Sunday, June 22, 2014

In The News: Updates From The Middle East And A New Politician Rises In Europe

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani warned on Sunday that Muslim states which funnel petrodollars to jihadist Sunni fighters wreaking havoc in Iraq will become their next target.
Rouhani did not name any country, but officials and media in mainly Shiite Iran have hinted that insurgents from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are being financially and militarily supported by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

“I advise Muslim countries that support the terrorists with their petrodollars to stop,” Rouhani said in remarks reported by the website of Iran’s state broadcaster.
“Tomorrow you will be targeted… by these savage terrorists. Wash your hands of killing and the killing of Muslims,” he added.
ISIL militants have seized a swath of Iraqi territory in a lightning offensive, with the Baghdad government’s security forces hard-pressed to prevent the advance.

Rouhani called for unity between “Shiites and Sunnis who are brothers.”
“For centuries, Shiites and Sunnis have lived alongside each other in Iran, Iraq, the Levant, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf and North Africa in peaceful coexistence,” he said.
Since ISIL began its Iraq offensive, Tehran has urged Iraqis to unite against the jihadists.
“The Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds are our friends,” parliament speaker Ali Larijani said in remarks reported on the Majlis website.
“We have always insisted that all ethnic groups must have active and constructive participation in Iraq’s power structure.”

Thousands of Shiite militia marched through Baghdad, Kirkuk and other Iraqi cities in a show of the government's force. However, extremists are just winning more ground: the Sunni fighters of ISIS have seized a town on the border with Syria.
Powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on his followers to take part in a military parade on Saturday. Hosts of Shiite Iraqis answered the call, flooding the center of Baghdad and other cities across the country.
Around 50,000 people joined the rally in the country's capital, some armed with weapons including Kalashnikov assault rifles, shotguns, Dragunov sniper rifles, light machineguns and rocket launchers. They brandished banners with slogans reading “We sacrifice for you, oh Iraq," "No, no to terrorism," and"No, no to America.”
As volunteers gathered in Baghdad, Sunni militants led by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL) pushed back faltering government forces, seizing control of crucial towns on the Iraq-Syria border. Killing over 30 members of the Iraqi security forces, ISIS fighters attacked the town of al-Qaima and succeeded in taking over the town, which is home to 250,000, and the border crossing to neighboring Syria.

The militant group also made significant gains on the other side of the frontier, bringing them closer to accomplishing their aim of creating an Islamic state straddling national borders.
The border town is located on a strategic supply route, the loss of which would be a significant blow to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. ISIS has capitalized on the ongoing civil war in Syria to gather weapons and thousands of fresh recruits from around the world. Full control of the border zone would mean potential free passage from Syria into Iraq for the militants.

To counter the swelling ranks of the Sunni militants, Iraq’s government has officially asked the White House to deploy airstrikes in the region. In response, the White House issued a statement, saying there was no purely military solution to Iraq’s problems, and that it would consider a range of options.
As a preliminary measure, the US has deployed 300 additional military personnel to Baghdad to “assess how we can best train, advise and support Iraqi security forces going forward.”

Sunni fighters have seized a border post on the Iraq-Syria frontier, security sources said, smashing a line drawn by colonial powers a century ago in a campaign to create an Islamic Caliphate from the Mediterranean Sea to Iran.

The militants, led by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), first moved into the nearby town of al-Qaim on Friday, pushing out security forces, the sources said on Saturday.

Al-Qaim and its neighboring Syrian counterpart Albukamal are on a strategic supply route. A three-year-old civil war in Syria has left most of eastern Syria in the hands of Sunni militants, now including the Albukamal-Qaim crossing.
The Albukamal gate is run by al Qaeda's official Syria branch, the Nusra Front, which has clashed with ISIL but has sometimes agreed to localized truces when it suits both sides.

Israel has conclusive evidence that Hamas is behind the June 12 kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, and is passing that evidence on to several other countries before releasing it publicly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday morning.

Netanyahu also said that Palestinian deaths that have occurred as a result of the ongoing Israeli operation in the West Bank to rescue the kidnapped teens were unintentional.

Israel has “unequivocal proof that this is Hamas,” Netanyahu said ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. “We are sharing this proof and information to this effect with several countries. Soon this information will be made public.”

The prime minister said that once it became known on the world stage that Hamas had initiated the kidnapping, previous remarks by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in which he condemned the kidnapping, “will be put to the test in practice. His remarks will be tested not only by actions to return the boys home but by his willingness to dissolve the unity government with Hamas, which abducted the youths and calls for the destruction of Israel.”

All Russian forces in Siberia, the Urals and beyond have been put on combat-ready alert, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said after President Putin ordered surprise drills.
Over 65,000 of Russia’s troops in the Central Military District have been put on alert to verify troops’ combat-readiness during massive war games of all branches of the armed forces. The exercises involve the relocation of military personnel and hardware, firing training and complex inspections.
In accordance with president’s order, today starting from 11:00 Moscow time [07:00 GMT] all troops of the Central Military District have been placed in a state of full combat readiness," Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said at staff meeting.
The drills will last for a week, from June 21 through 28, Shoigu said.
Up to 5,500 military vehicles, 180 airplanes and 60 helicopters will participate in the drills, Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov said, Interfax reported.

In June 2013, Matteo Renzi was still pretending that his greatest ambition was to serve a second mandate as mayor of Florence, a mid-sized town of less than 400,000.
A year on, he is rubbing shoulders with the likes of Barack Obama at G7 summits, and is emerging as the biggest counterweight to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the EU political landscape.
A historic win in last month’s European Parliament elections, where his Democratic Party (PD) took 40.8 percent of votes – the best-ever result for the Italian left, and the highest score ever recorded by a single party since the Christian Democrats in 1958 – has given him a strong hand to challenge Berlin-backed austerity policies, as Italy takes on the EU’s six-month presidency on 1 July.
“He has meticulously planned his rise to the top for the past 10 years. Not many people, be it in politics, journalism or business, have the same tenacity, drive and determination that he has displayed,” says David Allegranti, a political reporter from Florence who has written two books on Renzi.

In February, the 39-year-old became Italy’s youngest-ever prime minister, beating by a few weeks Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who took the post in 1922.
It was the crowning of a career in which Renzi ruthlessly steamrolled rival after rival, starting from his own centre-left camp.

Lapo Pistelli, who employed a young Renzi as a parliamentary assistant in the mid-1990s and was trashed by him in 2009 primary elections for the Florence mayoralty, has called his former protege a political “serial killer”.
The two men have since made up, with Pistelli serving as deputy foreign minister in the current government.

A former boy scout who has selected Nelson Mandela and a pious Florence mayor from the 1950s and 1960s who is on track for sainthood, Giorgio La Pira, as his political heroes, over the past 12 months Renzi has fulfilled his ambition of “sending to the scrap yard” the post-communist elite that dominated Italian left-of-centre politics for the past 20 years.

With Bersani out of the picture, he wrestled control of the PD in December, getting elected party secretary with almost 70 percent of the votes, after convincing diehard activists, who doubted his left-wing credentials, that he was their best chance to achieve victory at the polls.
He then pounced on party colleague Enrico Letta, a soft-spoken moderate who had a lacklustre 10-month stint as prime minister before Renzi dethroned him in a swift palace coup. In January, the newly-installed PD leader was insisting that he harboured no ambition to take over the top job.
Three months later, Renzi claimed another top-level political scalp. Buoyed by a government pledge to cut taxes for low-paid workers – implemented two days after the elections – the PD won almost twice as many votes as the anti-establishment Five Star Movement of comedian Beppe Grillo, who had set his sights on winning the top spot in Italy’s EU elections.
“Renzi’s political savviness and capacity to anticipate the moves of his rivals puts him a class above his predecessors,” says Gustav Hofer, a documentary maker who, along with his partner Luca Ragazzi, has shot “What is Left”, a semi-satirical investigation of left-wing identity in modern Italy that is being shown around Europe.
Hofer and Ragazzi have many reservations about the PD leader, who has been criticised at home for running a one-man show, backed by an inner-circle of advisors that ill-tolerates criticism of the controversial electoral and parliamentary reforms that the government is trying to rush through parliament.

But Hofer expects him to do well in Europe. “With Hollande being so weak, and Cameron stuck on his nationalist positions, Renzi is the best placed leader to push for a bit more solidarity and a bit less austerity,” he says.

The Italian premier is a key player in delicate negotiations among EU leaders on the next president of the European Commission, who also needs the EP’s endorsement. The assembly’s socialist group, where the PD is the largest delegation, has expressed readiness to support Merkel’s candidate – former Luxembourg premier Jean-Claude Juncker – if he accepts a looser interpretation of EU budget rules.

“Whoever is running to lead the EU commission should first tell us what he intends to do for growth and jobs. Rules must be applied with a minimum of common sense,” Renzi said last week, while his point man for the EU presidency, undersecretary Sandro Gozi, suggested that the EU had “worried a lot about the Stability Pact”, forgetting that “its full name is ‘Stability and Growth Pact’, not just ‘Stability Pact’”.
On Monday, German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel echoed Italian arguments by suggesting that countries adopting reforms that are costly in the short term, but beneficial in the long run, could win some form of budget discipline exemption. But his proposal was immediately shot down by Merkel’s right-hand man, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.
Daniel Gros, the German-born director of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), a Brussels think-tank, thinks Renzi could get his way as long as he delivers on his domestic reform pledges.

“If he manages not just to announce them, but also get them approved by parliament and implemented on the ground, he would have a lot of cards in hands,” Gros says.
He agrees it is a question of reinterpreting, rather than changing EU budget rules.
“Between the Stability Pact, the Fiscal Compact, the Two-Pack and the Six-Pack there are so many of them that you only need to put one against the other to find some margins to allow a country to do a bit less budget consolidation in a given year.”

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