in the capital. No one immediately said they were responsible for the blasts, but other attacks in recent weeks have been claimed by Sunni Muslim militant group Islamic State, which is battling the Shi'ite Muslim-led government and has seized large parts of neighboring Syria. A parked car blew up near a coffee shop in the Shi'ite area of Baladiyat, killing nine people and wounding 28, the officials said. Another blast killed nine and wounded 28 in the Sunni neighborhood of Slaikh, while a third car bomb blew up by a row of liquor stores in the affluent Karrada neighborhood, killing six and wounding 14 others, the officials added. The attack came the day after bombs killed 36 in Baghdad and areas bordering the capital. (Reporting By Ned Parker) ================================ Why the Islamic State Is Losing The pundits have it wrong—the terrorists’ move toward Baghdad is a sign of desperation. By MICHAEL KNIGHTS October 14, 2014 Many in the world media seem to be concluding, with alarm, that the group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is at the gates of Baghdad. ISIL has made dramatic gains in Anbar province, Iraq’s perennially troubled “wild west,” and Anbar is next to Baghdad. Ergo, Baghdad must be next to fall. It was probably no accident that, on Tuesday, President Obama convened an urgent conference of defense officials from 21 countries at Andrews Air Force Base to coordinate strategies and tactics. Everyone should calm down. The reality is that ISIL and its forerunners have always been in Baghdad. The Iraqi capital and its rural exurbs – the “Baghdad belts” — have been a desperate battleground since 2003. True, ISIL has been posing much more of a direct threat to Baghdad since the beginning of 2014, when the movement took control of Fallujah, a city of 300,000 that is located just 25 miles west of Baghdad International Airport. But Baghdad won’t fall to cascading panic the way that Mosul did in June 2014, no matter how many towns and cities ISIL overruns in the Euphrates River Valley to the northwest of the capital. Here’s why. Mosul was a predominately Sunni city of one million people where the Shia-led security forces were despised and where the bulk of Iraq’s security forces were hundreds of miles away. Baghdad is a predominately Shia city of more than seven million and the hub of a gargantuan popular mobilization of Shia militias and regular security forces. Mao Zedong said that the guerrilla “must swim among the people as the fish swims in the sea,” but ISIL would be swimming with piranhas if it tried to recreate Mosul in Baghdad. In truth, the threat posed to Baghdad this autumn is emerging less because ISIL is winning the war in Iraq and more because it might be slowly but steadily losing it. All across north-central Iraq, ISIL is being challenged by joint forces comprised of Sunni tribes, Shia militias, Iraqi soldiers, Iranian advisors and U.S. airpower. ISIL is struggling to maintain its grip on this battlefield of strange bedfellows, and it could be moving on Baghdad now out of a desperate need for a big victory more than anything else. Even as ISIL appears to be making progress in marginal places like Kobane, the Syrian Kurdish border town, inside Iraq the group has been faltering and needs a new front to rejuvenate its campaign. Among the less-noted victories against ISIL recently: In early October, Kurdish peshmerga forces and local Sunni tribesmen of the Shammar confederation – usually bitter rivals – cooperated in a three-day blitzkrieg that recaptured the vital Rabiya border crossing that links the ISIL territories in Iraq and Syria. In Dhuluiya, 45 miles north of Baghdad, Sunni tribesmen of the Jabouri confederation are pushing ISIL back from their lands in collaboration with both Iraqi Army forces and, stunningly, Iranian-backed Shia militiamen from the Kataib Hezbollah movement. Near Kirkuk, the Obeidi confederation, another conglomeration of Sunni tribes, is starting to cooperate with Shia Turkmen tribes and Kurdish security forces against ISIL. For the first time since June, the Iraqi government is able to drive tanks and supply columns all the way from Baghdad to Kirkuk, allowing the security forces to open a new front on ISIL’s eastern flank.
Reidar Visser says: It makes sense to start with the choice of ministers for interior and defence. These important posts were a stumbling block for Maliki’s two cabinets. In 2006, they took a month extra to decide, whereas in 2010 they weren’t decided by parliament at all, as Maliki continued to control them himself or through acting protegées. This time, the candidate for minister of interior, in particular, had caused controversy. For a long time the frontrunner was Hadi al-Ameri, a militia figure from the Badr organization with particularly close ties to the Iranians, whose candidacy caused uproar among many Sunni MPs who remain critical of his conduct during the previous sectarian crisis period of 2005-2007. Today, Ameri gave way to Muhammad Salim al-Ghabban, who shares his Badr background but possibly is seen as less toxic to non-Shiite MPs simply because he is younger and has less baggage than Ameri. For his part, Khaled al-Obeidi who is the new defence minister, had been a candidate back in 2010 as well, when he was nominated by Iraqiyya but quickly was criticized for having moved too close to Maliki. Maybe that sort of person – a Sunni with ties in both sectarian camps – is the best Iraq could hope for in a time when urgent work needs to be done to reorganize the Iraqi army and make it more resilient against the Islamic State terror organization. Both ministers achieved more than acceptable levels of backing by MPs, with Yes votes from the 261 MPs present reported at 173 (Obeidi) and 197 (Ghabban), which is considerably more than what many other ministers got back in September. Rosch Shaways thereby continues to serve as deputy prime minister, and foreign minister Hosyar Zebari becomes minister of finance.
Iraqi parliament approves defense, interior ministers: state TV Sat, Oct 18 10:42 AM EDT BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The Iraqi parliament on Saturday approved a Sunni Muslim to become defense minister and a Shi'ite to be interior minister, state television said, as part of a more inclusive government to help tackle Islamist insurgents. Six Kurdish members of the cabinet were also sworn in after the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) had held out for a larger share of ministries than the three offered when Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi unveiled his government on Sept.8. The moves provide a stronger political foundation for Abadi to try to counter Islamic State's grip on most Sunni areas of the country to the north and west. They also help to repair relations with the country's Kurds strained by quarrels over budget allocations and disputes over oil rights and land in the north. For the defense portfolio, parliament voted in favor of Khaled al-Obeidi, a Sunni from the northern city of Mosul that is now under Islamic State control. Mohammed al-Ghabban of the powerful Shi'ite political party, the Badr Organization, which has a militia wing, is to take over the interior ministry. Obeidi belongs to the party of Vice President Usama al-Nujaifi and is a confidant of his brother Atheel al-Nujaifi, the governor of Nineveh province that was overrun by Sunni Islamic State forces. Ghabban was seen as a compromise for interior minister after Badr chief Hadi al-Amri drew the objections of Sunni parties. MORE POSTS FOR KURDS The Kurds, who originally had been offered the ministry of finance, a post of deputy prime minister and minister of culture, were also given the posts of a minister without portfolio, minister of women's affairs and the ministry of displacement and migration. "The new government will be inclusive and address core issues of reconciliation, establishing security and stability in the country... and resolving the outstanding KRG issues of oil and the disputed territories," new Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, a Kurd, told Reuters. The United States, which has sent US military advisers to Iraq and has conducted air strikes against Islamic State, applauded the announcement. “We had a very positive step forward in Iraq today with the selection of the minister of interior and the minister of defense,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Boston, where was meeting China’s most senior diplomat, State Councillor Yang Jiechi for talks on Islamic State and other issues. “These were critical positions to be filled in order to assist with the organizing effort with respect to ISIL (Islamic State)." Obeidi, a general in Iraq's army before 2003, was in Mosul in the final hours before the city fell to Islamic State in June. He said his own house in Mosul had been occupied by Islamic State militants. His appointment has symbolic value for the Iraqi government, as it looks to persuade Mosul residents to rise up. Obeidi has been deeply critical of the military under Abadi's predecessor Nuri al-Maliki and has called for major reforms in the security institution. The naming of the security ministers had largely been slowed by the internal debate among the Shi'ites on whether they could name Amri, who is close to both Maliki and Iran, as interior minister. The Badr Organization's armed wing is blamed by Sunnis for carrying out sectarian killings in the early years after Saddam Hussein fell in 2003. Badr members deny the allegations. The choice of Ghabban was seen as less controversial than Amri. (Reporting By Ned Parker and Ahmed al-Rasheed, David Brunnstrom; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Stephen Powell)
This is not to say that ISIL is just rolling over. The Islamic State certainly landed some good punches in early October, overrunning a handful of small garrisons in Anbar, capturing parts of the 100,000-strong city of Hit and driving security forces out of much of Ramadi city, the Anbar’s provincial capital. But overall, ISIL’s reaction to Sunni tribal uprisings – suicide bombings and assassinations against the tribes – will only reinforce tribal resolve. ISIL still needs to relieve pressure on its northern Iraqi territories and open a new front. Which is where Baghdad comes in. Regardless of what happens in Anbar, ISIL needs to punch back somewhere vital, somewhere sensitive, if it is to regain the initiative in Iraq. Iraq-watchers have been waiting for an ISIL thrust against Baghdad for many months, and many are scratching their heads as to why it has not landed yet. It is not for lack of opportunity. ISIL was well-established in the inner suburbs of Baghdad even before June 2014: With great fanfare, Islamic State militants held a 75-vehicle parade in Abu Ghraib, just 15 miles from the U.S. Embassy, in May. Terrifyingly, there’s little to prevent missile attacks closing down Baghdad’s sole international airport. So what is ISIL waiting for? They cannot capture the Shia metropolis of Baghdad outright and have been putting their effort into consolidating control of Sunni areas in northern and western Iraq. As counterterrorism analyst Daveed Gartenstein-Ross adroitly notes, they also seem to have become fixated on Kobane, perhaps at the expense of higher-priority missions in Iraq and Syria. One option could be an uprising in the Sunni neighbourhoods of west Baghdad, areas that are open to the ISIL-dominated Jazeera desert to the northwest of Baghdad. The uprising need not succeed or get much backing from Baghdad’s Sunnis: ISIL’s gambit would rely upon sparking sectarian cleansing by Shia militias, thus dragging all Sunni men in Baghdad into the fight. ISIL could also try a spectacular terrorist attack like its July 22, 2013, assault on the heavily defended Abu Ghraib prison, when 800 inmates were freed. Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) nestled in vulnerable west Baghdad and adjacent to insurgent-infested farmlands, would be a prime target. On Oct. 12, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told ABC’s “This Week” that Apache gunships flew strike missions from the airport in early October because ISIL had come “within 20 or 25 kilometers of BIAP” and had “a straight shot to the airport.” But most likely, ISIL is simply readying for its annual killing spree against Shia pilgrims during the Ashura and Arbaeen religious festivals. In the week before Ashura begins on Nov. 3, Baghdad will swell with millions of pilgrims making their way to Karbala, just southwest of the capital. Many of these pilgrims make the 50-mile walk from Baghdad to Karbala, which passes within seven miles of Jurf as-Sakr, a heavily-contested ISIL stronghold to the south of Baghdad. We can expect mortar attacks, car bombings and suicide-vest detonations inside the crowds. This is the real meaning of ISIL being at the gates of Baghdad – that the movement is poised perilously close to key religious and transportation hubs, and may be intent on mounting sectarian outrages at the most sensitive moment of the year for the Shia. The Iraqi security forces view Ashura and Arbaeen as an annual trial – and in recent years they have achieved significant success in limiting the mayhem caused by ISIL and its forerunners. This year the Iraqi military and allied Shia militias have been fighting hard, with U.S. air support, to clear ISIL back from the pilgrim routes between Baghdad and Karbala – and with some success. Protecting the pilgrims and blunting ISIL’s gambits in Baghdad will be the next great test for Iraq’s recovering security forces – because the enemy is truly at the gates of the Shia world. Michael Knights, fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, regularly travels to Iraq and has worked in all of the country’s 18 provinces. Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/10/why-islamic-state-is-losing-111872.html#ixzz3GYOc6rTw

Friday, October 17, 2014

How to: be a financially-fit first home buyer

How to: be a financially-fit first home buyer by Tony Rigby Many Australians grow up with the aim of owning their own home one day, and with interest rates at their lowest in 50 years, it may be a good time for financially-fit first home buyers to take the plunge. For most of us, buying a property is probably the biggest financial commitment we will make in our lives, so it’s important to approach it wisely. By doing your research and following a few guidelines, you’ll be able to turn the great Australian dream into a reality. Be clear on what you can afford It’s important to establish how much you can afford to pay, and what sort of property and location will suit you before entering the property market. Consider your lifestyle and do your research on the types of properties available to you at your price level. Visiting open homes, talking to real estate agents and viewing past sales results for the areas you are interested in are all great ways to get a handle on the market. While this is your first home purchase, it is also important to keep in mind that it is an investment too – access to transport and amenities and lifestyle features will ensure that when you decide to upgrade, your property will be attractive to future buyers. Read more: First home buyers – what to look for Review your finances Before approaching a lender for a home loan it’s a good idea to review your spending habits. List your income and all expenses, including bills, groceries and entertainment on a budgeting spreadsheet or calculator – one such calculator is available at www.moneysmart.gov.au Make sure you factor in other upfront and ongoing costs involved in buying a property, such as stamp duty, conveyancing and legal fees, strata fees if purchasing a unit, and council rates. Read more: Guide to stamp duty Build up your savings account Even though lenders no longer ask for a 20% deposit, it’s still a good idea to establish a regular savings habit. In fact, many lenders require a record of savings history as part of the criteria for applying for a home loan. Work out what you can live without while you are saving for your first home. If possible, consider share houses or even moving back in with family to save on rent, and look at little ways to save such as cooking dinner at home rather than eating out. Opening a high interest savings account or term deposit will help you grow your deposit faster as many institutions offer competitive rates. You may also want to consider a First Home Saver Account, which gives you concessional tax treatment on earnings, plus government contributions to help you save for your dream home. crate-bills Pay down debt & tidy your credit history It is a good idea to pay down personal debt such as credit cards and store accounts as much as you can prior to buying a property. If you’ve had multiple credit cards over the years or made a few late payments on any bills, it may be beneficial to obtain a credit report to get an idea of where you stand. Close all unnecessary accounts and ensure that any regular payments are up to date. Paying down your debts and minimising the number of accounts you have will not only allow you to borrow a little more, but also give you a bit of financial breathing space in your budget. This will be important when interest rates inevitably start to rise. “ Paying down debts & minimising accounts will give you financial breathing space A helping hand Make sure to find out if you are eligible for a Government First Home Owners Grant, as not all states and territories offer concessions for first-time buyers. For example, the Queensland Government’s $15,000 Great Start Grant is only available to buyers who are building or buying a new home, while in Western Australia grants are available for first home buyers who purchase either a new or established property^. You can visit www.firsthome.gov.au to find out what you qualify for. Read more: 6 ways to save for a home *AMP financial planner Tony Rigby is an Authorised Representative of AMP Financial Planning Pty Ltd, ABN 89 051 208 327, AFS Licence No. 232706. Any advice given is general only and has not taken into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Because of this, before acting on any advice, you should consult a financial planner to consider how appropriate the advice is to your objectives, financial situation and needs.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hong Kong police clear protesters, barricades in surprise raid in Mong Kok

Hong Kong police clear protesters, barricades in surprise raid in Mong Kok Thu, Oct 16 21:49 PM EDT image 1 of 8 By Clare Baldwin and James Pomfret HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hundreds of Hong Kong police staged a dawn raid on Friday on one of the key sites occupied by pro-democracy protesters, removing barricades from roads and clearing out most of the demonstrators in an another setback for their movement. The operation in the gritty working class area of Mong Kok, across the harbor from the main demonstration zone near the office of Hong Kong's leader, came while many protesters were asleep in their tents. It further reduces the number of protest sites that have paralyzed parts of the Asian financial hub over the past three weeks. Police encountered little resistance, unlike recent days when there has been violent clashes during operations to clear other major roads. The mainly student protesters have been demanding full democracy for the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, and calling on its leader, Leung Chun-ying, to step down. In August, Beijing offered Hong Kong people the chance to vote for their own leader in 2017, but only among candidates selected by a screening committee filled with pro-Beijing figures. Leung on Thursday sought to defuse tensions with demonstrators, saying he hoped the two sides could talk next week. But he also said police would clear protesters at a suitable time. "I am so furious. The government said it would talk to the students about these issues, then it came and cleared our base," said Cony Cheung, 21, a skin care products saleswoman. No arrests were made, said Barry Smith, a police chief superintendent on the scene, describing the operation as "fairly peaceful". About 800 officers were involved, he added. "They've been occupying this whole area now for almost three weeks and so we decided it's time to give the public the right of way, to get the roads back and get access to pedestrians," Smith said. LITTLE WARNING Some protesters were using small trolleys to cart water, sleeping mats and medical supplies to waiting vehicles to be taken to other protest sites while authorities loaded metal barricades and belongings left behind on to small trucks. Outspoken radio talk show host and activist Wong Yeung-tat was among those cleared away. He said police gave a short warning on loud hailers before moving in with batons and shields, although no direct force was used. "The Hong Kong government's despicable clearance here will cause another wave of citizen protests ... We have urged protesters to maintain a kind of floating protest strategy to guard the streets so we don't feel we have to guard our positions to the end," Wong told Reuters. The raid came just days after hundreds of police used sledgehammers and chainsaws to tear down barricades erected by protesters to reopen a major road leading in the Central business district. A sea of colorful tents remains on a separate thoroughfare in the area, close to Leung's office. Leung has said there is "zero chance" Beijing will give in to protesters' demands, a view shared by most political analysts and many Hong Kong citizens. He has also refused demands that he step down. Chief Secretary Carrie Lam canceled planned talks with student leaders earlier this month, saying it was impossible to have constructive dialogue, and it was hard to see how that could change with the two sides remain poles apart. At its peak, 100,000 protesters had been on the streets, presenting Beijing with one of its biggest political challenges since it crushed pro-democracy demonstrations in and around Tiananmen Square in the Chinese capital in 1989. Those numbers have dwindled significantly. China's Communist Party leaders rule Hong Kong under a "one country, two systems" formula that gives the city wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, with universal suffrage an eventual goal. They are concerned calls for democracy in Hong Kong, and in the neighboring former Portuguese-run colony of Macau, could spread to the mainland, threatening their grip on power. (Additional reporting by Bobby Yip; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree and Dean Yates; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Special Report: How Mosul fell - An Iraqi general disputes Baghdad's story

Special Report: How Mosul fell - An Iraqi general disputes Baghdad's story Tue, Oct 14 06:35 AM EDT image 1 of 4 By Ned Parker, Isabel Coles and Raheem Salman BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Lieutenant General Mahdi Gharawi knew an attack was coming. In late May, Iraqi security forces arrested seven members of militant group Islamic State in Mosul and learned the group planned an offensive on the city in early June. Gharawi, the operational commander of Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, asked Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's most trusted commanders for reinforcements. With Iraq's military overstretched, the senior officers scoffed at the request. Diplomats in Baghdad also passed along intelligence of an attack, only to be told that Iraqi Special Forces were in Mosul and could handle any scenario. On June 4, federal police in Mosul under Gharawi's command cornered Islamic State's military leader in Iraq, who blew himself up rather than surrendering. Gharawi hoped the death might avert an attack. He was wrong. At 2:30 a.m. on June 6, Gharawi and his men returned to their operations room after an inspection of checkpoints in the city of two million. At that moment, convoys of pickup trucks were advancing from the west, driving across the desert that straddles Iraq's border with Syria. Each vehicle held up to four IS fighters. The convoys shot their way through the two-man checkpoints into the city. By 3:30 a.m., the militants were fighting inside Mosul. Within three days the Iraqi army would abandon the country's second-biggest city to its attackers. The loss triggered a series of events that continues to reshape Iraq months later. It unleashed a two-day charge by IS to within 95 miles (153 km) of Baghdad that caused the collapse of four Iraqi divisions and the capture or deaths of thousands of soldiers. It helped drive Maliki from office. And it pushed Western powers and Gulf Arab nations into launching air strikes on the Islamist militants in both Iraq and Syria. But how Mosul was lost, and who gave the order to abandon the fight, have, until now, been unclear. There has been no official version: only soldiers' stories of mass desertions and claims by infantry troops that they followed orders to flee. In June, Maliki accused unnamed regional countries, commanders and rival politicians of plotting the fall of Mosul, but has since remained quiet. Nevertheless, Baghdad has pinned the blame on Gharawi. In late August, he was charged by the defense ministry with dereliction of duty. He is now awaiting the findings of an investigative panel and then a military trial. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to death. (Four federal police officers who served under Gharawi are also in custody awaiting trial, and could not be reached.) Parliament also plans to hold hearings into the loss of Mosul. An investigation by Reuters shows that higher-level military officials and Maliki himself share at least some of the blame. Several of Iraq's senior-most commanders and officials have detailed for the first time how troop shortages and infighting among top officers and Iraqi political leaders played into Islamic State's hands and fueled panic that led to the city's abandonment. Maliki and his defense minister made an early critical mistake, they say, by turning down repeated offers of help from the Kurdish fighting force known as the peshmerga. Gharawi's role in the debacle is a matter of debate. A member of the country's dominant Shi'ite sect, he alienated Mosul's Sunni majority before the battle, according to the provincial governor and many citizens. That helped give rise to IS sleeper cells inside Mosul. One Iraqi officer under his command faulted Gharawi for not rallying the troops for a final stand. For his part, Gharawi says he stood firm, and did not give the final order to abandon the city. Others involved in the battle endorse that claim and say Gharawi fought until the city was overrun. It was only then that he fled. Gharawi says three people could have given the final order: Aboud Qanbar, at the time the defense ministry's deputy chief of staff; Ali Ghaidan, then commander of the ground forces; or Maliki himself, who personally directed his most senior officers from Baghdad. The secret of who decided to abandon Mosul, Gharawi says, lies with these three men. Gharawi says a decision by Ghaidan and Qanbar to leave Mosul's western bank sparked mass desertions as soldiers assumed their commanders had fled. A senior Iraqi military official backs that assertion. None of the three men have commented publicly on their decisions in Mosul. Maliki has declined Reuters requests for an interview for this article. Qanbar has not responded, while Ghaidan could not be reached. Lieutenant General Qassim Atta, a military spokesman with close ties to Maliki, told Reuters last week that Gharawi "above all others ... failed in his role as commander." The rest, he said, "will be revealed before the judiciary." In many ways, Gharawi's story is a window into Iraq. The Shi'ite general has been a key figure since 2003, when the Shi'ites began gaining power after the United States toppled Saddam Hussein and his Sunni-dominated Baath Party. Shi'ite leaders once saluted Gharawi as a hero, while Sunnis see him as a murderer who used Iraq's war on extremism as a cover for extorting money from businesses and menacing innocent people with arrests and killings. Gharawi rose through a military riven by sectarian splits, corruption and politics. He is now trapped by those same forces. The decision to punish him and ignore the role of higher-level figures shows not just that rebuilding the military will be difficult, but also why the country risks breakup. As Mosul proved, the Iraqi army is a failed institution at the heart of a failing state. Gharawi, in his own telling, has become a scapegoat, a victim of the deal-making and alliances that keep Iraq's political and military elite in place. Ghaidan and Qanbar, longtime confidantes of Maliki, have been dispatched to a pensioned retirement. Gharawi, who is living in his home town in the south of Iraq, says his bosses are pinning the faults of a broken system on him. "They want just to save themselves from these accusations," he told Reuters during a visit to Baghdad two weeks ago. "The investigation should include the highest commanders and leadership ... Everyone should say what they have, so the people know." ROAD TO MOSUL Gharawi expected Mosul to be hell. In the years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the city had become an epicenter for the al Qaeda and Sunni insurgency. Former Baathists and military commanders lived in the province of Nineveh. The Kurds also had a foothold in the city; after Saddam's fall they came to dominate the security forces and local government. In 2008, two years after he became prime minister, Maliki began to assert his power there. Seeing the Kurds as potentially disloyal, he began to purge Kurdish officers from Mosul's two army divisions and insert his own men to protect Baghdad's interests. He appointed a string of commanders who antagonised local Kurds and Sunnis. In 2011, he tapped Gharawi. The general was already a survivor of Iraq's political system. Despite the fact he was a Shi'ite, he had been a member of Saddam's Republican Guard. In 2004, after Saddam's fall, Washington had backed Gharawi to lead one of Iraq's new National Police Divisions. It was a brutal period. The Shi'ite-dominated security forces – including the police – were connected to a spate of extrajudicial killings. The Americans accused Gharawi of running his police brigades as a front for Shi'ite militias blamed for the murder of hundreds of people, mostly Sunnis. U.S. and Iraqi officials investigated Gharawi for his command of Site Four, a notorious Baghdad jail where prisoners were allegedly tortured or sold to one of the biggest and most brutal Shi'ite militias. In late 2006, U.S. officials moved to stop the killings, pressuring Maliki to dismiss Gharawi and try him for torture. Maliki reassigned Gharawi but would not try him. U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker recalled a near shouting match with Maliki over the general. "One of my many disappointments was not getting that sorry-assed failure," Crocker said in 2010. Gharawi says he did nothing wrong during that period and has nothing to apologize for. It was civil war, he said. The Sunni insurgency was bent on demolishing the Shi'ite-led government. Gharawi's brother was killed by Sunni militants. "We worked under special circumstances. We prevented civil war. We actually stopped it. Where are our mistakes?" LEOPARD SKIN AND A WARNING After his demotion, Gharawi bided his time, a gloomy figure in his dim-lit Green Zone villa, decorated with old photos, including a few of him with U.S. senators and Donald Rumsfeld. He was given a series of minor jobs. Maliki's office regularly proposed him for higher positions only to be blocked by U.S. officials. As the U.S. military prepared to leave Iraq, Maliki appointed Gharawi the top federal police commander in Mosul. There, Gharawi recaptured his glory. State television showed him standing on Nineveh's sweeping plains in blue camouflage as he announced a successful operation against a terror plot. Maliki rewarded him with property in an affluent Baghdad neighborhood. In his house in the capital on a short leave from Mosul last December, Gharawi sat proudly on a leafy green couch, surrounded by cream-coloured walls, a faux leopard skin rug, and shiny tiled floors. An oil portrait of himself hung on the wall. He bragged about arrests and flipped through pictures of jihadists his men had captured. Despite his triumphs, he was frank about the insurgency that re-emerged last year as Sunnis grew frustrated with Maliki's sectarian rule. The war was at best a stalemate, Gharawi said. Al Qaeda – the Islamic State's parent organization at the time, before it split this year – was gaining ground. "I have to confess, al Qaeda is stronger than they have ever been. Qaeda needs Mosul. They think of Mosul as their emirate," he said. Gharawi said he lacked the troops to secure the province. He also faced growing opposition from Sunnis in Mosul, who accused him and his men of extra-judicial killings, allegations Gharawi rejected. In March, Maliki appointed him Nineveh's operational commander. Security in Iraq was deteriorating. In Anbar province, to Nineveh's southwest, violence had drawn in three military divisions against IS militants and angry Sunni tribes. The government had lost control of the highways from Baghdad to the north. IS militants regularly set up fake checkpoints and ambushed vehicles. THE FALL As IS fighters raced towards Mosul before dawn on June 6, the jihadists hoped only to take a neighborhood for several hours, one of them later told a friend in Baghdad. They did not expect state control to crumble. They hurtled into five districts in their hundreds, and would, over the next few days, reach over 2,000 fighters, welcomed by the city's angry Sunni residents. The first line of Mosul's defense was the sixth brigade of the Third Iraqi army division. On paper, the brigade had 2,500 men. The reality was closer to 500. The brigade was also short of weapons and ammunition, according to one non-commissioned officer. Infantry, armor and tanks had been shifted to Anbar, where more than 6,000 soldiers had been killed and another 12,000 had deserted. It left Mosul with virtually no tanks and a shortage of artillery, according to Gharawi. There was also a problem with ghost soldiers – men on the books who paid their officers half their salaries and in return did not show up for duty. Investigators from the defense ministry had sent a report on the phenomenon to superiors in 2013. Nothing was heard back, a sergeant who was based in Mosul told Reuters. In all, there were supposed to be close to 25,000 soldiers and police in the city; the reality, several local officials and security officers say, was at best 10,000. In the district of Musherfa, one of the city's main entry points, there were just 40 soldiers on duty the night of June 6. As the militants infiltrated the city, they seized military vehicles and weapons. The sergeant based there said they also hanged soldiers and lit them ablaze, crucified them, and torched them on the hoods of Humvees. On the western edge of Tamoz 17 neighborhood, police from the fourth battalion saw two Humvees and 15 pickup trucks approach, spraying machine gun fire. "In my entire battalion we have one machine gun. In each pickup they had one," said head of the battalion, Colonel Dhiyab Ahmed al-Assi al-Obeidi. Gharawi ordered his forces to form a defensive line to cordon off the besieged western Mosul neighbourhoods from the Tigris River. Gharawi said he received a call from Maliki to hold things until the arrival of Qanbar, the deputy chief of staff at the defense ministry, and Ghaidan, who commanded Iraqi ground forces. Qanbar is a member of Maliki's tribe, while Ghaidan had long assisted Maliki in security operations, according to senior officers and Iraqi officials. The two men outranked Gharawi and automatically took formal charge of the Mosul command on June 7. On the morning of June 8, Gharawi met Nineveh governor Atheel Nujaifi. The governor was no friend – he had previously accused Gharawi of corruption, an allegation the general rejected. Now the city's fate hinged on Gharawi. One of Nujaifi's advisers asked the general why he had not counter-attacked. "There are not enough forces," Gharawi told them. General Babakir Zebari was Gharawi's superior and chief of staff for Iraq's armed forces back in Baghdad. He agrees there were not enough men to defeat the jihadists. And Maliki had already rejected a chance to change that. On June 7, Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani had offered to send Kurdish peshmerga fighters to help. The offer went all the way up to Maliki, who rejected it twice through his defense minister, according to Zebari. United Nations and U.S. diplomats also attempted to broker an arrangement acceptable to Maliki, who remained suspicious of the Kurds' intent. Maliki insisted there were more than enough Iraqi forces. Barzani's office confirmed Kurdish offers of help were rejected. On the afternoon of June 8, the Islamic State surged. More than 100 vehicles, carrying at least 400 men, had crossed to Mosul from Syria since the start of the battle. Sleeper cells hiding in the city had been activated and neighbourhoods rallied to them, according to police and military. The insurgents bombed a police station in the al-Uraybi neighborhood and charged into the area around the Mosul Hotel, an abandoned building on the western bank of the Tigris transformed into a battle post for 30 men from SWAT, an emergency police unit. Gharawi and his federal police pounded Islamic State-controlled areas with artillery. For a moment, "the morale of Mosul got higher," Gharawi said. Within hours, though, Gharawi's command was thrown into disarray. Multiple military sources say Ghaidan and Qanbar sacked a divisional commander after he refused to send men to defend the Mosul Hotel. The sacked general, who reported to Gharawi, theoretically commanded 6,000 men, though many were AWOL. General Zebari calls the order another huge mistake: "In crisis, you can't replace the commander." TURNING POINT By June 9, the fourth battalion's Colonel Obeidi and 40 of his men were among the very last local police fighting to hold back the jihadists in western Mosul. The rest had either joined the jihadists or run away. Just before 4:30 p.m., a military water tanker raced towards the Mosul Hotel where Obeidi and his men were stationed. The police fired at the tanker, which detonated, setting off a massive fireball and hurtling shrapnel. "I didn't feel anything," said Obeidi, whose leg was ripped open by the blast. "The sound shook the whole of Mosul but I didn't hear a thing." Clutching his handgun, Obeidi vowed to fight on. Police carried him to a boat to cross the Tigris to safety. Military officers, local officials, and even U.S. officials later testifying to Congress said the hotel attack was what broke the army and police in Mosul. After that, the defensive line in the west of the city melted away. Barely three hours later, as reports spread of federal police burning their camps and discarding their uniforms, the Nineveh governor and his adviser met with Qanbar and Ghaidan in the Operation Command near the airport. The adviser, Khaled al-Obeidi, was himself a retired general and a newly elected lawmaker. (He is unrelated to police Colonel Obeidi). He urged the commanders to go on the offensive with the Second Division, which sat relatively untouched across the river in eastern Mosul. Qanbar said that they had a plan. Nujaifi's adviser then urged Gharawi to attack. Gharawi said he could not risk moving the soldiers and federal police he had left. "We can get you the force," the adviser said. Qanbar interrupted. The governor and adviser should do their work, he said. "We will do ours." The governor and his adviser left the base at 8:25 p.m., unsure of what the military's plan was. Shortly before 9:30 p.m., Qanbar and Ghaidan told Gharawi they were withdrawing across the river. "They said goodbye and that's it. They didn't give me any information or any reason," Gharawi said. They stripped Gharawi of 46 men and 14 pickup trucks and Humvees – the bulk of his security detail – say Gharawi and other officers. The two senior generals moved the city's command to a base on the city's eastern edge, according to multiple accounts. Ghaidan and Qanbar's retreating convoy created the impression that Iraq's security forces were deserting, Gharawi said. "This is the straw that broke the camel's back. This was the biggest mistake." Soldiers assumed their leaders had fled and within a couple of hours most of the Second Division had deserted the city's east, Nujaifi, the governor, told Reuters. Gharawi and 26 of his men stayed hidden in their operations base in the west, which swarmed with insurgents. That night, Gharawi said, Ghaidan phoned him and assured him the army was holding eastern Mosul. Ghaidan and Qanbar both left Mosul overnight, arriving in Kurdistan on June 10, according to Zebari, the chief of staff back in Baghdad. "Of course once the commander leaves the soldier behind, why would you want to fight?" asked Zebari. "The senior commander is the brains of operation. Once he runs, the whole body is paralysed." Zebari says he doesn't know who gave the order to leave. Qanbar and Ghaidan were bypassing the defense ministry and reporting directly to Maliki, Zebari told Reuters. Early the next morning, Zebari rang Gharawi and urged him to leave the operation command center. "You are going to get killed. Please withdraw," both men remember Zebari saying. Gharawi refused and insisted he needed approval from Maliki's military office to leave. Soon after, Gharawi decided to fight his way across a bridge to eastern Mosul. He rang Ghaidan to tell him. "I am going to be killed. I am surrounded by all directions. Send the prime minister my greetings. Tell the prime minister I have done everything possible that I can do." He and his men crammed into five vehicles and headed across the river. On the east bank, their five vehicles were set ablaze. They dodged bullets and stones. Three of the men were shot dead. It was every man for himself, Gharawi said. In the east, Gharawi and three of his men commandeered an armoured vehicle with flat tires and headed north to safety. AFTERMATH By August, Gharawi was back in his ancestral home in southern Iraq, looking after his children, unsure what to do next. One day he received a call from a friend in the defense ministry: He was under investigation for dereliction of duty in Mosul. At the same time, Maliki promoted Qanbar and moved to protect Ghaidan. After the prime minister resigned on Aug. 15, though, the two men were also forced into retirement. It marked an effort by Haider al-Abadi, the new prime minister, to start to clean and rebuild the Iraqi forces. Abadi has closed the office Maliki used to direct commanders and has quietly retired officers seen as loyal to his predecessor. Purging the security institutions of their sectarianism, money-making schemes and political manoeuvrings will take years. And for now, Gharawi must take the blame for Mosul. Zebari believes that's unfair. "Gharawi was an officer doing a job, but his luck ran out just like many other officers," he said. "All of us have to shoulder some of the responsibility. Every one of us." Two weeks ago in Baghdad, face unshaven, voice hoarse, Gharawi indicated a begrudging acceptance of his fate, whatever it might be. "Maybe I'll be pardoned, maybe I'll be imprisoned, maybe I'll be hanged," he said. (Parker reported from Baghdad and Arbil, Salman from Baghdad, and Coles from Arbil; With additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Saif Hameed in Baghdad; Edited by Simon ============== Islamic State forces 180,000 to flee in Iraq Mon, Oct 13 16:51 PM EDT image By Ahmed Rasheed BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Fighting in Iraq's western Anbar province has forced up to 180,000 people to flee since the city of Hit fell to Islamic State earlier this month, the United Nations said on Monday. Islamic State fighters extended that advance by overrunning a military base that the Iraqi army had abandoned 8 km (5 miles) west of Hit earlier on Monday, according to an army officer and members of a government-backed Sunni militia. Islamic State has been on the offensive in the desert province of Anbar, bordering Syria, in recent weeks, taking the town of Hit on Oct. 2 and nearby Kubaisa on Oct. 4. That has raised concerns in the West because it is close to Baghdad and demonstrates the group's reach; while operating successfully in Anbar, it is also on the verge of taking the strategic town of Kobani hundreds of miles away in northern Syria on the border with Turkey. In Baghdad, three bombs exploded in Shi'ite parts of the capital on Monday, killing 30 people, police and medical officials said, continuing a wave of attacks targeting Iraq's majority religious group. There was no claim of responsibility for the bombings, but Islamic State claimed a string of attacks in Baghdad on Sunday that left 45 dead. As a result of the fighting and air strikes in Anbar, carried out by the Iraqi government and a U.S.-led military coalition, up to 30,000 families or 180,000 individuals have fled Hit, the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. The war in Anbar and its conquest of Mosul have allowed Islamic State to hold territory from eastern Syria across Sunni parts of Iraq with the goal of establishing a caliphate. SUICIDE BOMBERS In northern Syria, three Islamic State fighters blew themselves up on Monday in Kobani, a monitoring group said, with the hardline militants making slight advances inside the besieged Kurdish town. In one of the attacks, an Islamic State fighter detonated a truck laden with explosives in a northern district of Kobani, which has been the scene of heavy clashes between Kurdish forces and Islamic State fighters, Kurdish sources said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported more heavy fighting on Monday inside the city, where U.S.-led air strikes have so far failed to halt the militants' advance. Rami Abderahman of the Observatory said one of the suicide attacks targeted a bus station in the northwest of Kobani and that the group had taken around 50 percent of the town. "They now control the cultural center, which means they have advanced further inside the town," he said. The Observatory said there had been at least five U.S.-led strikes early on Monday, mainly targeting southern districts of Kobani, which is known as Ayn al-Arab in Arabic. Clashes also continued to the east, killing a dozen Islamic State fighters. The militant group wants to seize the town to consolidate a dramatic sweep across northern Iraq and Syria. The United States and Saudi Arabia launched eight air strikes on Sunday and Monday against Islamic State targets in Syria, including seven near Kobani, the U.S. military said. Four strikes southwest of Kobani hit Islamic State units and destroyed a machine gun firing position, while three strikes northeast of Kobani struck a militant unit and damaged a staging location and several buildings. Another strike hit an Islamic State garrison northwest of Raqqa, the military said. DENIAL In a blow to U.S. hopes, Turkey denied it had agreed to let the United States use its Incirlik air base in the fight against Islamic State, and sources at the Turkish prime minister's office said talks were continuing on the subject. Turkey had however reached an agreement with Washington on training Syrian rebels, the sources told reporters, without saying who would train the insurgents or where. The comments come after U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Turkey had agreed to let forces from a U.S.-led military coalition use its bases for activities inside Iraq and Syria and to train moderate Syrian rebels. Syria's air force meanwhile carried out strikes against rebels at more than double its usual rate on Monday, according to the Observatory. The intensified air strikes by President Bashar al-Assad's government will add to the fear among Assad's opponents that he is taking advantage of the U.S. strikes to crush other foes, including the "moderate opposition" that Washington backs. The United States says it does not want to help Assad's government despite bombing Islamic State, the most powerful group fighting against Damascus in a three-year-old civil war. Washington aims to help arm moderates to fight against both Assad and Islamic State. But within days of the start of U.S. air strikes in Syria last month, Assad's government stepped up the tempo of its own air campaign against rebels closer to the capital Damascus. The Observatory said the Syrian air force had struck 40 times on Monday in areas in Idlib and Hama provinces, including dropping oil drums packed with explosives and shrapnel. Typically Damascus has carried out no more than 12-20 raids a day. (Additional reporting by Ned Parker, a correspondent in Anbar, Tom Miles, Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Mariam Karouny, Jim Loney, Ozge Ozbilgin, Sylvia Westall; writing by Giles Elgood; editing by Philippa Fletcher) ============================================== Turkey Was an Unlikely Victim of an Equally Unlikely Coup The Interpreter By MAX FISHER and AMANDA TAUB JULY 16, 2016 Continue reading the main story Share This Page Photo People stand on a damaged military tank in Ankara on Saturday. Credit Emin Ozmen for The New York Times If the attempted coup in Turkey came as a surprise, there was good reason: The event went against decades of research on how, when and why coups happen. Friday night’s uprising appeared to diverge wildly from the usual patterns. And political scientists who study coups say Turkey should have been at little risk. Secretary of State John Kerry, reiterating support for Turkey’s government, expressed the bafflement felt by many observers. “It surprised everybody, including the people in Turkey,” Mr. Kerry said, adding, “I must say it does not appear to be a very brilliantly planned or executed event.” The gap between Turkey’s insurrection and other coups helps explain why the attempt failed. But it also underscores how many basic questions remain unanswered. Advertisement Continue reading the main story Not the kind of country at risk Coups are usually driven not solely by individual plotters, but also by structural factors. Political scientists, by tracking factors like economic trends, political freedoms and public health, have identified several predictive patterns. Jay Ulfelder, who works in the area of political forecasting, has developed a mathematical model that synthesizes this data to predict a country’s level of risk. Continue reading the main story Advertisement Continue reading the main story Turkey, said Mr. Ulfelder’s research, done in conjunction with the Early Warning Project, was a “very unlikely” candidate for a coup, he said in an email. It had only a 2.5 percent probability of an attempted coup, based on 2016 data. That placed it 56th out of 160 countries, between Laos and Iran, and was within a range considered stable. At-risk countries tend to have high rates of infant mortality, a common measurement of poverty, and poorly performing economies. Turkey’s economy has been growing, and infant mortality has been rapidly declining. Mr. Ulfelder has also found that a country is less likely to face a coup when there is armed conflict in nearby states, perhaps because of a rally-around-the-flag effect. Photo Turkish lawmakers at Parliament on Saturday. Poor planning was one reason the coup attempt in Turkey failed, experts said. Credit European Pressphoto Agency While Turkey has a history of coups, the country has changed considerably since its last, in 1997, and Mr. Ulfelder stressed that what mattered more was its nearly 20 years without one. Another crucial factor is what experts call elite fragmentation. If divisions open up among powerful elites — elected officials, business leaders, generals, judges and so on — their competition for resources and control can culminate in a coup. There is, as yet, no sign of such a split in Turkey. The growing economy gives elites reason to maintain the status quo. And while state institutions are imperfect and rates of corruption could be better — both factors that can lead elites to compete for resources — neither is bad enough to cause a crisis. Turkey also does not have the kind of social polarization that disaffected elites often exploit to push forward a coup. While the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, can be a polarizing figure in electoral politics, we do not see the kind of deeper divisions, with civil society groups rallying against the state, we might expect in advance of a coup. Advertisement Continue reading the main story Not what a coup looks like Research suggests that carrying out a successful coup is a bit like baking a cake: There is a recipe, and if you skip steps or leave out ingredients, you’ll almost certainly fail. Turkey’s plotters didn’t follow the recipe. Successful coups tend to be waged as “coordination games,” Naunihal Singh, a professor at the Air War College, wrote in the book “Seizing Power,” which examines why coups succeed or fail. Coups work, according to this theory, when leaders convince other officers and soldiers that their success is already assured. That makes joining an act of perceived self-interest. Plotters usually accomplish this with a predictable set of steps. A huge show of force demonstrates that the weight of the military is behind the coup. A public statement by one or more high-level public officials shows that there is elite support. And the plotters usually establish tight control over the media and the flow of public information, quashing any broadcasts that would undermine the sense of inevitable and unchallenged success. Successful coups in countries like Turkey, which have strong military and political institutions, typically follow an “institutional coup” model, according to Brian Klaas, a fellow at the London School of Economics. In an institutional coup, the military is unified behind the takeover and uses its full power to force top-down control over the government — as senior Turkish military leaders did in 1980. In that scenario, the coordination game is fairly simple. All of the coordination by the military elite happens before the coup even begins — and then other elites have little choice but to fall in line. Video Turkey Wakes Up to Aftermath of a Coup A failed coup attempt on Friday night has gripped Turkey. By Saturday morning, thousands of soldiers had been detained, accused of trying to overthrow the government, and civilians were left in a state of unease. By TURNER COWLES and MEGAN SPECIA on Publish Date July 16, 2016. Photo by Gokhan Tan/Getty Images. Watch in Times Video » embed When the uprising represents only a faction of officers, Mr. Klaas said, the confidence game can also require quickly seizing top leaders and persuading or forcing a senior officer to publicly declare the coup’s victory, creating an appearance of success before anyone figures out what happened. This time, Turkey’s dissident officers tried to take only some of these steps, and succeeded in none of them. Advertisement Continue reading the main story Rebels deployed tanks and air power in a show of force in Istanbul and Ankara, but this was not enough to intimidate the rest of the military, which eventually overcame them. Most notably, there was no public face of the coup to demonstrate elite support or issue a clear plan. The insurrectionists also tried but failed to control communication with the public. President Erdogan was able to use the FaceTime smartphone app to call a TV station, a bizarre scenario that risked the appearance of weakness but also sapped plotters’ momentum and allowed him to call for the public to flood the streets in opposition. Turkish internet and cellphone service remained in operation. This allowed the government to communicate on social media and helped news of pro-government protests spread, undermining the coup’s sense of inevitability. Unanswered questions Those protests — and the absence of visible pro-coup crowds — may have also been key to thwarting the plot. Successful coups will often exploit or even coordinate with pre-existing movements, using this show of popular support to rally elites. Turkey’s 1997 coup leaders, for example, worked with civil society groups and others who opposed the government. Egypt’s 2013 military takeover came amid mass protests against the government. This weekend’s coup leaders appeared to lack any allies. No civil society groups or political parties issued statements in support of the insurrection, and no elites appeared to take action on its behalf. That hindsight makes the coup seem so doomed only underscores some questions. It is still unclear what prompted the attempt, who led it, and why they believed they had enough chance at success to risk their lives. If history is any guide, the most straightforward explanation is simply poor planning and ineptitude.