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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Does Rafsanjani want to chair the Assembly of Experts? Beset by hardship, Iranians losing hope for future

Beset by hardship, Iranians losing hope for future By Parisa Hafezi ANKARA Wed Jan 21, 2015 4:49am EST Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, September 25, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, September 25, 2014. Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar Related News BOJ cuts inflation forecast, governor signals no rush to ease UPDATE 3-Brent crude oil rises above $48.50, but outlook remains weak Full text of Obama's State of the Union address Russia may send S-300 missile system to Iran - media UPDATE 1-Russia may send S-300 missile system to Iran -media Analysis & Opinion Davos faces now customary global uncertainty Ripples from ECB even before it acts (Reuters) - As prices of food, water and electricity rise further beyond reach, struggling Iranians are losing belief in their pragmatic president and his promise of a brighter future. The country has been hit by the double hammer blows of persisting Western sanctions over its nuclear activities and plunging oil prices - but its leaders tell the people that adversity will make them stronger. This offers scant comfort to many ordinary Iranians struggling to support their families as high unemployment and low wages take their toll. They had pinned their hopes on President Hassan Rouhani, who won power in 2013 with pledges to improve the economy by ending the decade-long nuclear stand-off with the West - but a comprehensive deal has still not materialized. "All these promises of improving the economy are just nice words," said Morad Rezaian, a father-of-five who owns a small grocery shop in the southern port city of Bandar Abbas. "I can't feed my kids with empty promises." Mid-way through Rouhani's first term, he has not only angered political hardliners who oppose any rapprochement with the U.S. "Great Satan", but is losing the belief of many of the middle and lower-income Iranians who voted him in and are now shouldering much of the burden of the economic woes. Many ships bringing grain have been turned back from Iranian ports over the past year because Tehran cannot pay suppliers, driving up food prices. Ghanbar Emadi, a private-sector employee in the north-western city of Tabriz, said the cost of a loaf of "barbari" bread had risen by around a third in the past three months alone to 10,000 rials ($3). "Can we afford to buy goods? Of course not. Seems our leaders live in another country than we do when they talk about economic success." DAMAGE For years OPEC member Iran has offset the damaging impact of sanctions with high oil revenues, with much of the country's food and many of the manufacturing parts used to assemble goods in its factories paid for with "petrodollars". But crude prices have halved since June, slashing revenues and compounding the effect of sanctions that have reduced Iran's oil exports by 60 percent to around 1 million barrels a day. "They talk about improved economy - maybe on paper but not in reality. The price of goods is increasing fast and our purchasing power is declining," said 38-year-old housewife Masumeh Zandi in the Caspian Sea port of Rasht. Rouhani's administration has repaired some of the economic damage caused mainly by sanctions, including stabilizing the currency and using conservative monetary and fiscal policies to halve the official annual inflation rate to around 20 percent. But more than a year after reaching an initial agreement with the six major powers over its nuclear program, a final deal has not been struck to end the sanctions that have prompted the government to cut food and energy subsidies in a bid to ease squeezed state finances. "I am not an economist but I know how much I am spending every month," said 42-year-old teacher Mahsa Hosseini in Tehran. "The price of bread, electricity, water and natural gas is increasing. Why? We are an energy-rich country. What happened to all those election promises of Rouhani?" The state of economy has always been a central factor in shaping Iran's political evolution since the country's 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah. If Rouhani cannot make good on his promise to lift sanctions, he could lose the support of many Iranians and cede influence to hardliners in the country's complex political structure - leading to a deterioration in relations with the West, diplomats and analysts say. "Rouhani's political career depends on improving the economy. The oil price fall is not helping the government. People are losing hope and in the streets people speak of little else but economic hardship," said a senior Western diplomat based in Tehran. UNEMPLOYMENT Under the interim nuclear accord, Iran suspended its most sensitive nuclear work in return for easing some economic sanctions. But major foreign investments have not taken place because of continued uncertainty on whether sanctions will be eased further. Over 15 percent of workers are unemployed and many jobs pay a pittance. Lifting sanctions would trigger a fresh round of private-sector investment and is the key to rescuing Iran's economy, analysts say. "No one really wants to do business in Iran. Everything depends on the nuclear deal. With the oil prices going down every day, lack of a final deal means we will suffer more," said 32-year-old Mohammad Reza, a real estate agent in the central city of Isfahan who declined to give his surname. "Prices of properties are high and nobody can or wants to buy properties. They are scared to invest in a country with no clear future," he added. Some diplomats say the coming months will be crucial for the economy - and for Iran's pragmatic president. If Rouhani succeeds in penning a final accord, his position will be strengthened and his second term in office guaranteed, analysts say. "But in case of failure of the talks, hardliners will have an upper hand and Iran will become more hostile to the West," said Iran-based analyst Saeed Leylaz. For Iranians, the cost is clear. "Life is very expensive," said Rezaian from Bandar Abbas. "I was hoping that it would end with resolving the nuclear issue, but there is no deal and there is no hope for a better life." (Editing by Angus McDowall and Pravin Char) =========================== Does Rafsanjani want to chair the Assembly of Experts? Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, has announced that the assembly's new chairman will be elected March 10. Following the death of the former chairman, Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, five months ago, Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi had assumed the role temporarily. However, signs indicate that the chairman's election among the assembly's board of directors is as vague as the outcome of the 2013 presidential election; it’s still unclear who will be elected chairman: Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, Shahroudi or a conservative figure? Summary⎙ Print It's still unclear whether Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani will run for the chairmanship of Iran's Assembly of Experts, which supervises and elects the supreme leader. AuthorRohollah FaghihiPosted February 26, 2015 The Assembly of Experts is charged with electing Iran's supreme leader and supervising his activities. Members of the assembly are elected for eight-year terms from lists of candidates by a direct public vote. The next election for members of the Assembly of Experts is to be held February 2016. On March 8, 2011, Mahdavi Kani was chosen as the assembly's chairman following Rafsanjani’s decision not to run for the chairmanship. Before Mahdavi Kani’s candidacy, Rafsanjani had said that he wouldn’t run if Mahdavi Kani stepped forward. At the time, some analysts believed that replacing Rafsanjani was another move to further marginalize him by hard-line conservatives and then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Although, according to a source who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, if anyone except Mahdavi Kani — who was considered relatively moderate — had announced his candidacy, Rafsanjani would have nominated himself. Now that Mahdavi Kani is dead and the election of a new chairman is scheduled for March 10, Rafsanjani has warned, “If those whom I don’t consider to deserve the Assembly of Experts chairmanship have the intention of [being a candidate in the election], I will be willing to nominate myself.” In an interview with Al-Monitor, Rafsanjani’s adviser, Gholam Ali Rajai, said: “The Assembly of Experts is an important body, as not everybody is capable of protecting the country and the system’s interests, goals and frameworks, but those who have a notable record are able to succeed in this job.” According to a source who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, Rafsanjani considers Ahmad Khatami, Tehran’s interim Friday prayer leader, and a number of conservative figures, as deserving of the chairmanship. Nevertheless, the aforementioned names don’t have a great chance of victory. Some of them, like Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati and Mohammad Yazdi, have already tried their luck, but they failed to attract enough votes compared to Rafsanjani. As a result, conservatives are seeking to nominate Shahroudi, a moderate who has a better chance at being elected chairman because of his relative acceptability among both conservatives and moderates. Shahroudi was born and raised in Najaf, Iraq. The Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appointed him in 1999 as the head of Iran’s judiciary, where he served until 2009. He was then appointed to the Guardian Council. Since Mahdavi Kani's death, conservatives are directly and indirectly saying that Shahroudi will be elected as the assembly's new chairman. Ayatollah Ali Movahedi Kermani, head of the Combatant Clergy Association, said, “There are some speculations on the issue of new chairmanship of Assembly of Experts, but in my view, it is likely that Ayatollah Shahroudi will be appointed.” Hard-line cleric Mehdi Taeb said: “It is highly likely that Mr. Shahroudi will become the chairman of the Assembly of Experts. My prediction is that Hashemi Rafsanjani won’t be chosen as the head of the Assembly of Experts anymore.” In fact, conservatives are emphasizing and announcing their preferred choices for chairman in an attempt to portray Shahroudi’s election as a humiliating defeat for Rafsanjani, which in reality is the opposite. According to a source who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, Shahroudi has a good relationship with Rafsajnani, and contrary to what it is thought, he won’t get along with hard-liners. A sign of Shahroudi’s close relationship with Rafsanjani was seen during the last presidential election, during the Guardian Council meeting that resulted in Rafsanjani's disqualification as a candidate in the presidential election. According to two different narratives, Shahroudi either stormed out of the meeting or didn't attend a later meeting following Rafsanjani's disqualification. Another potential candidate is Ayatollah Abbas Vaeze Tabasi, who serves as Khamenei's representative to the holy city of Mashhad. A source told Al-Monitor that Tabasi is unwilling to enter the game. Yet, even if Tabasi runs for chairman, his relationship with Rafsanjani is so good that, during the 2009 assembly election, he decided not to run in favor of Rafsanjani. Despite all this, Rafsanjani still has the greatest chance of becoming assembly chairman. Rafsanjani’s adviser told Al-Monitor, “Ayatollah Hashemi hasn’t at all ruled out his participation in the election to determine the head of Assembly of Experts.” He added that Rafsanjani "has conditioned his candidacy to the situation before the election” and that he is "a serious choice and is impossible to be eliminated." Rafsanjani’s victory appears to be highly likely should he decide to run. “Whoever competes with Hashemi Rafsanjani is defeated; Mr. Jannati ran for chairmanship, and others tried, but they failed," said Ayatollah Haeri Shirazi, a member of the Assembly of Experts. “Mahdavi Kani was elected due to Hashemi’s decision not to run, because of his respect for Kani. Kani himself said that Rafsanjani conferred this post to him.” Finally, Rafsanjani’s candidacy depends on the other potential candidates. If Shahroudi or Tabasi step in, he probably won’t nominate himself. Nevertheless, ever since the creation of the Assembly of Experts, it’s been a tradition that before holding the board of directors election, chairman candidates reach an agreement, and on voting day, just one person nominates himself. Although, if Rafsanjani steps in, Shahroudi’s withdrawal and nomination of a conservative figure would be predictable. Political observers believe that Rafsanjani's recent remarks, about whether he intends to participate in the forthcoming election, are similar to his words in the 2005 and 2013 presidential elections, in which he ultimately ran for president. If this comes true, we once again face a compelling and sensitive scene in Iran’s politics. Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/02/iran-assembly-of-experts-rafsanjani-shahroudi.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter##ixzz3T5ktb3Zg

Opposition politician Boris Nemtsov killed in the center of Moscow

Opposition politician Boris Nemtsov killed in the center of Moscow Published time: February 27, 2015 21:46 Edited time: February 28, 2015 07:30 Get short URL RIA Novosti / Ilya PitalevRIA Novosti / Ilya Pitalev 4.5K2.7K57 Famous Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov has been shot dead in the center of Moscow. The shots came from a vehicle. Reportedly, Nemtsov had previously received death threats on social media sites. Boris Nemtsov killed in Moscow LIVE UPDATES Nemtsov was shot four times in the center of Moscow at Vasilyevsky Spusk, a bridge leading to Red Square, according to police. A law enforcement source told Interfax news agency that a white vehicle approached Nemtsov, fired the shots, and sped away. Police later said there were three white cars on the bridge during the shooting, according to footage from street cameras. Two of them were later cleared of any link to the murder. Some witnesses said the car containing the suspects was without a license plate. Shortly before the deadly shooting, Nemtsov had dinner at a restaurant inside GUM, a department store on Red Square, with the woman he was with when he was shot. The two then went for a walk. Her name is not being released due to the ongoing investigation. “Nemtsov was walking on Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge with a visitor from Ukraine. It was then when he was shot from a car that was passing by,” said the ministry’s official representative, Elena Alekseeva, as quoted by Rossiya 24 TV channel. “The woman who was with him is currently being questioned in a police department,” Alekseeva added. Police said they believe the murder was planned well in advance. “Nemtsov’s route has been established. Someone apparently followed him from GUM and told the accomplices the [politician’s] location,” Tass reported citing a source.Police found six bullet casings at the crime scene, Alekseeva said. RIA Novosti / Ilya PitalevRIA Novosti / Ilya Pitalev Nemtsov’s family lawyer, Vadim Prohorov, said the politician began receiving various types of threats – including death threats – on social media sites a few months ago. The politician’s family members arrived at the crime scene early on Saturday. Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev spoke to them at the site. Television host and opposition activist Ksenia Sobchak was among those at the scene. Before authorities could confirm Nemtsov’s death, the politician’s colleagues spoke out. “Unfortunately, I'm currently looking at the body of Nemtsov," opposition leaders Ilya Yashin, confirmed to RIA Novosti. “I see the body, and a lot of police.” Nemtsov, 55, has been in Russian politics for over two decades. He gained popularity as a governor to Nizhegorodsky region, staying in the office from 1991 to 1997. He served as energy minister and deputy prime minister under former President Boris Yeltsin, while being regarded at some point as his successor. After 1998 he participated in the creation of several liberal movements and parties, serving as a Parliament member. Since 2003 he was more involved in business than politics. However, Nemtsov voiced opposition to President Vladimir Putin, criticizing the government and its policies. Since 2012, he had co-chaired the liberal party RPR-PARNAS (Republican Party of Russia – People's Freedom Party). Nemtsov’s assassination comes just one day ahead of the Vesna (“Spring”) opposition rally slated for March 1 in Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin was “immediately informed” about Nemtsov’s assassination, presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov told RT. “Putin has stressed that this brutal murder has all [the] signs of a contract murder and is extremely provocative,” Peskov said. “The president has expressed his deep condolences to the family of tragically deceased Nemtsov,” he added. Nikita Belyh, governor of the Kirov Region, said he was shocked to hear about Nemtsov’s death and expressed his sincerest condolences to the politician’s family. “This is a nightmare. Boris Nemtsov was killed. I can’t believe this, I talked to him just four hours ago – we laughed, reminisced about something,” he wrote on his Twitter account. Human Rights Watch representative Tanya Cooper called for a “thorough” and “unbiased” investigation into Nemtsov’s murder, adding that police must consider all angles, including the victim’s political career. US President Barack Obama has condemned Nemtsov’s death, describing it as a “brutal murder,” the White House National Security Council said on Twitter. The council also called on Russia to conduct a “prompt, impartial and transparent investigation” and to “ensure those responsible are brought to justice.” 4.5K2.7K56 Sponsored LinksMore From The Web Great Python Interview Questions TopTal (VIDEO) Is The iPad Dead? Dailymotion.com Join Chef Poh in the Food Capital of the World Youtube | Malaysia Airlines by Taboola More from rt.com Russia’s deployed nuclear capacity overtakes US for first time since 2000 Russian military builds futuristic helipad on Moscow embankment (PHOTOS) Mysterious Russian satellite sparks ‘orbital weapon’ speculations by Taboola (4419)Comments Show New Comments (11) Blazkowicz Inc. Blazkowicz Inc. 2 minutes ago history8888 Putin is destroying the great Russia. Russia could be a thriving democracy with an economy better than China's with the right leadership,more... Putin's strong measures helped Russia regain its economic strength. Under American guidance Russia's economy was in shambles. ReplyContext 3 Dragan Radulovic Dragan Radulovic 2 minutes ago The news is bad. Very bad. But, at least Nemtsov was taking a hike as a free man without body guard. What's more Russian politicians must continue preserving that freedom whatever price it might be. Some people really want to turn Russia into America. God forbid. Reply 2 Vincent Lvov Vincent Lvov 2 minutes ago Russian president is involved in killing opposition leader...Putin has connections everywhere so when he can not catch the murderes today or tomorrow it is most likely it was one of his friends who commited this murder Reply -1 Lilly OfTheValley Lilly OfTheValley 2 minutes ago Karl Adomeit I don't discuss with useless moronic Yanks !!! Go watch Cartoon News Network !!! Dumb@ss troll Your stuрidity and lack of arguments makes me look even smarter. Thank you. ReplyContext Vvp Vvp Vvp Vvp 2 minutes ago Martin Riggs Trust me, for everyone one you clone we will clone 10 of you Jew freaks as pay back. Have a nice day. I've just changed sides I'm really sorry but I'm here on this side when you're ready for the truth ReplyContext -1 Joachim W Joachim W 2 minutes ago history8888 Putin is a fascist who will get many Russians killed for nothing. How dare you! Do you know what is a meaning of fascist word?! ReplyContext 0 Alex Stanley Alex Stanley 3 minutes ago jack robinson Speaking earlier this month to Russia's Sobesednik news website, he had spoken of his fears for his own life. "I'm afraidmore... If you are almost irrelevant opposition figure and you openly state that Putin might kill you, given current situation with Ukriane, you pretty much sign your death warrant, as Poro is getting desperate. ReplyContext Karl Adomeit Karl Adomeit 3 minutes ago Lilly OfTheValley You have no arguments, so you resort to personal attacks, thus demonstrating your inferiority. I'm flattered. I don't discuss with useless moronic Yanks !!! Go watch Cartoon News Network !!! Dumb@ss troll ReplyContext 2 Lilly OfTheValley Lilly OfTheValley 3 minutes ago Vladimir needs to be PUTIN jail for this murder. Reply -4 Vvp Vvp Vvp Vvp 4 minutes ago Lilly OfTheValley I think the Kremlin regime has gone too far with this killing. That's why I no longer support Putin ReplyContext -2 history8888 history8888 4 minutes ago Joachim W Yes That is 100% True! Putin is Our Great Leader! Putin is a fascist who will get many Russians killed for nothing. ReplyContext -2 Rita Rita 4 minutes ago history8888 No..there are other qualified Russians if Putin would stop poisoning them or shooting them or arresting them and imprisoning them on trumpedmore... Russian chose him well. Only foreign imperialist interests think the way you do. ReplyContext 1 Evgeny Chernykh Evgeny Chernykh 4 minutes ago history8888 You are not American. You are a paid agent of Russia intelligence services You got it right. I am Russian sitting in Moscow. Long live to CIA, FBI and all other US sht. ReplyContext Karl Adomeit Karl Adomeit 4 minutes ago Lilly OfTheValley You have no arguments, so you resort to personal attacks, thus demonstrating your inferiority. I'm flattered. Didn't I tell you to get lost you stupid donkey ??? Can't speak white or what ??? ReplyContext 1 Joachim W Joachim W 5 minutes ago Karl Adomeit Some ZioPig Oligarchs orchestrated this to ''blame it'' on Putin...Like Babych said in the interview the Western ZioNazis will spinmore... Yes That is 100% True! Putin is Our Great Leader! ReplyContext 4 Lilly OfTheValley Lilly OfTheValley 5 minutes ago Karl Adomeit Go away useless clown !!! lol You have no arguments, so you resort to personal attacks, thus demonstrating your inferiority. I'm flattered. ReplyContext -2 pinionmole pinionmole 5 minutes ago history8888 I support the Russian people and all people seeking/choosing true democracy and freedoms and to get rid of dictators like Putin Oh really? Please point to a true democracy in the world today. Now. Do it. Name one. ReplyContext Blazkowicz Inc. Blazkowicz Inc. 5 minutes ago MrAkura1984 Is there a single Russian opposition member who hasn't been fired, arrested, kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured, poisoned or murdered? There is none. Themore... And just so happened that most of them were active spies or were collaborating with spies -read any reference book or documents if you have the occasion to help you get down off your high horse. ReplyContext Brian Hu Brian Hu 5 minutes ago Putinis Queer Putin is a lying little mother fucckker. And yet Obama is not? Hypocrite. ReplyContext 1 history8888 history8888 5 minutes ago Evgeny Chernykh 1000 posts below I wrote that this could be done by who ever - Russian 'liberals' or nationalists, Ukrainians, USmore... You are not American. You are a paid agent of Russia intelligence services ReplyContext -2 More 4388

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Solar eclipse to plunge Britain into darkness

Solar eclipse to plunge Britain into darkness Published time: February 25, 2015 16:50 Edited time: February 26, 2015 06:51 Get short URL Reuters/Toru Hanai Reuters/Toru Hanai Tags Energy, Physics, Science, UK Britain’s most complete solar eclipse in 16 years will block out as much as 90 percent of sunlight across parts of the UK and Europe next month. The moon will pass in front of the sun on Friday, March 20, casting a large shadow over the Earth. The partial eclipse will last for around two hours and will be visible across Europe. It is expected to affect energy supplies due to an increasing reliance on solar power. Energy experts warned of possible blackouts. The European Network Transmission System Operators for Electricity said: “The risk of incident cannot be completely ruled out. Solar eclipses have happened before but with the increase of installed photovoltaic energy generation, the risk of an incident could be serious without appropriate countermeasures.” Since 1999, the use of solar power in Europe as a proportion of all renewables has risen from 0.1 percent to 10.5 percent. Read more Solar eclipse next March threatens Europe solar grid, temp ‘may drop 6C in 30 minutes’ However, despite an increase in demand for solar power in Britain, especially in the sunnier southern part of the country, solar power still only accounts for 1.5 percent of the UK’s electricity. In northern Scotland, more than 95 percent of the sun will be covered by the moon, while in London and the UK’s South East 85 percent will be obscured. Those planning to watch the rare cosmic lightshow should not look directly at the sun with the naked eye, as doing so can seriously damage vision and even cause blindness. Read more #DontLookAtTheSun: Final 2014 solar eclipse stuns N. America (PHOTOS, VIDEO) The solar eclipse can be viewed using specifically designed filters, which feature a thin layer of aluminum, chromium or silver on their surfaces. The blackout will begin in the UK at 08:45 GMT. The maximum eclipse, when the moon is nearest the middle of the sun, will occur at 09:31 GMT, ending at 10:41 GMT. The next total solar eclipse is expected to occur on August 12, 2026, 29 Safar 1448 A.H

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Truck had traveled 80 feet down the railroad tracks from the grade crossing before being hit by Metrolink train in Oxnard, Calif

NTSB: Truck had traveled 80 feet down the railroad tracks from the grade crossing before being hit by Metrolink train in Oxnard, Calif Proposed $30-million project to bridge dangerous Metrolink crossing near scene of Oxnard, Calif., crash has been delayed for years due to lack of money, officials say - @latimes proposed $30-million to $35-million grade separation project that would have prevented Tuesday's crash of a Metrolink commuter train in Oxnard has been delayed for years by a lack of money, officials said Wednesday.. The planned overpass project, which was first considered 15 to 20 years ago, would eliminate the Rice Avenue rail crossing at East 5th Street, which has been identified as one of the most dangerous rail intersections in California. Truck driver arrested for hit and run Attorney for truck driver in Metrolink train crash says incident was 'accident' Truck driver at center of derailment has record 2 / 10 Truck driver arrested for hit and run NTSB seeks answers in California train crash 4 / 10 Metrolink train derails in fiery collision with truck "A $35-million grade separation is no small project for Ventura County," said Darren Kettle, executive director of the county's transportation commission. "The delay is due to a lack of funding -- the Achilles Heel for local transportation projects." Kettle said environmental reviews and preliminary engineering for the bridge project are underway and should be finished by 2016. But construction cannot begin until adequate funding can be secured from the state, U.S. government and Union Pacific Railroad, which controls the crossing. l Related California train crash: Engineer 'touch and go,' heart stopped twice L.A. Now California train crash: Engineer 'touch and go,' heart stopped twiceSee all relatedí Kettle noted that Ventura County has no sales tax to raise money for transportation projects as Los Angeles and Orange counties do. "If money were no obstacle and if everything went smoothly," he said, "the engineering could be done in five years and construction could begin two years after that." The project is important for the region's agricultural business and trucks hauling cargo to and from Port Hueneme. Kettle likened Rice Avenue to Interstate 710, the main portal for the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Officials for Union Pacific declined to comment on the project because the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash between a Metrolink train and a pickup truck and trailer that drove onto the tracks via the crossing. "This is not the first time this has happened," said Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Oxnard). "This is a very, very busy intersection because rail and roads are major parts of goods movement out of Port Hueneme." Robert Comer, a safety consultant in Ohio who has done more than 400 railroad crossing investigations, said he had several concerns about the safety of the Rice Avenue crossing. Though he could not make any conclusions about the cause of the accident, Comer noted that the crossing had a hump in the middle that might cause vehicles and trailers with low clearances to bottom out. He said the southbound lanes on Rice Avenue have room for only a couple of cars between the stop sign at 5th Street and the railroad tracks. If vehicles lined up, there is so little space, he said, a big rig or a car could get trapped in the crossing as a train approached. He also said Rice is a busy street and the tracks are very close to 5th Street, a state route that is heavily traveled by commercial trucks. In one accident, Kettle said, a big rig's trailer extended into the crossing and was struck by a train, but Kettle said he did not know of any vehicles that had bottomed out on the hump in the crossing. The rail intersection also does not have barriers to prevent cars and trucks from entering the right-of-way immediately next to the tracks. But Kettle said this has not been a problem. ==================== February 25, 2015, 5:39 PM Federal officials said Wednesday that they have obtained video taken inside a Metrolink commuter train that captures the moments before and after it hit a truck early Tuesday and derailed in an explosive crash.. Investigators with the National Transportation Board have began reviewing video and event data recorders from the lead train and trailing locomotive, which show the train was traveling under the speed limit of 79 mph, NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt said at a news conference Wednesday. There were no fatalities in the 5:42 a.m. derailment, but 28 of the 50 people involved in the crash were rushed to hospitals with injuries such as broken limbs, head trauma and back and neck pain, according to emergency crews. Attorney for truck driver in Metrolink train crash says incident was 'accident' Show Captionx Attorney for truck driver in Metrolink train crash says incident was 'accident' 1 / 10 w v Attorney for truck driver in Metrolink train crash says incident was 'accident' Attorney for truck driver in Metrolink train crash says incident was 'accident' 1 / 10 Truck driver at center of derailment has record Truck driver at center of derailment has record 2 / 10 Truck driver arrested for hit and run Truck driver arrested for hit and run 3 / 10 NTSB seeks answers in California train crash NTSB seeks answers in California train crash 4 / 10 Metrolink train derails in fiery collision with truck Metrolink train derails in fiery collision with truck 5 / 10 The truck driver, Jose Alejandro Sanchez-Ramirez, 54, of Yuma, Ariz., was arrested on suspicion of felony hit-and-run after he was found wandering more than a mile and a half from the scene of the train derailment, said Jason Benites, assistant chief of the Oxnard Police Department. Investigators said they plan to talk to Sanchez-Ramirez in an effort to find out why his truck was struck 80 feet down the track from the actual crossing. “Why was that truck there? And once it was there, why did it not move?” he said. Investigators, he said, “want to learn anything that we can from his perspective to help explain how that vehicle ended up driving down that railroad track.” Oxnard police initially said Sanchez-Ramirez was attempting to turn his 2005 Ford F-450 onto 5th Street at Rice Avenue when he instead pulled onto the railroad tracks and became stuck. The truck was pulling a trailer carrying welding tools and other equipment. l Related New Metrolink cars' safety features probably reduced casualtiesCALIFORNIANew Metrolink cars' safety features probably reduced casualtiesSee all relatedí 8 ADVERTISEMENT At a news conference Wednesday, the driver’s attorney, Ron Bamieh, said his client did his utmost to move his truck from the path of the oncoming train. "That’s all this was ... an accident," he said. Sanchez-Ramirez, they attorney said, called his son after the crash so that he could explain to police in English what his father was doing and how he ended up at the crash site. Bamieh said Wednesday the truck "could go forward on the tracks, but it couldn't get off the tracks." Sanchez-Ramirez hit his high beams, his lawyer said, and even tried to push his truck out of the way. "He was then forced to flee to save his own life," Bamieh said. Metrolink train derails in Oxnard (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times) Oxnard police Officer Sarah Shobe removes tape in preparation of reopening Rice Avenue on the morning of Feb. 25, a day after the crash. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times) Crews continued to monitor the rail tracks after a night of repairs at the intersection of Rice Avenue and 5th Street in Oxnard. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times) The Metrolink track at the intersection of Rice Avenue and 5th Street in Oxnard was operational Feb. 25 (Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times) Salvage crews work on the derailed Metrolink train cars in Oxnard on Tuesday afternoon. Bamieh said Sanchez-Ramirez had a flip phone -- with no digital maps. He was relying on a printed-out online map and was in the area Tuesday morning only to find the route he would take for a meeting on Wednesday for his job, his attorney said. He added that Sanchez-Ramirez was a good, hard-working man, a resident of Arizona who owns a home in Yuma. A check into his background showed that in 1998 Sanchez-Ramirez pleaded guilty to several violations in a single case, including driving with a blood alcohol content above 0.08%, the legal limit in the state; failure to obey a police officer; having liquor with a minor on the premises and having no insurance. In 2004, he was convicted of a local driving infraction in Yuma and in 2007 cited for failure to obey a traffic-control device. His attorneys plan to file a motion Wednesday afternoon to have him released on his own recognizance. @Joe Rainey it was an accident. despite how much americans like to punish people and put 10% of the population in jail so we can hire more prison guards and cops, the most likely explanation is the dude got his truck stuck on the tracks and saved his own life and didn't break any law. even... at 5:28 PM February 25, 2015 The crash occurred about 80 feet west of the grade crossing where vehicles pass over the tracks, an NTSB investigator said. The impact of the crash sent the truck across the grade crossing, pushing it about 300 feet. Authorities said that a section of track owned by the Union Pacific Railroad that was damaged in the crash had been repaired and was back in service Wednesday morning. Metrolink also relies on the line to service commuters north of the Moorpark station who use the stops in Camarillo, Oxnard and East Ventura. Though Metrolink customers in those areas had to use bus service to connect with the train at the Moorpark station until Wednesday morning, full Metrolink service was restored as of 9 a.m., a Metrolink spokesman said. Safety features of new Metrolink cars After briefly suspending service between San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles on Tuesday, Amtrak announced that it was using the route again Wednesday. Service from L.A. to Seattle was running on a limited basis, the agency said. In Tuesday's crash, the train was traveling at 79 mph when the engineer saw the truck on the tracks at 5th Street and Rice Avenue, authorities said. He pulled the emergency brake seconds before the crash, they said. The crash sent three of the Metrolink train's cars spilling onto the nearby gravel and the adjacent street. At least four people were critically injured, including the engineer, officials said. In recent years, Metrolink has replaced almost its entire fleet of passenger cars with Rotem coaches, considered the state-of-the-art in safety. The cars have crush zones, breakaway tables, improved emergency exits and seating arrangements that can reduce the risk of passengers being thrown into fixtures or each other in an accident. The new passenger cars performed well in Tuesday's crash, officials said. “The injuries came from people being tossed around,” said Keith Millhouse, mayor pro tem of Moorpark in Ventura County and a Metrolink board member. “The Rotem cars received very minor damage. They performed the way they should in terms of collision absorption. This could have been tremendously worse without them.” Tuesday’s crash, however, is the fourth accident involving Metrolink trains that were pushed by locomotives from behind and controlled from the front by a lighter cab car, a passenger coach with an engineer’s station. The practice, which is commonly used by commuter railroads, has been controversial. Some safety experts say that heavier locomotives might have a lower risk of derailment in crashes with motor vehicles on the tracks. For breaking news in California, follow @JosephSerna and @Laura_Nelson on Twitter. ============

Islamic State seize 100 Iraqi tribesmen before battle for Tikrit

Islamic State seize 100 Iraqi tribesmen before battle for Tikrit Wed, Feb 25 10:18 AM EST image By Ahmed Rasheed BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Islamic State fighters have abducted 100 Sunni Muslim tribesmen near the city of Tikrit, local tribal leaders said on Wednesday, apparently to neutralize suspected opponents before a widely expected army offensive. Iraqi soldiers and pro-government Shi'ite militias have been massing for days in preparation for an attack on Islamic State strongholds along the Tigris River to the north and south of Tikrit, hometown of executed former president Saddam Hussein. Tikrit, about 150 km (95 miles) north of Baghdad, has been controlled by the Sunni Muslim radicals since they swept through northern Iraq in June, scattering Iraq's security forces. Tribal leaders said Islamic State fighters had detained 42 Sunni tribesmen in the village of Rubaidha on Tuesday whom they suspected of being ready to take up arms against them. "They broke into the houses and asked for mobiles," said Hatam al-Obeidi, a Rubaidha resident who escaped to the town of Tuz Khurmatu on Wednesday. "They were checking everything in the mobiles that might show that the owner is against them," he said, adding that his own telephone had been returned to him after a gunman told him he was "clean". Last week, insurgents detained 56 men accused of belonging to a government-backed Sunni militia, said Abu Kareem al-Obeidi, who left Rubaidha for the neighboring Diyala province to avoid abduction. The militants initially set up a headquarters in Rubaidha, about 20 km (12 miles) north of Tikrit, after their June offensive, but pulled out after army helicopters mistakenly bombed the house of the local sheikh beside their base. The sheikh then asked the militants to leave, residents said. Iraq's military said around 2,000 Shi'ite militia fighters, known as the Popular Mobilisation, had arrived near Tikrit in preparation for a major operation against Islamic State. Raed Jabouri, governor of Tikrit's Salahuddin province, said on Tuesday that 5,000 fighters from the security forces and the Popular Mobilisation - formed last year with Iranian support after the rout of the army - would join "the operation to liberate Tikrit". Witnesses said the militants had on Wednesday blocked three main entrances to the south, west and north of Tikrit with 4-metre (12-foot) concrete blast walls. They also covered a bridge across the Tigris with about 1 meter (three feet) of sand in the hope of absorbing the impact of bombs. The witnesses saw a stream of SUV vehicles, apparently containing detainees, heading north toward the northern, Islamic State-controlled city of Mosul. After months of air strikes by the United States and its Western and Arab allies, Islamic State is on the defensive in several parts of the "caliphate" it declared in swathes of Iraq and Syria. In Diyala, adjoining Iran, officials say they have all but driven Islamic State out. (Additional reporting by Saif Hameed; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Kevin Liffey) ================= Islamic State in Syria abducts at least 150 Christians Wed, Feb 25 16:30 PM EST image By Suleiman Al-Khalidi AMMAN (Reuters) - Islamic State militants have abducted at least 150 people from Assyrian Christian villages in northeastern Syria they had raided, Christian Syrian activists said on Tuesday. A Syrian Christian group representing several NGOs inside and outside the country said it had verified at least 150 people missing, including women and the elderly, who had been kidnapped by the militants. "We have verified at least 150 people who have been adducted from sources on the ground," Bassam Ishak, president of the Syriac National Council of Syria, whose family itself is from Hasaka, told Reuters from Amman. Earlier the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 90 were abducted when the militants carried out dawn raids on rural villages inhabited by the ancient Christian minority west of Hasaka, a city mainly held by the Kurds. The United States condemned the attacks in Hasaka and called for the immediate and unconditional release of the civilians taken captive. The State Department said hundreds of others remain trapped in villages surrounded by Islamic State fighters in violence that has displaced more than 3,000 people. "ISIL’s latest targeting of a religious minority is only further testament to its brutal and inhumane treatment of all those who disagree with its divisive goals and toxic beliefs," spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement, using an acronym for Islamic State. Psaki added that Syrians are also threatened by President Bashar al-Assad's intensified bombings and air strikes in an "unrelenting campaign of terror." Syrian Kurdish militia launched two offensives against the militants in northeast Syria on Sunday, helped by U.S.-led air strikes and Iraqi peshmerga. This part of Syria borders territory controlled by Islamic State in Iraq, where it committed atrocities last year against the Yazidi religious minority. Islamic State did not confirm the kidnappings. Supporters posted photos online of the group's fighters in camouflage attire looking at maps and firing machine guns. The website said the photos were from Tel Tamr, a town near where the Observatory said the abductions occurred. Many Assyrian Christians have emigrated in the nearly four-year-long conflict in which more than 200,000 have people have been killed. Before the arrival of Kurds and Arab nomadic tribes at the end of the 19th century, Christians formed the majority in Syria's Jazeera area, which includes Hasaka. Sunday's offensive by Kurdish YPG militia reached within five km (3 miles) of Tel Hamis, an Islamic State-controlled town southeast of Qamishli, the Observatory said. At least 14 IS fighters died in the offensive, in which Assyrians fought alongside Kurds, it added. Eight civilians were also killed in heavy shelling by the Kurdish side, which seized several Arab villages from Islamic State control. Last year, Islamic State fighters abducted several Assyrians in retaliation for some of them fighting alongside the YPG. Most were released after long negotiations. RELIEVING PRESSURE Military experts said militants were trying to open a new front to relieve pressure on Islamic State after several losses since being driven from the Syrian town of Kobani near the border with Turkey. "Islamic State are losing in several areas so they want to wage an attack on a new area," said retired Jordanian general Fayez Dwiri. Since driving IS from Kobani, Kurdish forces, backed by other Syrian armed groups, have pursued the group's fighters as far as their provincial stronghold of Raqqa. A resident of Hasaka, jointly held by the Syrian government and the Kurds, said hundreds of families had arrived in recent days from surrounding Christian villages and Arab Bedouins were arriving from areas along the border. "Families are coming to Hasaka seeking safety," said Abdul Rahman al-Numai, a textile trader said by telephone. (Additional reporting by Oliver Holmes in Beirut, Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Tom Heneghan and Eric Walsh) ==================== UPDATE 1-Gunmen in Afghanistan halt buses, seize 30 passengers Tue, Feb 24 08:04 AM EST (Adds Kabul truck bomb) By Sarwar Amani KANDAHAR, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Unidentified gunmen in southern Afghanistan stopped two buses traveling to the capital, Kabul, and seized around 30 people belonging to the ethnic Hazara minority, a bus company official said on Tuesday. Hazaras, who largely follow the Shi'ite sect of Islam, were persecuted by the Taliban during the 1990s, when the militant Sunni Islamists ruled most of Afghanistan. Outbreaks of sectarian violence have been rare since the Taliban were ousted by an American-led invasion in 2001, but many Hazaras continue to complain of discrimination and harassment by majority Sunni Muslim groups. The passengers were forced to leave the buses late on Monday night, after producing documents that showed they belonged to the Shi'ite minority group. "Our drivers stopped for the gunmen because they were in army uniform. They asked for documents," Nasir Ahmad, one of the bus company's managers, said in the southern city of Kandahar. "According to other passengers, most of the people abducted were Hazaras." The Taliban, now leading an increasingly violent insurgency against the government and its foreign backers, did not immediately claim responsibility but said they were investigating. The fate of the missing passengers was unknown, said Ghulum Jilani Sakhi, the deputy police chief of Zabul province, where Monday's abduction took place. "We are investigating where these people have been taken," he added. In a similar incident last July, Taliban militants stopped two minibuses in the central province of Ghor and shot dead 14 passengers identified as belonging to the Hazara group. Police on Tuesday were also investigating the suspected premature detonation of a truck bomb on the outskirts of the Afghan capital, which officials felt had been intended for the heavily guarded city centre. Glass shards from broken windows injured a bakery shop worker but no other civilian casualties were reported, said Hashmat Stanikzai, a spokesman for Kabul's police chief. Police had found six dismembered hands believed to have belonged to insurgents aboard the truck, but they had been unable to match them and determine how many individuals were involved, he added. (Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni in Kabul; Writing by Jessica Donati; Editing by Clarence Fernandez) ========================= IS’ leader assassinated from within Iraq's Hadi al-Ameri being very forthright about his view of Iran's Khamenei as the supreme leader for all Shia here: It was expected that the disputes among the ranks of the Islamic State (IS) in Qalamoun would lead to the dismissal of its emir Abu Aisha al-Banyasi, as he was at odds with Abu al-Walid al-Maqdisi. However, the dismissal was not expected to come in the form of a killing. IS members have been drifting apart in Qalamoun, Syria, as disputes among top commanders have been escalating, leading to the dismissal of one emir and the probable assassination of another. Author Abdullah Suleiman Ali Posted February 24, 2015 Translator Steffi Chakti Original Articleاقرا المقال الأصلي باللغة العربية As-Safir revealed in an article published days ago the brittleness of the internal structure of IS in Qalamoun. Disputes among commanders were escalating, leading to the dismissal of the previous emir Abu al-Huda al-Talli and the assignment of Banyasi instead. Explosion rattles windows in Kabul's diplomatic quarter Wed, Feb 25 23:06 PM EST KABUL (Reuters) - An explosion rattled windows in the diplomatic quarter of the heavily fortified Afghan capital on Thursday morning, sending the city's embassies onto high alert. "This is a security announcement: there has been an explosion inside the city," the British embassy broadcast to staff on its compound. Further details on the location of blast were not immediately available. (Reporting by Jessica Donati; Editing by Douglas Busvine) 04:33 Embassies on high alert in Kabul after explosion rattles windows Embassies in Kabul are on high alert after an explosion shook the windows of buildings in the diplomatic quarter of Afghanistan’s capital on Thursday morning, Reuters reported. “This is a security announcement: there has been an explosion inside the city,” the British embassy broadcast to staff inside the building. The exact location of the blast is being determined. ==== As-Safir was able to secure information from a member of IS in Qalamoun’s media team who affirmed that the assignment of Banyasi did not solve the problem, and his dismissal was expected at any moment. However, and despite the gloomy situation the member depicted — describing it as a "crisis of hypocrisy" and saying that "disputes are not among individuals but are much deeper" — the dramatic escalation leading to the killing of Banyasi was not foreseen. Disputes revolved around the stand vis-à-vis Jabhat al-Nusra, especially after the arrival of Maqdisi and the issuance of a statement accusing Jabhat al-Nusra of treason and betrayal. A number of IS commanders refused to follow the lead of Maqdisi. As a result, two camps emerged, and entered in fierce conflicts. After apologizing to the commander of Jabhat al-Nusra in Qalamoun, Abu Malik al-Talli, for Maqdisi's statement, Abu al-Huda al-Talli was the first to pay the price. Subsequently, Abu Malik al-Talli was dismissed and replaced by Banyasi. Information indicates that Maqdisi was the one to name Banyasi as a replacement, based on his composure and neutrality toward the dispute that erupted over Jabhat al-Nusra. Easily convinced and influenced, Maqdisi believed Banyasi to be the best candidate. Maqdisi ended up surprised, however. Upon assuming the position, Banyasi proved no different than his predecessor, refusing to act against Jabhat al-Nusra and its commander. He also refused to take escalatory measures against the organization. This raised the ire of Maqdisi, who started to think about ousting Banyasi. At the same time, an incident took place that may have pushed the personal sensitivity between the two men to its zenith, rendering any reconciliation impossible. Maqdisi had a quarrel with Jabhat al-Nusra checkpoint guards, which ended up with his arrest and that of his guards. Banyasi mediated with Abu Malik al-Talli to release them, and indeed, he responded and Maqdisi was released a few hours later. However, following the incident, the dispute between Maqdisi and Banyasi became further entrenched and a few days later, the killing of Banyasi came as a shock to everyone. IS remained silent about the death of Banyasi and tried to keep it low profile. It was leaked that Banyasi was killed by a regime-led airstrike. However, it was not long until it was revealed that the killing resulted from internal disputes. Although some IS media figures are still trying to deny it, saying that the rumored news is yet another media propaganda barrage the organization has been facing since its inception, they were not able to give a clear answer about the true details of the killing. They hid behind the pretext that they were not able to communicate with their leadership to fact check the information. According to information leaked a couple of days ago by Jabhat al-Nusra media spokespeople, who publicly celebrated the death of Banyasi, the dispute between Maqdisi and Banyasi reached a deadlock. This happened after Maqdisi issued a fatwa against Banyasi due to his amicable ties with Jabhat al-Nusra, which was clearly shown through the mediation he made with its commander to release Maqdisi. Some Jabhat al-Nusra spokespeople noted that Banyasi had a "calm temper and was loved by everyone." Such a personality did not match the aspirations of Maqdisi, who wanted a spiteful person who can be influenced by his takfiri penchants. This is why it was imperative to get rid of him. Regardless of the details of the killing and who the perpetrators are, whether Maqdisi or Abu Balqiss (the military emir of IS), the incident will inevitably constitute a new twist of events not in the restructuring of IS but on the level of the developments in Qalamoun. This is particularly true concerning relations between IS and Jabhat al-Nusra and its repercussions on the battles fought against the Syrian army and Hezbollah. Will this incident constitute the first step toward the collapse of IS in Qalamoun or a catalyst for commanders to give up on Syrian nationals and hand the emirate over to "foreigners" with all the ensuing extremism toward other parties? On another note, Turkish forces entered Syrian territory and went as deep as 30 kilometers (19 miles) under the pretext of moving the remains of Suleiman Shah, the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire. Relying on an agreement concluded with the French mandate as a pretext, Turkish authorities occupied Syrian land near the border to bury the remains before returning them to their initial location [at some future point in time]. However, it seems that the goal of Turkey is far from just restoring the remains and occupying the land. Such a move seems to be aimed at ending the aspirations of Kurds for an autonomous government in the areas under Turkish control. Moreover, Turkish authorities are preparing for the likelihood of IS launching an attack after Turkey signed an agreement with the United States to train "moderate" Syrian armed individuals in order to attack IS and other terrorist groups in Syria. Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/security/2015/02/qalaoum-is-emir-ousted.html##ixzz3SolV4AQx ==========

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Top Afghan official in Qatar amid high hopes for Taliban peace talks

Top Afghan official in Qatar amid high hopes for Taliban peace talks By Tahir Khan Published: February 24, 2015 Share this article Print this page Email . PHOTO: QNA ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan’s top security adviser is holding talks with senior leaders in Qatar in a bid to launch peace talks in the oil-rich Gulf state with the Afghan Taliban. The Taliban negotiators based in Qatar use their political office to contact representatives of other countries, including Afghanistan and Pakistan. There is no official word if Afghan National Security Adviser, Hanif Atmar, plans to meet the Taliban leaders in Doha. He has, however, met the Qatari Prime Minister, the Qatari state media reported on Tuesday. “The Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al-Thani met Atmar along with the delegation accompanying him during their visit to Qatar,” the Qatar News Agency reported. The report did not mention if the two leaders discussed the much anticipated talks between the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government. However, Atmar’s visit is significant as it comes a day after Afghan Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah said peace talks will begin shortly. Read: Afghan chief executive says peace talks could start within ‘weeks’, Taliban deny The Afghan Taliban, however, denied reports surfacing on the peace process. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid described them as “views and assumptions of the media outlets”. He added that the Taliban will “utilize both military and political mechanisms to end the occupation, attain independence, and establish an all Afghan-inclusive Islamic government and peace.” Afghan Taliban insist on the recognition of their political office in Doha which requires Kabul’s consent. The office was shut just days after its opening in 2013 after then President Hamid Karzai denounced the hoisting of the Taliban flag and signboard which read ‘Afghanistan Islamic Emirate’ at the office premises, which had previously been used during their rule in Afghanistan.

Monday, February 23, 2015

GRAND SHIA CLERIC SISTANI ISSUES POWERFUL STATEMENT TO SHIA RESISTANCE DEFENDING IRAQ: Kerry and Iran's Zarif meet for two hours in nuclear talks

Thursday, March 19, 2015 Hashd Al-Shaabi’s Threat To Iraq’s Established Shiite Religious Parties While Iraq’s Hashd al-Shaabi, also known as Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) are leading the charge in the operation to retake Tikrit and central Salahaddin, the country’s Shiite religious parties are thinking about their long term impact upon politics. Two of the pre-existing militias that have joined the Hashd the Badr Organization and Asaib Ahl Al-Haq already had political wings that won seats in parliament. They have been joined by a wide range of other groups some of which were formed to fight in Syria by Iran and others that are brand new having been created in response to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s call to defend the nation after the fall of Mosul. While some of these groups will fade away after the war with the Islamic State is over others will persist. They could turn their role in the conflict into political capital, which worries the existing parties such as Moqtada al-Sadr’s Ahrar and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). Both of those have recently been criticizing some of the PMU’s, which could be just the start of a larger struggle for power between them. In February 2015, the Sadrists and Islamic Council took the occasion of a death of a leading Sunni sheikh to attack the Hashd al-Shaabi. On February 13, Sheikh Qasim al-Janabi and his entourage were stopped and later killed in Baghdad. PMUs were immediately suspected given the fact that the bodies were discovered in Shiite eastern Baghdad. Moqtada al-Sadr and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq both voiced concerns over this event, while attacking the Hashd in the process. ISCI issued a statement condemning the murder of Janabi, while stating that PMUs had to follow the directions of Ayatollah Sistani who has consistently called for restraint and to curtail any abuses. Supreme Council parliamentarian Falah al-Sari went on to say that the government should hold a monopoly on force, and that other armed groups should not interfere in security. He noted that his party had its own militia, but there were others that were not following the mandate of Najaf, meaning Sistani’s directions. Moqtada al-Sadr went a step farther by unleashing a series of diatribes against the Hashd. Sadr said that violence against Shiites could not justify attacks upon others. He then repeatedly condemned what he called “brazen militias” who were not under the command of the army, who were out to weaken the government, and who committed murders that discredited Islam. He said that these elements should be removed from the PMUs, and those responsible for torture and cutting off the heads of corpses should be punished. He claimed that his Ahrar bloc would get the courts to investigate and punish these culprits. The basis for these statements by the Supreme Council and Sadr was the fear that the Hashd could become their political rivals in the future. Since all of these groups are based upon political Islam they are all vying for the same constituency. Many of these Hashd groups will want to capitalize upon their service in the war, and entering politics is the surest way to do that as it opens the door to a share of the vast oil revenues the state earns. Sadr and ISCI are just as aware of this, which is why they took the occasion of the Janabi murder to attack these groups. Sadr especially, because he has a long history of verbally and physically battling with Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, and attacked all the Iraqi militias that went to fight in Syria calling them “foreign entities” due to their relations with Tehran believes that he is on a collision course with the PMUs. As time passes, these verbal assaults are likely to occur more as each group begins to think about Iraq after the insurgency. SOURCES Al Mada, “Sadr calls for the punishment of those who cut off the heads of corpses and demolish houses from “brazen militias,”” 3/11/15 - “Saraya al-Sadr calls for Peace Brigades “to stay on standby,”” 3/3/15 Martin, Patrick and al-Dulimi, Omar with Kagan, Kimberly and Adnan, Sinan, “Iranian-Backed Militias Cause a Political Crisis for Iraq,” Institute for the Study of War, 2/18/15 Shafaq News, “Al-Sadr decides to freeze al-Salam brigades: Iraq suffers from brazen militias,” 2/17/15 GRAND SHIA CLERIC SISTANI ISSUES POWERFUL STATEMENT TO SHIA RESISTANCE DEFENDING IRAQ Advice and Guidance to the Fighters on the Battlefields In the Name of God, Ever-Merciful, Ever-Compassionate In the Name of God, Ever-Merciful, Ever-Compassionate Praise belongs to God, Lord of the Cosmos, and ever-lasting peace be upon the best of His creation, Muhammad and his noble and pure progeny. I call your attention to the following: Let the dear fighters know, the ones who have been given the honour to be present in the battlefield against the transgressors, that: 1. Just as God, exalted is He, has called the believers to Jihad [against the transgressors] and made it one of the pillars of religion, and just as God has privileged the Holy Warriors over those who do not fight [in Jihad], He, noble is His name, has placed certain conditions and etiquettes [on the conduct of Jihad]. Such conditions are necessitated by wisdom and mandated by the primordial nature of human beings (1. Being or happening first in sequence of time; original. 2. Primary or fundamental: play a primordial role.). It is necessary, then, to learn these conditions and etiquettes thoroughly and to follow them sincerely, for one who learns these conditions and follows them sincerely will receive his deserved reward and blessings from God, and one who neglects them will not receive [the blessings] he hoped for. 2. With regards to Jihad there are general guidelines to which one must adhere even when confronting non-Muslims. The Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny, advised his Companions to follow these general guidelines before sending them off to battle. In an authentic tradition, it has been reported that the Imam Jaʿfar al-Sadiq (d. 765), peace be upon him, said, “When the Messenger of God, peace be upon him and his progeny, would want to send a fighting contingent he would sit down with them and advise them to represent God justly and to follow the good example of the religion of the Messenger of God. He would [further] say, 'Do not indulge in acts of extremism, do not disrespect dead corpses, do not resort to deceit, do not kill an elder, do not kill a child, do not kill a woman, and do no not cut down trees unless necessity dictates otherwise.'” 3. Similarly, the fighting against those Muslims who oppress [others] and who wage war [unjustly] has its guidelines and etiquettes, too. Indeed such guidelines and etiquettes informed the actions of the Imam ʿAli (d. 661), who, when confronted with such situations, admonished his followers [to follow them]. The Muslim world agreed in unanimity that the actions, guidelines, and etiquettes of Imam ʿAli are a worthy example to emulate. So pay heed to the example of Imam ʿAli and follow his path. He, peace be upon him, emphasizing on what the Prophet,peace be upon him and his progeny, had conveyed in Hadith of Thaqalayn and Gadir and many others, said, “Set your sights on the Family of the Prophet. Adhere to their direction. Follow their footsteps. Verily, the Family of the Prophet will not lead you away from the path of guidance, nor will they make you return to the path of destruction. If they rise, so shall you; and if they stand, so shall you. Do not traverse the path ahead of them, for you shall lose your way; and do not lag behind of them, for you shall perish.” 4. By the majesty of God! By the majesty of God! Souls are sacred! Never should you do to them that which God has not deemed permissible. What great travesty it is to kill innocent souls, and what great honour it is to safeguard innocent souls, just as God, exalted is He, mentioned in His book [i.e. the Qurʾan]. The killing of an innocent soul has dangerous consequences, both in this world and in the hereafter. History has taught us that the Commander of the Faithful [i.e. ʿAli], peace be upon him, took much caution to protect the sanctity of the human soul in his wars. He, in his historical document, said to [his companion] Malik al-Ashtar, whose friendship and proximity to ʿAli is well known, “Be vigilant! Do not spill the blood of the innocent without any right to do so, for nothing is more inviting wrath, greater in evil consequences and more effective in the decline of blessings and cutting life span more than the unlawful spilling of blood. On the Day of Reckoning, God shall judge wisely between those servants of His who spilled blood. Do not strengthen your authority by the unlawful spilling of blood, for that will surely enfeeble and weaken the authority and [may] even cause it to perish or shifting (to other who are wise). There is no excuse for you in front of God nor I, if you kill unlawfully, because that shall cause you punishment.” If you [i.e. the fighters of the Popular Mobilisation Committees] find yourselves in an uncertain situation from which you fear the Divine Wrath, issue a vocal warning [to those fighting you], or issue a physical warning by directing your bullets in a manner which does not strike the target or cause its destruction apologizing (for such a disliked confrontation) to your Lord and taking precaution not to kill innocent souls. 5. By the majesty of God! By the majesty of God! The lives of those who do not fight you are sacred, especially the weak among the elderly, the children, and the women, even if they were the families of those who fight you. It is unlawful for you to violate the sacredness of those who fight you except for their belongings. It was the noble habit of the Commander of the Faithful [i.e. ʿAli], peace be upon him, to prohibit [his soldiers] from attacking the properties of the families, the women, and the children of those against whom he fought, despite efforts by some of those who [claimed to] follow him, especially the Kharijites, who insisted on legitimizing it. To refute them, ʿAli would say, “(Their) men have fought so we fightthe men, but we do not inflict harm on their women and children, for they are Muslims and within the Realm of Hijra (abode of emigration). Thus you have no right over them. But whatever they procured and used against you in the course of fighting, and whatever their army possessed and acquired belongs to you. Whatever is in their homes is an inheritance for their offspring according to the ordinance of God. You have no right over their women or over their offspring.” 6. By the majesty of God! By the majesty of God! It is [abhorrent] to cast suspicion over the integrity of people’s faith in order to target them and legitimize the taking away of that which is sacred [i.e. their life]. Alike the way of the Kharijites of the early Islamic period and their contemporary followers who are ignorant of the basic tenets of religion, following their own personal moods and whims and have sought to justify their [un-Islamic] actions by recourse to some textual evidence which they never understood. The Muslims of today have to live with the consequences of these misinterpretations. Know that whosoever bears testimony that there is only one God and that Muhammad is His messenger is indeed a Muslim. That person’s life and property must be safeguarded. If that person falls into the trap of [theological] deviance and religious innovations, then know that not every misguidance leads to infidelity, nor does every innovation strip one of Islam as his faith. At times, a person is subjected to death penalty due to a turmoil caused by him or due to retribution he still stays a Muslim. In the Qurʾan, God has addressed the Holy Warriors in the following: “O Believers, when you are journeying in the path of God, be discriminating, and do not say to him who offers you a greeting, ‘Thou art not a believer’, seeking the chance goods of the present life”. [Similarly] it has been widely reported that the Commander of the Faithful, peace be upon him, prohibited declaring the masses of those who fought him as unbelievers; indeed this was the inclination [i.e. to declare the enemy as unbelievers] of the leaders of the Kharijites in his camp. But he [i.e. ʿAli] used to say that they [i.e. his enemies] were a people who had fallen into misjudgement and error, though this does not justify their repugnant act and could not be an excuse for their obnoxious deeds. In a sound report on the authority of [Imam] al-Sadiq who narrates on the authority of his father, peace be upon them both, that “ʿAli, peace be upon him, did not label any of those who fought him as polytheists or hypocrites but rather he would say, ‘They are our brothers who have transgressed against us’ and he would [also] say about those who fought him ‘We fight them not because we think of them as unbelievers and not because they think we are unbelievers.’” 7. Never inflict harm on non-Muslims, regardless of their religion and sect. The non-Muslims [who live in predominately Muslim lands] are under the protection of the Muslims in those lands. Whosoever attacks non-Muslims is a betrayer and traitor. And rest assured that such an act of betrayal and treachery is one of the most repugnant actsin accordance to innate nature and the religion of God. Regarding those who are not Muslim, God mentions them in His Book, “God forbids you not, as regards those who have not fought you in religion’s cause, nor expelled you from you habitations, that you should be kindly to them, and act justly towards them; surely God loves the just.” The Muslim must not allow the violation of the sanctity of those who are not Muslim and who live under the protection of Muslims. Rather, the Muslim must honour and guard those who are not Muslim as he would with his own family. When we read stories about the life of the Commander of the Faithful we learn that when Muʿawiya sent Sufyan son of ʿAwf from the tribe of Ghamid to carry out raids on the frontiers of Iraq – in order to frighten the people [of Iraq] – and when he [Sufyan] killed the Muslims and those who were not Muslim from among the people of Anbar, the Commander of the Faithful was saddened greatly by this. In a sermon [which followed], he [i.e. ʿAli] said, “And this one from the tribe of Ghamid [i.e. Sufyan]…his horses have entered Anbar and killed Hassan son of Hassan al-Bakri and he pushed back your horsemen from the boarders. And it has been told to me that a man from among them [i.e. the raiders] would enter the house of the Muslim and the non-Muslim women and would then forcefully remove her anklets, bangles, necklaces, and her earrings. And no woman could resist it except by reciting the verse from Qur’an “We are for God and to Him shall we return (2:156)” and seeking mercy. Then the raiders left overloaded with wealth with no wounds or loss of life. Had a Muslim died as a result of this sorrow and regret [after the raids] then no one is to blame him. But in [in my eyes] he deserves [praiseworthy] mention.” 8. By the majesty of God! By the majesty of God! Do not steal the wealth of people. The wealth of a Muslim is unlawful unless he agrees to its procurement. Those who usurp from others, they have obtained a piece of fire from the fires of hell.God, exalted is He, said, “Those who devour the property of orphans unjustly, devour fire in their bellies, and shall assuredly roast in a blaze.” And in a tradition reported on the authority of the Prophet, peace be upon him and his progeny, that he said, “Whosoever steals and usurps the wealth of another, God will turn away from him and will not accept and reward him for his good deeds until he repents and returns the wealth to its rightful owner.” We also find when we read stories about the life of the Commander of the Faithful, peace be upon him, that he forbade [his soldiers from] taking his enemy’s wealth except for that found in their military encampment. And whenever someone [from the enemy’s camp] brought forth proof that his personal wealth was taken [unlawfully] he [ʿAli] would ask that it be returned. In another report on the authority of Marwan son of al-Hakam, who said, “After ʿAli defeated us in Basra he return to the people [i.e. soldiers] their wealth. Who brought proof was given the wealth and (even) who didn’t had proof was given by a swear on the name of his God.” 9. By the majesty of God! By the majesty of God! Do not violate the sanctity of all things sacred.Do not violate or infringe on them with your tongueor action. Be cautious and do not target a person due to the mistakes of others. God, exalted is He, says, “And no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another.” Do not base on suspicions, distorting the certainty. Certainty entails caution and suspicion entails attacking others without proof. Your hatred of someone does not justify that you violate his sanctity, for God says: “And do not let the hatred of people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness.” [Moreover], it has been reported that the Commander of the Faithful, peace be upon him, that he said in a sermon in the Battle of Siffin: “Do not disrespect the corpse of the dead, and if you defeat the men of your enemies do not violate the sanctity of their women and their houses. Do not enter their houses. Do not take anything from their houses. Take only what you find in their military encampments. Do not provoke their women by harming them even though they may attack your honour and abuse your leaders and noble men. And, it is reported that after the Battle of the Camel ended, he [i.e. ʿAli] came across a large gathering of wailing women crying over their lost ones. When they saw him they shouted in one voice ‘Here comes the killer of our loved ones!’, but he [i.e. ʿAli] did not respond. After [some time elapsed] he said to some of those near to him, pointing at a room which housed [captives] among them leaders of those who fought him like Marwan son of Hakam and ‘Abdullah son of Zubayr, ‘Had I been the killer of [their] loved ones I would have killed these people, too.’ It has also been reported that when he [i.e. ʿAli] heard that some from among his companions such as Hujr son of ʿAdi and ʿAmr son of al-Hamiq slandered the People of Sham [i.e. Greater Syria] during the Battle of Siffin, he said: “I dislike for you to be of those who slander [others]. It is better for you to describe their deeds and state of action; surely this is the more refine way of speaking [about others] and more justified in excuse and rather than slander them, it is better that you say ‘O God protect our lives and protect their lives and bring harmony between us and them and deliver them from error so that the ignorant can reach to the truth one inclined towards rebellion and revolt could turn away from it.’ They [i.e. ʿAli’s companions] said, “O Commander of the Faithful, we accept your counsel and we [will] strive to imitate your mannerism." 10. Do not deprive any people, who do not fight you, of their rights even if they anger you. It has been reported from stories about the life of the Commander of the Faithful, peace be upon him, that he afforded those of other faith the same [respect] he afforded to the Muslims so long as they did not wage war against him. And he would never launch a military assault unless he was attacked first. For instance, when he was in the middle of delivering a sermon in [the Mosque of] Kufa a group of Kharijites stood up and interrupted him and shouted on more than one occasion ‘Judgement belongs to God [alone]!', to which he replied ‘Truthful words indeed but couched with false intentions. You have three rights over us: we do not take away [your right] to pray in the mosques of God; we do not deprive you from your share of the spoils of war as long as you fight along us; and we do not wage war against you unless you launch the first attack.’ 11. Know that most of those who fight you are victims who have been led astray by others. Do not let those who led others astray be better than you. Let your righteous actions, your well-wishing nature, your just conduct, your forbearance, and your avoidance of extortion, sin and aggression serve as an example for them. Whosoever helps misguided souls find the path of righteousness is like the one who saves a soul from perdition. And whomsoever misguides a person knowingly it is as if he has killed him. We find in the stories about the lives of the Imams of the Progeny [i.e. AhlulBayt], peace be upon them, that they would go to great lengths to dispel whatever misconception those who fought them held, even if there was no hope of acceptance, seeking excuse (for unwanted confrontation) from their Lord educating the Muslim multitudes and their way of setting an example for future generations. It has been reported in some traditions on the authority of al-Sadiq, peace be upon him, that Imam 'Ali, peace be upon him, on the Day of Basra [i.e. the Battle of the Camel], said to his companions: “Do not be quick to judge the enemy until I make clear to them what is between God, I and them.’ He ['Ali] then approached them and said: “O People of Basra have you found in my rule any oppression? They said: “No.” He [then] said: “[Have I] broken a promise?” They said: “No.” He [then] said: “Have I shown desire for this [material] world so that I and my family took something and prevented you from having it, is this why you have breached the allegiance to me?” They said: “No.” He [then] said: “Have I applied punishment unfairly?” They said: “No.” Imam Husayn followed a similar course of action in [the Battle of] Karbala. He took care to dispel doubt and clarify matters so that the living live and the dead die not in vain but after clear proof has been brought forth before them. In fact one cannot fight a Muslim people without establishing first a clear proof and without trying to dispel doubt and clarify misjudgement. This practise has been established in the Qur’an and prophetic traditions. 12. Let no one [among you] think that there is a solution in oppression which cannot be gained by justice. Such a thought ascends from a narrow observation of the incidents without considering the mid and long term consequences of such an attitude. The adherents to such thoughts are those who have no information on the tradition of life and the history of nations which alerts on loosing innocent lives and spread of abhorrence in the society as a result of the atrocity of them. It has been reported in the traditions that ‘The one who finds difficulty to implement justice will find greater difficulty to deal with injustice’. The contemporary history leaves a great lesson for those who ponder on it. Few rulers, for the sake of strengthening their power, oppressed and prosecuted hundreds of thousands of people. And God, exalted is He, came at them from whence they did not reckon. As if they had destroyed their sovereignty with their own hands. 13. It may be the case sometimes that when you adhere to good conduct and remain disciplined you suffer [military] losses; this, nevertheless, is more spiritually rewarding, everlasting end and of greater benefit. The example set by the Imams serves as a case in point. They did not wage war unless they were attacked, even if such actions caused them temporary losses. It is reported in a tradition that on the Day of the Camel when the armies gather to fight, a person from the army of the Commander of the Faithful, peace be upon him, proclaimed, “Do not attack until I tell you to.” So some of his companions said, ‘But they have fired [arrows] at us.’ He said, ‘Wait.’ When the enemy’s fired arrows which killed one of them, he said, ‘Fight away with God’s blessing.’ Imam Husayn, peace be upon him, followed a similar course of action on the day of Ashura. 14. Be the guardians and well-wishers of those who you are with you, so that they feel secured with you and support you against your enemies. Help the weak among them in whatever you can. They are your brothers and your family. Show compassion towards them just as you show compassion towards you own. Know that you are within God’s sight, and that He counts your actions, intents, and your inner dispositions. 15. Do not let anything take precedence over your obligatory prayers. There is no better deed than prayers that a person can take towards his Lord. Prayer is the means through which man humbles himself before his creator and is a greeting which one offers toward Him. It is the foundation of religion and the criterion through which actions are judged. In the occasions of fear and war, God has given you some discount to the extent that proclamation of ‘God is Great’ is enough replacing the units of the regular prayer even if the person is not facing the Qibla. God said: “Maintain with care the [obligatory] prayers and [in particular] the middle prayer and stand before God, devoutly obedient. And if you fear [an enemy, then pray] on foot or while riding. But when you are secure, then remember God [in prayer], as He has taught you that which you did not [previously] know." God has commanded the Believers to exercise caution and not to gather for prayer at once but to take turns [performing prayer]. It has been reported in the life story of the Commander of the Faithful that he asked his companions to be mindful of the [importance of] prayer. In a sound report narrated on the authority of Jaʿfar al-Sadiq, peace be upon him, that he said, with regards to the prayer of fear, in the midst of war and confrontation: ‘Each person has to pray with indication wherever he is, even in the midst of sword fighting, wrestling and grappling. The Commander of the Faithful, peace be upon him, (even) prayed on the night before [the Battle of] Siffin (the night of Harir). Their prayers were nothing more than proclamations that ‘God is great’ and invocations and supplications. That was their prayer and [even then] the Commander of the Faithful did not ask them to repeat their prayers.’ 16. Help yourselves by remembering God frequently and reciting passages from the Qurʾan. Remember that one day you will revert and stand before Him. It has been reported that the Commander of the Faithful, peace be upon him, was so watchful of remembrance of God that when in the midst of battle, on the eve of Siffin, a carpet was rolled out for him and he offered his recitation while arrows were being fired at him from all directions passing by his ears left and right, and he did not get scared and abandon his prayer until he completed it. 17. Strive to act - may God help you- in the same righteous manner as the Prophet and his progeny, peace be upon them, acted in both the times of war and peace so you could adorn Islam and set an example as it deserves. This is the religion which is built on illumination of innate nature, reason, and good manners. Suffices to say that this is the religion that raised the banners of reason and good manners, for its foundations are built on calls to contemplate and ponder the dimensions and horizons of the life and to take lesson from it and to act accordingly God said, “And by the soul ad He who proportioned it. And inspired it [with discernment of] its wickedness and its righteousness. He has succeeded who purifies it. And he has failed who instils it [with corruption].” The Commander of the Faithful, peace be upon him, said, “God has sent His messengers among them and series of His prophets to them to get them to fulfil the pledges the primordial covenant and to remind them of His blessings to them and to exhort them by preaching and to awaken the dormant intellects." If only the Muslims follow the true teachings of Islam and abide by them they will surely find abundant blessings that will illuminate their path and expand their horizons. Be careful and do not hold on to the ambiguous readings of the scriptures, and if it is directed towards the people of knowledge - as God has asked you to do so- they would know the proper meaning and crux of the matter. 18. Do not be hasty in situations where caution is required else you would cast yourself to destruction. Your enemies wish for you to act in haste and improperly in precarious situations and wish for you to rush without taking any precaution and professional advice. Organise yourselves and coordinate with one another. Do not hasten to take a step forward until you are sure about its maturity, strength, necessary means, implications, guarantee of steadiness and potential results.God said, “O Believers take precaution and [either] go forth in companies or go forth all together.’ And God said, “Indeed, God loves those who fight in His cause in a row as though they are a [single] compact structure.” 19. Those (civilians) among you should be the well-wishers of the militants, acknowledging their sacrifice and protecting them from evils. They shouldn’t be suspicious about them. God has not assigned any right upon others unless he has assigned the same for them. Each of them enjoys equal rights. You should be aware of the fact that there is no one well-wisher than amongst you for each other, if you clean your hearts from grudge and unite together to the extent that if anyone of you commits few mistakes or even if many outrageous mistakes you should forgive, forget and overlook it. Whosoever thinks that someone else is more well-wisher than his own family, tribe and fellow citizens, he is mistaken. Those who want to experience things which have already been experienced (by others), would regret. One should know that the person who begins the forgiving and overlooking the mistakes of others is worthy of rewards of forgiveness, goodness and rectitude. God will not waste the reward of those noble deeds and at times will reward it completely in the darkness of Barzakh and the Day of Resurrection. Whosoever supports a Holy Warrior or his family and protects them, achieves an equal reward as that Holy Warrior. 20. Everyone must let go of those sentiments which carry hatred and bigotry. Follow the noble manners. God has made people into different tribes and races so that they may know each other. Do not be overcome by narrow-minded views and personal egos. Do you not see how the majority of Muslims today are engaged in self-destruction where they spend their resources, energy, and wealth on killing and destruction of each other? They should instead spend their resources and wealth on the advancement of knowledge and multiplying their resources and improve the welfare of the people. And be aware of a punishment which shall not visit the wrongdoers among you exclusively. Indeed the trouble has arrived. Try to put out the trouble and avoid kindling it. Hold on to the rope of God collectively and do not disunite. Know that if God finds any good in your hearts, He will give you (something which is) better than what has been taken away from you. Indeed God has power over all things. The Office of His Eminence SayyidʿAli al-Sistani The Holy City of Najaf ================= Kerry and Iran's Zarif meet for two hours in nuclear talks Sun, Feb 22 18:23 PM EST image 1 of 2 By Lesley Wroughton GENEVA (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif met for two hours in Geneva on Sunday in another round of nuclear talks to try to narrow gaps as they pressed against a March 31 deadline to reach a political agreement. The meeting included for the first time U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi, who spent most of the day separately negotiating technical details of curbing Iran's nuclear program. The talks are set to resume on Monday before Kerry returns to Washington in time to testify before the Senate foreign relations committee on Tuesday on the State Department's 2016 budget request. Zarif told Iranian state media that mid-level bilateral talks had produced "good discussions but no agreements", and some differences remained.
"The fundamental gap, in my view, is psychological. Some Western countries, the United States in particular, see sanctions as an asset, a lever to exert pressure on Iran. As long as this thinking persists it will be very hard, difficult to reach a settlement."
Zarif said the inclusion of Moniz and Salehi reflected a need "for higher level people with all-embracing command over all issues." The presence of a close aide and the brother of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Hossein Fereydoon, meant better "coordination with the president," he added. The talks took place behind closed doors with no customary photo opportunity for journalists covering the meetings. Kerry on Saturday cautioned against reading too much into the presence of Moniz in Geneva, which U.S. officials aid was decided after Iran announced Salahi would attend. "There is still a distance to travel," he told a news conference in London. The negotiations between Iran and "P5+1" powers - the United States, Britain, Germany, Russia and China - have reached a sensitive stage with divisions remaining, mainly over Iranian uranium enrichment and the pace of removing sanctions. A recent U.N. report said Iran had refrained from expanding tests of more efficient models of a machine used to refine uranium under a nuclear agreement with the six world powers. Development of advanced centrifuges is feared to lead to material potentially suitable for manufacture of nuclear bombs. Iran says it does not intend to develop atomic bombs. Kerry said U.S. President Barack Obama was not inclined to extend the talks again. The parties already missed a November 2014 target date. Obama believed it was "imperative to be able to come to a fundamental political outline and agreement within the time space that we have left," the secretary of state said. Zarif said Rouhani would not accept a small, short-term agreement, nor a broad accord that left room for interpretation. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, increasingly critical of U.S. policy, said it was "astonishing" that the talks, which could end by allowing Iran "to develop the nuclear capabilities that threaten our existence", were proceeding. Any agreement would be "dangerous for Israel, the region and the entire world," Netanyahu said on Sunday. (Additional reporting by Merhdad Balali in Dubai and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Rosalind Russell and Frances Kerry) ===========================================

Japan's inflation test: Mapping the road to 2 pct

Japan's inflation test: Mapping the road to 2 pct The central bank may yet hit its elusive goal, provided consumers spend, workers are productive and bond investors stay calm. A new Breakingviews calculator shows how much inflation Japan can expect after money-printing has ended. A 2017 sales tax hike would make the road harder.

The Bank of Japan has set out on a difficult journey. The central bank can only reach its destination of 2 percent inflation if consumers spend, workers produce and investors remain calm. Missing any of the three signposts could lead Japan astray, as a new Breakingviews calculator shows.

 

Click here to view interactive version

 

The interactive tool builds on economist Milton Friedman’s idea that inflation is “always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.” But monetary policy can’t be gauged just by looking at how the economy is doing at present. The longer-term context matters. Higher productivity means people expect bigger pay checks; confident consumers spend more. An ageing population, on the other hand, is inherently deflationary. Monetary policy must respond to changing conditions. Applying that idea to Japan, the road to 2 percent inflation looks bumpy - but not impossible.

 

 

Start with interest rates. The BOJ’s huge bond-buying spree has crushed yields: 10-year government debt currently pays investors a measly 0.38 percent a year. Yields will rise as inflation takes hold and the BOJ gradually scales back its purchases. But as long as the yield doesn’t rise above 2 percent the target inflation rate could be hit and maintained.

Of course, if the BOJ is successful and inflation rises, investors could reasonably demand more than a zero percent real return for lending to the state. Much depends on what happens elsewhere. If risk-free rates in other developed nations, particularly the United States, are low, and the yen is expected to appreciate, investors might still be tempted. But as the U.S. economy strengthens, and real returns on dollar-denominated assets improve, the BOJ could get trapped into permanent monetary easing. Only a ridiculously cheap yen, engineered by hyper-aggressive money-printing, would keep Japanese assets attractive.

There is another way to keep yields low, however: the BOJ could promise never to sell the bonds it has already bought. Plus, the Japanese government could curb its high budget deficits so that the supply of available debt securities drops faster than demand. This combination of “helicopter money” and fiscal rectitude would keep a lid on yields.

Low interest rates alone won’t get the BOJ to its destination, however. Households must also be willing to spend at least 80 percent of their income. Japanese consumers are showing early signs of optimism: the spending propensity was 82 percent until November last year. If the measure returns to its 20-year average of 78 percent, however, core inflation will slide. (Propensity: 1. a natural inclination or tendency. 2. Obs. favorable disposition or partiality. )

Households have greater spending confidence if their incomes rise. For lasting wage gains, workers must become more efficient. But boosting the pace of productivity gains could be an uphill struggle. In the 1980s, Japan’s worker productivity grew at an annual average rate of 3 percent. This slowed to 1 percent in the 1990s, and to 0.8 percent in the last decade.

The calculator assumes average productivity growth of just 0.4 percent annually, or 2 percent over the next five years. That’s just as well, because ever since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was elected in December 2012 on a pledge to end deflation and reinvigorate the economy, Japanese companies have only hired non-regular workers. This has implications for productivity because companies skimp on training the non-regulars. Abe’s pledge of labour market reforms, including allowing more foreign workers, has yet to change corporate behaviour.

Additionally, a planned second increase in Japan’s sales tax rate, which has been delayed to April 2017, could crater demand. That’s what happened after the first tax hike last year. The International Monetary Fund’s current forecast is for the Japanese economy to operate 0.2 percent below its potential in 2017. If that gap widens to the estimated 2014 level of 1.6 percent, inflation will fall.

Rapid ageing also complicates the BOJ’s journey. A greying society has fewer profitable investment opportunities, and a low appetite for credit. Even a slight uptick in real interest rates can make borrowers turn tail, leading to a deflationary savings glut. If the population shrinks faster than the annual 0.2 percent pace expected by the calculator, inflation will lag.

Contrary to what some sceptics believe, Japan should be able to achieve 2 percent inflation if consumers keep spending, workers become slightly more productive, and investors don’t lose their nerves. Nevertheless, the road will be long and far from straight. To see if Japan is moving in the right direction, a map will come in handy.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Big blaze at SA mulching business

Firefirghters are battling a blaze that has ignited in mulch at a Buckland Park business, near Virginia, causing $6 million damage. Country Fire Service crews were called to soil and mulch retailers Jeffries Group, on Brooks Rd, about 4am on Monday. About 90 firefighters are battling the blaze, which is likely to continue to burn throughout the morning. No-one has been injured and no adjacent properties have been damaged. A CFS spokesman said the fire had caused about $6 million damage, but this could increase once further assessment was undertaken. The spokesman said smoke was visible in the area but that the fire did not pose a risk to life or property. Residents in the affected area should close all doors and windows and stay indoors if they suffer from any respiratory or cardiac conditions. Motorists are advised to be cautious on the roads as smoke may reduce visibility. ================= 9:38am February 23, 2015 Big blaze at SA mulching business AAP A large fire at a soil and mulching business north of Adelaide is still burning, with the damage bill already estimated to be $6 million. The fire at the Jeffries plant at Buckland Park began about 4am on Monday. A Country Fire Service spokesman says 100 emergency personnel and 20 appliances are at the fire, which is likely to continue burning throughout the day. Smoke has reduced visibility in the area and residents who suffer from respiratory or cardiac conditions have been advised to close all windows and doors and stay inside. "The estimated damage bill is about $6 million but a further assessment will be carried out when the fire is under control," the CFS spokesman said. Read more at http://www.9news.com.au/national/2015/02/23/09/42/big-blaze-at-sa-mulching-business#ISLzxbqoUpLLmVW7.99

Carbon Monoxide Detected in Buildings After Smoke Rises From Center City Street

Updated 9 minutes ago Firefighters evacuated several buildings due to high levels of Carbon Monoxide after smoke rose up in the middle of a Center City street. Smoke rose up from a manhole on the 1500 block of Locust Street Sunday afternoon. Witnesses reported hearing a loud noise or explosion underground. •Fire Destroys North Philadelphia Home CO was then detected in the buildings on 1516, 1518 and 1520 Locust Street by responding firefighters. All three buildings, as well as a bar on 1511 Locust Street, were evacuated. •K-9s Graduate From Penn Vet Working Dog Center Officials are currently ventilating the buildings and are checking an underground pipeline to find the source of the smoke. PECO told NBC10 the smoke may have been caused by an issue with underground equipment. They also said melting snow may have caused water to leak inside the casing that holds electrical cables, causing the thick black smoke to rise. They have not yet confirmed this however and PECO crews are currently investigating. They also said no customers have been impacted. •Five K-9s Graduate From Penn Vet Working Dog Center No injuries have been reported. This story is developing. Stay with NBC10.com for updates. Read more: http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Carbon-Monoxide-Detected-in-Buildings-After-Smoke-Rises-From-Center-City-Street-293496531.html#ixzz3SW8VPD1F Follow us: @nbcphiladelphia on Twitter | nbcphiladelphia on Facebook