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Sat, 22nd July 2017

Anirudh Sethi Report

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Archives of “iraq” Tag

“Islamic State Leader Baghdadi Is Still Alive” Iraq, Kurds Claim

Less than a week after Reuters confirmed a previous report from the Russian foreign ministry, that Islamic State head Aby Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed during an airstrike in Syria, conflicting reports have emerged about Baghdadi’s death, with the Iraqi interior ministry first cited by Al-Arabiya that the terrorist group head is “likely still alive and hiding near Raqqa”, and subsequently a top Kurdish counter-terrorism official echoing the same, and telling Reuters that “he was 99 percent sure that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was alive and located south of the Syrian city of Raqqa, after reports that he had been killed.”

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“Baghdadi is definitely alive. He is not dead. We have information that he is alive. We believe 99 percent he is alive,” Lahur Talabany told Reuters in an interview, adding “don’t forget his roots go back to al Qaeda days in Iraq. He was hiding from security services. He knows what he is doing.”

 By now, however, it no longer matters whether the “leader” is alive or dead: after Iraqi security forces retook Mosul from ISIS control last week, and the group under growing pressure in Raqqa, ISIS is scattered and on the run. If anything, Baghdadi has become a liability to others and himself.

Recall that it was the Islamic State which originally reported Baghdadi’s death, perhaps as a means of easing the blow from the ongoing ISIS failure:

“Daesh organisation (IS) circulated a brief statement through its media in the (IS-held) town of Tal Afar in the west of Mosul, confirming the killing of its leader al-Baghdadi without giving further details,” Xinhua news agency cited Iraqi news agency al-Sumaria News as saying. “Daesh called on the (IS) militants to continue their steadfastness in the redoubts of the caliphate and not being dragged behind the sedition.”

Still, Talabany said the Islamic State was shifting tactics despite low morale and it would take three or four years to eliminate the group. After defeat, Islamic State would wage an insurgency and resemble al-Qaeda on “steroids”, he said. Which likely means more unrest in Europe.

As Reuters also adds, the future leaders of Islamic State were expected to be intelligence officers who served under former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the men credited with devising the group’s strategy.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin which originally reported news of Baghdadi’s death now appears to be backing off, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying the Kremlin has “no precise info on ISIL leader al-Baghdadi’s death”, adding that “conflicting reports on the matter keep coming.”

The Saudi 13-part ultimatum to Qatar is insane

I don’t see how this can end well

Saudi Arabia doesn’t want peace. That’s the only conclusion from the list of demands leaked today.

The blockade against Qatar came out of nowhere and now they’re raising the stakes. Reuters reports on 13 demands that Saudi Arabia has issued and I don’t see how Qatar can accept them. They’ve been given 10 days and the consequences of not complying weren’t outlined.

What is clear is that the demands would be impossible, if not a capitulation.

Here they are:

1. Qatar must announce the reduction of diplomatic links with Iran and shut down its missions there. It must expel members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and limit commercial ties as long as they do not contradict international and U.S. sanctions on Iran or jeopardise the security of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Qatar must cut any military or intelligence cooperation with Iran.

(Note: Qatar shares an enormous natural gas field with Iran)

2. Shut immediately the Turkish military base currently being established in Qatar, and halt any military cooperation with Turkey in Qatar.

(Note: This is another demand that’s extremely difficult to meet. In part because NATO wants to give Turkey more latitude)

3. Announce it is cutting relations with all terrorist, ideological and sectarian organisations, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al Qaeda and Hezbollah. Designate them as terrorist groups and add them to the lists announced by the four Arab states.

4. Cease funding of any extremist and terrorist individuals, entities and organisations, including those designated as such by the four countries, the United States and other international organisations.

5. Qatar must hand over all designated terrorists wanted by the four countries, the United States and other international organisations, freeze their assets, and stop hosting others in future. It must commit to present any information needed about them especially their movement, whereabouts, and financial information.

6. Shut down Al Jazeera and all affiliated channels.

7. Stop interfering in the four countries’ domestic and foreign affairs. Stop allowing their citizens to become naturalised Qataris and extradite those who have been naturalised if they have violated laws in the four countries. Cut ties with the opposition in the four countries and give details of previous cooperation between Qatar and those elements.

8. Provide reparations to the four countries for any damage or opportunity costs incurred because of Qatari policies. The mechanism will be decided on in the agreement that will be signed with Qatar.

(Note: Asking for reparations is always a sign that you don’t want real peace, but punishment)

9. Align Qatar with its Gulf and Arab neighbours on all levels (military, political, economic, social and security) which guarantee national, Gulf and Arab security, and activate the Riyadh agreements of 2013 and 2014.

(Note: Societal is an interesting one. Qatar allows women to drive cars and for foreigners to consume alcohol)

10. Provide data showing which opposition groups Qatar supported and what help was provided.

11. Close all media outlets backed by Qatar directly or indirectly.

(Note: Asking a country to shut down all its media outlets is an over-the-top request).

12. All these demands must be agreed to within 10 days of the date of presentation, or they will be considered void.

13. The agreement will involve clear goals and mechanisms, with monthly reports in the first year, every three months in the next year and then annually for 10 years.

Germany’s Gabriel Warns Qatar Crisis “Could Lead To War” As Qatar Emmisary Flies To Moscow

Germany’s foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel warned that the ongoing isolation of Qatar by Saudi Arabia and its allies could lead to a war in the Gulf region, according to an interview he gave to Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, although he added that he still saw a chance to defuse the tension.

“There is a danger that this dispute could lead to war,” Gabriel said citing what he called a “dramatic” harshness in relations between allied and neighbouring countries in the Gulf.

The foreign minister said personal talks this week with his counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, and phone calls with the foreign ministers of Iran and Kuwait underscored his concerns.

“After my talks this week, I know how serious the situation is, but I believe there are also good chances to make progress.”

Gabriel also said that he had a phone conversation with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the Gulf situation on Friday and said that Tillerson showed a “very wise and prudent attitude” that has contributed to calming the conflict.

Yet while Tillerson was “calming” the conflict, during a press conference on Friday Trump appeared to be adding fire to it, when the president accused Qatar of being a “high level” funder of terrorism even as the Pentagon and Tillerson cautioned against the military, commercial and humanitarian effects of a blockade imposed by Arab states and others.

As expected, on Saturday Saudi Arabia and Bahrain welcomed Trump’s demand for Qatar to stop supporting terrorism, but did not respond to a U.S. Department of State call for them to ease pressure on the Gulf state. After severing ties with Qatar on Monday, Saudi Arabia said it was committed to “decisive and swift action to cut off all funding sources for terrorism” in a statement carried by state news agency SPA, attributed to “an official source”.

In a separate statement issued on Friday, the United Arab Emirates praised Trump’s “leadership in challenging Qatar’s troubling support for extremism”.

A separate SPA report on Saturday acknowledged Tillerson’s call for Qatar to curtail support for terrorism, but did not mention his remarks that the crisis was hurting ordinary Qataris, impairing business dealings and harming the U.S. fight against the Islamic State militant group. Saudi Arabia said its action followed the conclusions of last month’s Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, where Trump delivered a speech about Islamic extremism.

Trump said he helped plan the move against Qatar, although a senior administration official told Reuters earlier this week that the U.S. had no indication from the Saudis or Emiratis during the visit that they would sever ties with Qatar.

Meanwhile, adding further fire to the situation, on Saturday Turkish President Recep Erdogan vowed to continue supporting Qatar. “Now, there are ones who are bothered because of us being together with our Qatari brothers or sending and exporting food supplies, drugs etc – no matter if they are in hunger or thirst – should excuse us. We will continue to give all our support to Qatar,” Erdogan said at an iftar (fast-breaking meal) with members of his AK Party in Istanbul, quoted by RT.

Echoing Tillerson, the Turkish urged Saudi Arabia, as “the largest and most powerful state in the Gulf,” to reduce tensions and lift sanctions. “It is wrong to add more troubles on top of everything in the term that the Muslim world is already struggling with a lot of problems,” he said. “I am calling you: There won’t be any winners in the brother’s fight.”

“You have to work for bringing brothers together. This is what we expect from Saudi, the Custodian of the Holy Mosques [in Mecca and Medina],” Erdogan added.

Separately, Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Erdogan, who met with Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Al Khalifa in Istanbul on Saturday, said a solution to the dispute needs to be found by the end of the month of Ramadan.

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Donald Trump’s Saudi Speech: Full Transcript

I want to thank King Salman for his extraordinary words, and the magnificent Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for hosting today’s summit. I am honored to be received by such gracious hosts. I have always heard about the splendor of your country and the kindness of your citizens, but words do not do justice to the grandeur of this remarkable place and the incredible hospitality you have shown us from the moment we arrived.

You also hosted me in the treasured home of King Abdulaziz, the founder of the Kingdom who united your great people. Working alongside another beloved leader—American President Franklin Roosevelt—King Abdulaziz began the enduring partnership between our two countries. King Salman: your father would be so proud to see that you are continuing his legacy—and just as he opened the first chapter in our partnership, today we begin a new chapter that will bring lasting benefits to our citizens.

Let me now also extend my deep and heartfelt gratitude to each and every one of the distinguished heads of state who made this journey here today. You greatly honor us with your presence, and I send the warmest regards from my country to yours. I know that our time together will bring many blessings to both your people and mine.

I stand before you as a representative of the American People, to deliver a message of friendship and hope. That is why I chose to make my first foreign visit a trip to the heart of the Muslim world, to the nation that serves as custodian of the two holiest sites in the Islamic Faith.

Russia Dep. UN envoy on possible US strikes in Syria: ‘Negative consequences’

Reuters headline:

  • When asked about possible US strikes in Syria, Russia deputy UN envoy said “think about negative consequences,” citing Iraq, Libya
Reuters add more:
Russia’s deputy U.N. envoy, Vladimir Safronkov
  • “We have to think about negative consequences, negative consequences, and all the responsibility if military action occurred will be on shoulders of those who initiated such doubtful and tragic enterprise” 
  • When asked what those negative consequences could be, he said: “Look at Iraq, look at Libya.”

Oil Shorts Soar By 2nd Most In History As OPEC Hope Fades

During a week that saw WTI crude prices erase all post-OPEC-production-cut-deal gains, after the Saudis admitted ‘cheating’ (but rapidly back-pedalled), oil speculators added almost 80,000 contracts to their short positions – the 2nd most in 34 years.

This surge in shorts reduced the massive record net long crude positioning by the 2nd most in history – but clearly it remains extremely one-sided still…

Iran Holds Massive Naval Drill Over 2 Million Sq. Kilometer Area

With little active US presence in the region (see latest naval map below), on Sunday Iran launched a massive naval drill at the mouth of the Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Ships, submarines and helicopters will take part in the drills across an area of about 2 million square kilometers (772,000 square miles) and marines will showcase their skills along Iran’s southeastern coast, the state news agency IRNA said even as tensions with the United States continue to build after U.S President Donald Trump put Tehran “on notice”.

Iran’s annual exercises will be held in the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf of Oman, the Bab el-Mandab and northern parts of the Indian Ocean, to train in the fight against terrorism and piracy, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said, quoted by Reuters. Today’s drill marks the last phase of war games that started in 2016, Iran’s Tasnim news agency reported. The exercise, codenamed ‘Velayat 95’, kicked off in Iran’s south following an order from Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari.

Apart from the main drills, Iran’s Navy commando units are conducting special operations in the southeastern Makran region. Last June, Sayyari said that Tehran was planning to carry out 20 military drills before March 2017. Iranian officials insist that the war games do not violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the nuclear deal between Iran and the Group 5+1 signed in January of 2016.

The UN nuclear watchdog said on Saturday that Iran has been found to be in full compliance with the nuclear deal, but the report comes against a backdrop of rising tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Earlier this month, then-US National Security Advisor Michael Flynn said that “Iran had been put formally on notice” after Tehran fired a ballistic missile. Later in February, President Trump tweeted that “Iran is playing with fire,” promising that he won’t be as “kind as [former President] Obama” and warned the Islamic Republic after its ballistic missile test on Jan. 29 that it was playing with fire and all U.S. options were on the table.

In response, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, blasted the US, saying Tehran remains “unmoved” by threats, but will use weapons “only in self-defense.” Last month, a US Navy destroyer fired warning shots at four Iranian military ships that were allegedly approaching them at high speed near the Strait of Hormuz.

The latest US naval deployment shows that while the South China Sea has been a recent focus of the US navy, the only US ship in the region is the LHD 8 Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group, although the George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier is currently headed for the region.

OPEC Production Cut May Need to Be Extended: Oil Ministers

The oil ministers of Iran and Qatar have suggested that OPEC’s production cut agreement may have to be extended beyond the June deadline, despite an almost 100-percent compliance rate.

The comments come a day after the American Petroleum Institute reported the second-largest crude oil inventory increase in history, at 14.227 million barrels, which added fuel to worries that production cut efforts are not enough to rebalance the market.

Oil supply cuts may not be extended after June – Saudi Arabia’s oil minister

Saudi Arabia’s oil minister said that the supply cuts agreed by Opec and non-Opec countries at the end of last year may not need to be extended beyond June, as rising demand and strong compliance should have pushed the market towards balance by then.

Khalid al Falih, speaking at an industry event in Abu Dhabi, struck a bullish pose saying the cuts, which began on January 1, would have their “full impact by the first half” of 2017.

“We don’t think it’s necessary given the level of compliance…and given the expectations of demand,” Reuters reported.

He added, however, that the group could still extend the six-month deal “if there was a need”.

Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, was up 38 cents at $55.83 a barrel by 10am London time while US benchmark West Texas Intermediate gained 32 cents to $52.69 a barrel.

Here Are The Details From The OPEC Production Cut Deal

Update 7: below is the complete OPEC agreement:

AGREEMENT

The global oil market has witnessed a serious challenge of imbalance and volatility pressured mainly from the supply side. It has led to significant investment cuts in the oil industry, which has a direct impact on offsetting the natural depletion of reservoirs and in ensuring security of supply to producers.

Current market conditions are counterproductive and damaging to both producers and consumers, it is neither sustainable nor conducive in the medium- to long-term. It threatens the economies of producing nations, hinders critical industry investments, jeopardizes energy security to meet growing world energy demand, and challenges oil market stability as a whole.

There is a firm and common ground that continuous collaborative efforts among producers, both within and outside OPEC, would complement the market in restoring a global oil demand and supply balance, in particular the drawdown in the stocks overhang, which is currently at a very high level.

At this conjuncture, it is foremost to reaffirm OPEC’s continued commitment to stable markets, mutual interests of producing nations, the efficient, economic and secure supply to consumers, and a fair return on invested capital.

Consequently, the recovery of oil market balance could be addressed through dialogue and cooperation among producing countries as a way forward for cohesive, credible, and effective action and implementation. Hence, it is under the principles of good faith that countries participating in today’s meeting agree to commit themselves to the following actions: