September 25/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
Whoever doesn’t bear his own cross, and come after me, can’t be my disciple
Luke 14/25-35/:"Now great multitudes were going with him. He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me, and doesn’t disregard† his own father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he can’t be my disciple. Whoever doesn’t bear his own cross, and come after me, can’t be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, doesn’t first sit down and count the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it? Or perhaps, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, everyone who sees begins to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build, and wasn’t able to finish.’ Or what king, as he goes to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an envoy, and asks for conditions of peace. So therefore whoever of you who doesn’t renounce all that he has, he can’t be my disciple. Salt is good, but if the salt becomes flat and tasteless, with what do you season it? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile. It is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on September 24-25/17
Paper of Common Understanding Between Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement/February 06/06
Iraqi Kurds vote for independence. Barzani: Our borders lie where our tanks stop/Debkafiles/September 24/17
Europe: The Great White Death/Drieu Godefridi/Gatestone Institute/September 24/17
Egyptian-Canadian Writer Said Shoaib: 'Our Conflict With Israel Is Mostly Religious' /MEMRI/Septemner 24/17
How Saudis Refused to Suppress Patriotic Joy/Salman Al-dossary/Asharq Al Awsat/September 24/17
Trump at the UN: Launching serious negotiations/Raghida Dergham/ArabNews/September 24/17
The truth behind military intervention in Qatar/Salman al-Dosary/Al Arabiya/September 24/17
Morphing the Kurdish referendum into a mistake/Amir Taheri/Al Arabiya/September 24/17
Is the Kurdish Referendum 'Mission Accomplished' for Barzani/Bilal Wahab/The Washington Institute./September 22, 2017
Iran's Military Options Against Kurdish Independence/Farzin Nadimi/The Washington Institute./September 22, 2017

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on September 24-25/17
Aoun defends Constitutional Council as cornerstone of nation
Bassil-Moallem meet 'political assault on PM': Machnouk
Govt. Inclined to Suspend New Wage Scale until Budget Approved
Khalil: September Salaries Secured but Need Legal Coverage
Aoun Says Constitutional Council Practiced Its 'Normal Role' in Revoking Tax Law
Mashnouq Snubs Aoun Trip, Says Bassil-Muallem Talks an 'Attack' on Hariri
SCC Declares General Strike in Schools, Public Administrations
Nasrallah: Some Lebanese Would've Been Living in Camps Had It Not Been for Resistance
President Aoun to 'Paris Match' & 'Actuelles Valeurs': The Lebanese can overcome threats
Labor Union declares general strike on Monday
Intensive enemy flights over Litani River in the South
Rahi reiterates Aoun's call for a safe return of refugees to Syria
Derian inaugurates Dar El Fatwa dispensary, funded by Saudi Arabia
UCC announces general strike tomorrow
Report: Iran, Hizbullah Quietly Trying to Mediate Hamas-Syria ReconciliationArmenian Ambassador marking his country's national day: We are ready to extend a friendly and supporting hand to Lebanon

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on September 24-25/17
Iraq: Last Hours Race Between Referendum,Threats
Barzani: Referendum first step for Kurds to express their will
Iraqi PM accuses Kurdish leaders of corruption ahead of referendum
US cautions citizens of possible unrest during Kurdish independence referendum
Trump: ‘Not much’ of a nuclear deal after Iran tests missile
France ‘extremely concerned’ by Iran ballistic missile test
Car bomber hits NATO convoy in Afghanistan, wounds five civilians
Russian general killed fighting ISIS in east Syria
Sudan student condemned to hang for killing of police officer
Saudi Arabia Condemns Iran, Qatar for Supporting Terrorism
Jordanian Security Raids IAF Headquarters
North Korea Quake Not a Nuclear Test, Say China Experts
Merkel Heads for German Poll Win, Hard-Right AfD for First Seats
Gaza Residents ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ over Hamas-Fatah Reconciliation
Signs of Political, Military Confrontations to Gain Control in Tripoli
Washington’s Allies Control Syria’s Most Important Gas Field
At Least 21 Journalists Held Captive by Houthi Militias in Yemen

Latest Lebanese Related News published on September 24-25/17
Aoun defends Constitutional Council as cornerstone of nation
The Daily Star/September 24, 2017/BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun Sunday described the Constitutional Council as a fundamental building block of the state and said its ruling to cancel the tax hike bill was the body undertaking its duty, local media reported.Aoun’s remarks came as politicians spend the weekend scrabbling to mitigate the repercussions of Friday’s ruling. Prime Minister Saad Hariri will chair an emergency cabinet session Sunday to discuss the cancellation of the tax hike and discuss options of funding the accompanying salary scale bill for public employees. Meanwhile, head of the parliamentary Finance and Budget Committee MP Ibrahim Kanaan said Sunday that lawmakers and the government must work to pass the state budget given the Constitutional Council’s annulment. "The salary scale has become law and has been given as a right to the people, and we [lawmakers] are required to proceed with the approval of the [state] budget with some necessary amendments to realize the savings proposed by the Finance and Budget Committee," the state-run National News Agency quoted him as saying in a televised interview. "There is LL1.2 trillion ($800 million) for the salary scale that must be funded permanently and not just one time through surplus from here and surplus from there,” he said. “This [surplus] does not make up the even 10 percent of the national budget deficit of about $74 billion and this deficit is without even counting the increase in spending incurred by the salary scale [without the tax hike to fund it]." On Friday, the constitutional council voted to annul a recently passed tax hike meant to fund the salary scale, after MPs spent five-years debating the subject. They included a rise in VAT from 10 percent to 11 percent as well as additional taxes on bank deposits, import duty on containers of goods at the port, an increase in airport taxes on all flights other than economy class and a raft of other measures. Kanan explained that “meetings were focusing on the savings proposed by the [budget and finance committee] after discussions on the draft budget for 2017 were finalized. The security [of the country’s economy] can be saved through the control of spending and stopping waste. Certain taxes are possible if passed by Parliament.” Speaking at an event to mark Ashura in Ain Qana late Saturday evening, Amal political bureau member MP Hani Qobeisi said that despite the annulment of the tax law the government should honour the salary scale for public employees. “The salary scale is a separate law to the taxes and this series should be paid to all employees, to all teachers, the Army and security forces that defend Lebanon,” he said. “The government should not evade the payment, justice has won but the government should not shirk the salary scale."

Bassil-Moallem meet 'political assault on PM': Machnouk
The Daily Star/ September 24, 2017/BEIRUT: Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk has chosen not to accompany President Michel Aoun on his official visit to France in protest over a recent meeting between Lebanon's foreign minister and his Syrian counterpart, local media reported Sunday. Although there was no immediate comment from Machnouk on the reports, the minister Sunday blasted the meeting that was held last week between Gebran Bassil and Syria's Walid al-Moallem. During a brunch event, Machnouk described the meeting as a "political assault on the prime minister." Citing sources, local daily An Nahar reported Sunday afternoon that the interior minister informed Baabda Palace that he would not be heading to France with Aoun. The sources said that the Bassil-Moallem meeting was likely the reason for this decision. A source close to the President confirmed that Machnouk informed Baabda Paalce that he would not head to France with Aoun. The link to the article was posted to Machnouk’s official Twitter account with the words, “#Machnouk I apologize for not accompanying Aoun to Paris because of Bassil’s meeting with Walid al-Moallem.” The tweet was deleted several hours later after multiple local news outlets picked up the story.

Govt. Inclined to Suspend New Wage Scale until Budget Approved
Naharnet/September 24/17/The Cabinet is inclined to suspend the new wage scale during the emergency session it will hold on Sunday evening, “out of respect for the higher national interest, in line with the Constitutional Council’s ruling, and out of keenness on securing balance between the payment of the wage hike and the state’s finances,” informed ministerial sources have said.In remarks published Sunday by al-Mustaqbal newspaper, the sources said the wage scale will be suspended until the approval of the new state budget, “which would pave the way for implementing the wage hike after adding to (the state budget) the tax amendments that were recommended by the Constitutional Council.”According to the sources, Speaker Nabih Berri will call for a parliamentary session this week aimed at discussing and approving the state budget. The sources added that during Sunday’s emergency session, the Cabinet is expected to submit to Parliament an urgent bill suspending the wage scale, at a recommendation from Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil. “The payment of the new salaries will be postponed to next month,” the sources clarified. The Constitutional Council has revoked a tax law aimed at funding the wage scale in its entirety after ten MPs led by Kataeb Party chief Sami Gemayel filed an appeal against it. The appeal cited alleged voting and financial auditing violations. Public employees have threatened escalation should the repeal lead to the suspension of the wage scale, which was approved by Parliament in a separate law.

Khalil: September Salaries Secured but Need Legal Coverage
Naharnet/September 24/17/After Lebanon's highest constitutional authority decided to annul a tax hike law which people fear could affect the wage scale law, Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said on Saturday the amount of money to cover the public sector salaries for September is “ensured,” al-Joumhouria daily reported Saturday. “Funds needed to cover the salaries for September are ensured, but the disbursement needs legal coverage,” Abi Khalil told the daily in an interview. In that regard, the daily pointed out that a meeting will be held today at the Ministry of Finance, at 3 pm, and will be attended by representatives of all parliamentary blocs participating in the government. Ministerial sources told the daily on condition of anonymity that “there is no possibility of canceling the wage scale payment before September 25, which is the starting date for disbursement. When the new public sector wages are disbursed according to the new law, “this will put the political forces in front of two possibilities, either introduce amendments to the tax law, or introduce an urgent draft law to the parliament that includes suspension of the application of the wage scale for a month until the amendments are made and the tax law is approved,” they said. On Friday, the Constitutional Council unanimously annulled the tax hike law aimed at funding the wage scale whose beneficiaries are civil servants and the armed forces. The ruling followed an appeal filed by 10 MPs led by Kataeb Party chief Sami Gemayel. “The decision will not affect the wage scale" and civil servants and the armed forces will receive their September salaries based on the new wages lists, a Council member told reporters. Despite the assurance, the government still faces the threat of finding alternative sources to fund the scale law. After the Council's decision, intensive political contacts by Prime Minister Saad Hariri led to an agreement on holding an emergency cabinet session Monday at the Grand Serail to discuss the repercussions of the Constitutional Council's repeal of a tax law aimed at funding the new wage scale.

Aoun Says Constitutional Council Practiced Its 'Normal Role' in Revoking Tax Law
Naharnet/September 24/17/President Michel Aoun announced Sunday that the Constitutional Council, Lebanon’s top constitutional court, had practiced its “normal role” by revoking a controversial tax law aimed at funding a new wage scale for civil servants and the armed forces. “Through its decision to revoke the tax law, the Constitutional Council practiced its normal role, which is a cornerstone in the state-building process,” Aoun tweeted. The Council has revoked the law in its entirety after ten MPs led by Kataeb Party chief Sami Gemayel filed an appeal against it. The appeal cited alleged voting and financial auditing violations. Public employees have threatened escalation should the repeal lead to the suspension of the wage scale, which was approved by Parliament in a separate law. The Cabinet will hold an emergency session on Sunday evening to discuss the developments.

Mashnouq Snubs Aoun Trip, Says Bassil-Muallem Talks an 'Attack' on Hariri
Naharnet/September 24/17/Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq announced Sunday on his Twitter account that he has informed the Baabda Palace that he will not accompany President Michel Aoun on his trip to Paris tomorrow. According to an An Nahar newspaper report tweeted by Mashnouq, the minister’s boycott is in protest at the latest New York meeting between Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil and his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Muallem. Speaking at a social event on Sunday morning, Mashnouq described the Bassil-Muallem meeting as as “political attack on the prime minister (Saad Hariri).”“We will respond to it with all the available means,” he vowed.He also revealed that “the elections will be held on time through pre-registration in places of residence” and that the national ID cards will not be turned into “biometric IDs” to be used in the polls.

SCC Declares General Strike in Schools, Public Administrations
Naharnet/September 24/17/The Syndical Coordination Committee on Sunday declared a general strike that begins Monday in all public administrations and public and private schools, amid reports that the government intends to suspend the payment of a new wage hike.
In a statement, the SCC, a coalition of civil servants and public and private school teachers, also announced that it will keep its meetings open “to take the necessary steps in light of the developments, while reserving its right to practice the highest levels of escalation, including street protests, sit-ins and the shutdown of public facilities.”The Committee decried that “some parties of the ruling class seem to have bowed to the pressures of bank and business associations and the coalition of the owners of private schools.”“Any postponement in paying the wage hike would be an injustice against the people in light of the rise in the prices of commodities that accompanied the approval of the new wage scale,” the SCC warned. It noted that “withholding the new salaries from public employees, teachers and the armed forces will be a forthright and decisive indication on the failure of the state, not only the failure of the government or the ruling class.”The SCC also stressed that the state “has money to pay the salaries based on the new schedules.”“If the government is obliged to slash spending, let that be through rescheduling the interests of public debt that cost the state 8,000 billion Lebanese pounds every year, knowing that it has been paying them steadily to the owners of banks for the past 25 years,” the Committee added.  “Are the rights of banks protected contrary to the rights of the people? We call on the Council of Ministers to be at the level of people’s rights, not banks’ pressures,” the SCC urged. In remarks published Sunday by al-Mustaqbal newspaper, ministerial sources said the wage scale will be suspended until the approval of the new state budget, “which would pave the way for implementing the wage hike after adding to (the state budget) the tax amendments that were recommended by the Constitutional Council.” The Constitutional Council has revoked a tax law aimed at funding the wage scale in its entirety after ten MPs led by Kataeb Party chief Sami Gemayel filed an appeal against it. The appeal cited alleged voting and financial auditing violations and Gemayel has warned that the new taxes would lower citizens' purchasing power “by 10 to 20%” and would also push “more than 100,000 citizens below the poverty line.” Gemayel also quoted Father Butros Azar, the secretary general of Catholic schools, as saying that school tuitions would rise an average of 27%. “The prices of apartments will also rise and our youths will suffer,” the young MP cautioned. “An economic disaster has been created without any economic feasibility study for the taxes to rely on,” Gemayel lamented. The new taxes involve hiking the VAT tax from 10% to 11%, fines on seaside violations, and taxes on cement, administrative transactions, sea imports, lottery prizes, financial firms and banks. Authorities had argued that the new taxes are necessary to fund the new wage scale but opponents of such a move have called for finding new revenues through putting an end to corruption and the waste of public money.

Nasrallah: Some Lebanese Would've Been Living in Camps Had It Not Been for Resistance
Naharnet 24/17/Large segments” of the Lebanese people would have been “living in refugee camps had it not been for the Resistance,” Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has noted. “Had it not been for the presence of the Resistance, Lebanon would have been under Israel’s control and Israel would have extracted and stolen our oil and gas,” Nasrallah said in a Ashura sermon. “Large segments of the Lebanese people would have been living in refugee camps and the people would have been living in disgrace and shame,” Nasrallah added. Turning to the events in the region, Nasrallah described the Syrian conflict as a “major sedition.” “From the very beginning, our stance was that we were before a takfiri onslaught represented by al-Qaida, al-Nusra Front, Daesh (Islamic State group) and all the takfiris who were brought to Syria,” Nasrallah said. He added: “Some might have misdiagnosed the situation, but everything has started to become clear and obvious now.”

President Aoun to 'Paris Match' & 'Actuelles Valeurs': The Lebanese can overcome threats
Sun 24 Sep 2017/NNA - President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, stressed Sunday that "the Lebanese are united and have the will to live and overcome all challenges," adding, "we must always be ready to defend ourselves." The President deemed that the danger of radical Islamists, such as Da'esh and al-Nusra Front, has been defeated thanks to the unity of the people. He also commended the military operation carried out by the Lebanese army alone, and succeeding in expelling the various forms of armed terrorism from the country. Over the Syrian refugees' issue, Aoun believed that "the crisis of the displaced Syrians can be resolved before 2018, the date set by French President Emmanuel Macron for the international conference on said crisis.""Lebanon can help to strengthen relations between the Arab countries and France; this is basically its role," assured Aoun in response to a question. "The Christians of the East are not the only victims of wars in the region, but in terms of their number, they can be considered among the most threatened. Persecution and not being considered as full citizens, as in Israel, caused their emigration. We have to secure their freedom of worship and belief. We must defeat the archaic ideologies without resorting to the use of arms," the President went on. "We, as Francophonians, should work to promote relations between Lebanon and France, which will help revive the Euro-Mediterranean project," he added.
President Aoun's positions came in an interview to the French "Actuelles Valeurs" Magazine on the eve of his state visit to France. In turn, the French "Paris Match" Magazine devoted six pages to dwell on President Aoun and his upcoming visit to France, and its symbolism as the first Republic President to pay a state visit to France under President Emmanuel Macron. Aoun indicated that after the period of presidential vacuum in Lebanon, political officials initiated dialogue with him through which he tried to organize cooperation between various Lebanese groups within the framework of respect for their convictions and freedom. The President emphasized that his goal was "stability and security in Lebanon," noting that PM Saad Hariri is a "moderate person with whom he shares a relation of confidence.""Contrary to what some say, we have not seen any Iranian interference in Lebanon's internal affairs, which may be difficult to believe but it is the reality," said Aoun, responding to a question regarding Iran's influence. Touching on the Lebanese Army's military operation against terrorist organizations, Aoun deemed that "the battle was the most important and the last, which the army ended in its favor." However, Aoun warned that "terrorism is still threatening the whole world, and intelligence services must increase their capabilities to confront terrorist organizations, which I fear would establish dormant cells in a number of countries."On his perspective over the Syrian crisis, the President considered that "the war will end soon, and what remains is the need to reach a peaceful solution to the crisis." "Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will remain and the future of Syria must be between him and his people," added Aoun, referring to national reconciliations looming in the horizon and hoping that the march would continue. In response to a question about his state visit to France, President Aoun said that he will promote with President Macron the friendly relations and means of mutual support in international issues of common concern. "France is the best European country to re-launch the Euro-Mediterranean partnership" deemed Aoun, adding, "Lebanon can play the same role in the East."

Labor Union declares general strike on Monday
Sun 24 Sep 2017/NNA - The General Labor Union called for a general warning strike on Monday in public institutions, independent establishments and municipalities. The call for strike came "in wake of the government's inability to implement the laws enacted by the legislative authority," the Union explained in an issued statement on Sunday. "This call was especially triggered after hinting at the possible postponement or suspension of the salary scale law by the Cabinet, and going against the acquired rights of employees in public administrations, public institutions and independent establishments," the statement indicated.
The Union members urged the government to immediately implement the Wage Grid Act, and then look for sources of funding for the salary scale.

Intensive enemy flights over Litani River in the South

Sun 24 Sep 2017/NNA - Intensive Israeli reconnaissance over-flights at low altitudes have been witnessed Sunday afternoon south of the Litani River up to the Lebanese-Palestinian borders, sometimes accompanied by enemy warplanes as well, NNA correspondent in Tyre reported.

Rahi reiterates Aoun's call for a safe return of refugees to Syria
Sun 24 Sep 2017/NNA - Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rahi, on Sunday reiterated the call of President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, for a secure, "non-voluntary" return of Syrian refugees to their country.
"We support President Aoun's call for a secure, non-voluntary return of refugees to their homeland, not only because Lebanon cannot bear the high number of refugees that threatens the country economically, politically and safety-wise, but also to preserve the rich culture and civilization of the Syrian people," Rahi said during Sunday's Mass service in Bkirki. The Patriarch also voiced support to President Aoun's call for the Palestinians' right to return to their homeland, urging the international community to approve the two-state plan while imposing on Israel to stop the establishment of new settlements. The Prelate referred to the speech of President Aoun at the UN General Assembly on the importance of the culture of "coexistence" between Muslims and Christians in Lebanon, based on the National Pact and Lebanese Constitution. "In order for Lebanon to be a center for dialogue among civilizations, religions and races, it must be set aside from regional and international conflicts, while maintaining its commitment to the cause of justice and peace between the people and nations," the Patriarch underscored.

Derian inaugurates Dar El Fatwa dispensary, funded by Saudi Arabia

Sun 24 Sep 2017/NNA - Mufti of the Republic, Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian, inaugurated Sunday a charity clinic administered by Dar El-Fatwa, in cooperation with the Islamic World Relief Organization and supported by Saudi Arabia. State Minister for Refugee Affairs, Mouin Merhebi, and Saudi Chargé d'Affaires in Beirut, Walid Boukhary, attended the opening ceremony of the dispensary in the locality "Cola" in Beirut. In his word on the occasion, Mufti Derian said, "We are inaugurating this health center in full partnership between Dar El-Fatwa and the Islamic World Relief Organization. This shows the depth of relations between Dar El-Fatwa and the Saudi Embassy in Beirut, as well as the social and humanitarian institutions in Saudi Arabia. It is a relationship at the roots of history, very solid and powerful."He added: "This Islamic charitable clinic was set up in a central area of Beirut, mediating between all the surrounding residential neighborhoods. This center will have an active role in providing medical, health and therapeutic services to a very large section of our needy citizens, whether Lebanese, Palestinians, Syrians or other nationalities living in Beirut or any part of Lebanon."

UCC announces general strike tomorrow
Sun 24 Sep 2017/NNA - The Union Coordination Committee (UCC) issued a statement on Sunday declaring a general strike is to take place tomorrow, Monday, in all public administrations, ministries, public and private schools and municipalities. The statement added that the Union will also keep their meetings open to take the right steps in the light of developments related to the payment of the salary scale.

Report: Iran, Hizbullah Quietly Trying to Mediate Hamas-Syria Reconciliation
Associated Press/Naharnet/September 24/17/Iran is working to restore a lost link in its network of alliances in the Middle East, trying to bring Hamas fully back into the fold after the Palestinian militant group had a bitter fall-out with Iranian ally Syria over that country's civil war.
Iran and its Lebanese ally Hizbullah are quietly trying to mediate a reconciliation between Syria and Hamas, the Associated Press news agency has reported. If they succeed, it would shore up a weak spot in the alliance at a time when Iran has strengthened ties with Syria and Iraq, building a bloc of support across the region to counter Israel and the United States' Arab allies. Hamas had long been based in Syria, receiving Damascus' support in the militant group's campaign against Israel. Hamas' powerful leadership-in-exile remained in Syria even after the group took power in the Gaza Strip in 2007. Together with Iran and Hizbullah, they touted themselves as the "Axis of Resistance" to oppose Israel. But when Syria tipped into civil war, Hamas broke with President Bashar Assad and sided with the rebels fighting to oust him. The rebels are largely Sunni Muslims, like Hamas, and scenes of Sunni civilian deaths raised an outcry across the region against Assad, who belongs to the minority Alawite sect. Iran, meanwhile, has been one of Assad's strongest backers since the crisis in Syria began in 2011, pumping billions of dollars into the economy and sending advisers as well as Iranian-backed fighters to help him stay in power. Hizbullah sent thousands of fighters, helping tip the war in Assad's favor against the rebels and now helping in the fight against the Islamic State group. The reconciliation attempt comes after Hamas elected a new leadership and as its main backers, Qatar and Turkey — both strong supporters of the rebels in Syria — have sought to improve relations with Iran. Hamas and Iran did not completely cut off their alliance after the fall-out with Assad. But ties cooled considerably. Tehran's funding continued, particularly for Hamas' armed wing, but at a reduced level, while political connections dwindled.
Since Yehiyeh Sinwar took over Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip in February, the militant group has been rebuilding those relations. In August, the most senior Hamas delegation in years visited Tehran and took part in President Hassan Rouhani's inauguration. During their visit, the delegation met with the parliament speaker and senior aides to Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. This year, Hamas officials have held three meetings with Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and relations have returned to normal, according to a Palestinian official in Beirut.
Iran has responded by increasing funding. Sinwar told reporters last month that Iran is now "the largest backer financially and militarily" of Hamas' armed wing. He said that with Iran's help, Hamas is "accumulating" its military powers in preparation for a battle meant for "the liberation of Palestine."
Now Iran wants to end the rift between its two allies, Assad and Hamas.
A Lebanese politician with close links to the Syrian government confirmed that an Iranian-Hizbullah mediation is ongoing, adding that it is still in the "very early stages."A Palestinian official who closely follows Hamas' relations in the region also confirmed the mediation effort and said there were "positive signals" from Syria. Both the politician and the official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the secret mediation. But the mediation faces a tough task given how bitter the split was. At first when Syria's conflict began, Hamas' leadership in exile remained largely silent. But tensions grew with the increased bloodshed, and finally in January 2012, Hamas' leader in exile Khaled Mashaal left Syria to Qatar, one of Assad's main opponents. The following September, he gave a speech in Turkey proclaiming, "We welcome the revolution of the Syrian people who are seeking freedom and independence" and that "the pure blood of these great people is being shed" because they seek democracy. Within hours, Syrian authorities sealed up all Hamas offices in the country and expelled its members to Lebanon. They have not been allowed back since. This month, Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas figure in Gaza, told Al-Mayadeen TV that relations must be repaired with Syria and other countries that "are hostile to us without a reason." Pressed about possible reconciliation with Syria, Zahar said, "There are steps and they should continue."Syrian officials told mediators they are open to reconciliation but will not allow Hamas to open an office in Damascus, prominent Palestinian journalist Abdul-Bari Atwan wrote in his online newspaper Rai al-Youm. Khaled Abdul-Majid, a Palestinian official based in Syria who has close relations with the government, said that in the Syrians' eyes, statements by Hamas toward improving ties "are not enough.""What happened was big. It was betrayal as Syrian authorities say," Abdul-Majid said. "These (mediation) efforts have not reached serious steps."

Armenian Ambassador marking his country's national day: We are ready to extend a friendly and supporting hand to Lebanon

Sun 24 Sep 2017/NNA - "As always, at any appropriate moment, we are ready to extend a friendly and supporting hand," said Armenian Ambassador to Lebanon, Samvel Mkrtchian, addressing a crowd of officials and diplomats who gathered at the Summerland Kempinski Hotel in Beirut to celebrate Armenia's National Day. In his speech on the occasion, Ambassador Mkrtchian warmly welcomed his prominent guests, thanking them for participating in the 26th anniversary of the Armenian Republic Independence. "A year after, now at 26, what has been done and what has been achieved. Currently Armenia is going through significant political transformation, which will result in moving from a Semi-Presidential to Parliamentary Republic. Based on the Constitution modified through national referendum in 2015, on April 2, 2017 elections to the new Parliament were held. In 2018, the new President of the Republic--with much limited powers, will be elected by the Parliament," said Mkrtchian. "For the past year the new Government of Armenia has been working tirelessly to improve the business environment by simplifying the tax and customs procedures, easing the administrative burden and eradicating red tape," he went on. "Foreign investment is encouraged not only by Armenia's favorable and friendly regulations, but also by the opportunities offered by free access to much larger markets of Eurasian Economic Union and by proximity of others," explained the Armenian diplomat. "In the foreign policy domain we continued to adhere to our strategic allied relationship with the Russian Federation, at the same time building trustful partnership with the United States and European Union. Soon we will sign the Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement with the EU to raise our cooperation to a new level," he added.
"Middle East with its upheaval and large impact on the fate of Armenian people remains the centerpiece of concern. We stand ready, with the international community, to do whatever it takes to bring peace and stability to the region as soon as possible," Mkrtchian underscored. "In March 2017, we have marked the 25th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between Armenia and Lebanon. Those have been remarkable years of profound and renewed relationship of two sovereign states," deemed Mkrtchian. "While we have built multidimensional strong relationship to which we owe a lot to the Lebanese Armenian community, obviously, additional, significant resources of cooperation remain untapped and there is a need to put efforts for much more effective utilization," he added. "In that regard we are taking steps to establish ties at the regional and individual city level, to broaden the scope of cooperation in the fields of military, agriculture, judiciary, information and many more. Cultural exchanges are high on our agenda. It was an extremely welcome development this year to witness significant increase of flow of Lebanese tourists to Armenia. Armenia Air company starting its operation in April 2017 contributed a lot to it," indicated the Armenian Ambassador. "Like Lebanon Armenia is highly sensitive to its security environment. Unfortunately, developments in our respective neighborhoods are very often having negative impact, even though we are not directly involved. Recently we took it with great relief when the extremist groups have been forced out of Lebanese territory. We praise the high professionalism and dedication of Lebanese military servicemen. At the same time we mourned the losses of lives sacrificed for the security and stability of Lebanon," stated Mkrtchian. He concluded by reiterating his country's readiness to "extend a friendly and supporting hand to Lebanon."

Paper of Common Understanding Between Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement
February 6, 2006
1- Dialogue
National dialogue is the only avenue to find solutions to Lebanon’s crises on stable and firm bases that are a reflection of a unifying consensual will. The following conditions must be obtained to ensure its success:
1- The participation of parties that have a political, popular and national standing with a round table as a venue.
2- Transparency, openness, and placing the interests of the nation above any other interest, through the reliance on self-driven will and a free and committed Lebanese decision-making.
3- Include all national issues that require general consensus.
2- Consensual Democracy
Consensual democracy remains the fundamental basis for governance in Lebanon because it is the effective embodiment of the spirit of the Constitution and of the essence of the pact of shared coexistence. From this standpoint, any approach for dealing with national issues according to a majority- minority formula depends on historic and social conditions for practicing effective democracy in which the citizen becomes a self-standing value.
3- The Electoral Law
The reform of political life in Lebanon requires the adoption of a modern electoral law -where proportional representation may be one of its effective means- that guarantees accurate and just popular representation and contributes to the accomplishment of the following objectives:
1- Activate and develop the role of political parties in achieving civil society.
2- Limit the influence of political money and sectarian fanaticisms.
3- Make available equal opportunities for using the various means of the media.
4- Ensure the required means to enable the Lebanese expatriates to exercise their voting rights.
We ask the Government and Parliament to commit to the shortest possible deadline to enact the required electoral law.
4- Building the State
Building a modern state that has the trust of its citizens and is able to meet their needs and aspirations, and provide them with the sense of security and safety as to their present and future, requires that the state should be erected on strong and solid foundations that make it impervious to destabilization and periodic crises whenever it is faced by difficult challenges and changing circumstances. This requires the following:
1- Adopt the standards of justice, equality, parity, merit and integrity.
2- An equitable and impartial judiciary is the essential condition for creating a state of rights, laws and institutions based on:
The complete independence of the judiciary and the selection of judges with recognized competence in order to activate the work of all courts.
The respect for the actions of the constitutional institutions while keeping them away from political polarization; ensure the continuity of their work and prevent their blockage (the Judicial Council and the Constitutional Council).
What happened in the Constitutional Council is an example of such blockage, when the legal challenges of parliamentary elections submitted to it have not yet been acted upon.
3- Eradicate corruption from its roots, because temporary and partial solutions are no longer sufficient. They have in fact become an exercise in bluff that the beneficiaries of corruption at all levels carry out to perpetuate their theft of the resources of the state and its citizens. This requires:
Activating the institutions and boards of financial and administrative control and inspection, while ensuring their strict separation from the executive power to guarantee that their work is not politicized.
Conducting a complete survey of the cases of corruption, in preparation for opening judicial investigations that would lead to the prosecution of those responsible for corruption, and to the return of embezzled public funds.
Legislating the required laws that contribute to combating all aspects of corruption and calling upon the government to sign the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.
4- Working toward a comprehensive administrative reform that ensures that the right person is assigned to the right position, particularly those whose merit, competence and integrity are recognized. This can be accomplished by empowering the Civil Service Council to assume its full prerogatives.
5- Setting deadlines for actions on these issues because the factor of time has become critical. This matter requires fast and judicious solutions which would use the time factor to their advantage instead of the corrupt using it to theirs.
5- The Missing During the War
To turn the page of the past and achieve a comprehensive national reconciliation, all the outstanding files of the war must be closed. The file of the missing in the war requires a stance of responsibility to end this anomalous situation and put the parents’ minds at ease. The parents cannot be asked to forgive without respecting their rights to know the fate of their children. This is why we ask all parties involved in the war for their full cooperation to uncover the fate of the missing and the locations of the mass graves.
6- The Lebanese in Israel
Whereas both sides are convinced that the presence of Lebanese citizens in their homeland is better than their presence in enemy territory, a resolution of the question of the Lebanese residing in Israel requires a speedy action to ensure their return to their country while taking into consideration all the political, security and livelihood circumstances surrounding the matter.
On this basis, we call upon them to promptly return to their country in the spirit of the call by Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah following the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon and the speech delivered by General Michel Aoun at the first session of Parliament.
7- The Security Question
First, Political Assassinations:
Any form of political assassination is condemned and rejected because of its violation of basic human rights and of the most important foundations of the existence of Lebanon represented by difference and diversity, and of the essence of democracy and its practice.
Therefore, to the extent that we condemn the assassination of Former Prime Minister martyr Rafiq Hariri and all assassinations and assassination attempts that preceded and followed it, leading to the assassination of MP Gebran Tueni, we emphasize the importance of moving forward with the investigation according to the officially approved mechanisms in order to uncover the truth. This is an issue that cannot be subjected to any compromise because it is a required condition to achieve justice and serve it against the criminals, as well as to bring an end to the cycle of murder and bombings.
For this reason, it is an obligation to keep these issues away from any attempts at political exploitation, which would harm their essence, and the essence of justice that must remain above any political conflicts or disagreements.
Second, Security Reforms:
A reform of the Security Services is an inseparable part of the broader reform process of state institutions and their rebuilding on sound and solid bases. Given the delicate position that the Security Services occupy in protecting and defending a stable security environment in the country against any breaches or threats, the process of building those Services must be given special attention. Therefore, the government is urged to assume its full responsibilities as follows:
1- Put in place an integrated security plan based on the centralization of security decisions and on a clear definition of enemy versus friend, the determination of security threats, including the issue of terrorism as well as the security breaches that must be dealt with.
2- Dissociate the Security Services from any political considerations and clientelism, for their full loyalty should be to the nation.
3- Assign the responsibility of the Services to personalities with recognized competence and integrity.
4- Security measures must not be in conflict with the basic freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, most of all the freedom of expression and political action, which do not threaten security and public stability.
5- Constitute a parliamentary Intelligence Committee that would oversee the reform and building processes of the Security Services.
8- Lebanese-Syrian Relations
The establishment of balanced and sound Lebanese-Syrian relations requires a review of the past experience while drawing the necessary conclusions and lessons in order to avoid the accumulated mistakes, blemishes, and breaches. This is in order to pave the way to build these relations on clear bases on parity and the full and mutual respect for the sovereignty and independence of both states, on the grounds of rejecting the return to any form of foreign tutelage. Therefore, it is necessary:
1- That the Lebanese government take all legal measures and procedures pertaining to the assertion of the Lebanese identity of the Shebaa Farms and present these to the United Nations, now that the Syrian state has declared the Shebaa Farms to be fully Lebanese.
2- To demarcate the borders between Lebanon and Syria away from the tensions that could block this operation which both Lebanon and Syria have had a long-standing need to achieve through a mutual agreement.
3- To ask the Syrian state to fully cooperate with the Lebanese state to uncover the fate of the Lebanese detainees in Syrian prisons without the provocation, tension, and negativity that would hinder a positive settlement of this file.
4- Establish diplomatic relations between the two countries and provide appropriate conditions for them, thus transferring them from a relation between individuals and groups to a relation between institutions in order to secure their permanence and stability.
9- Lebanese-Palestinian Relations
Addressing the Palestinian file requires a comprehensive approach that asserts, on the one hand, the respect by the Palestinians of the authority of the Lebanese state and their compliance with its laws and, on the other hand, the reaffirmation of solidarity with their cause and the recovery of their rights, in accordance with the following rules:
1- The social condition of the Palestinians requires a strong attention to improve their living conditions and secure a decent standard for a dignified human life on the basis of bilateral cooperation and the human rights charter, in addition to facilitating their movement inside and outside Lebanese territory.
2- The Right of Return of the Palestinians is a fundamental and permanent right, and the rejection of the settling of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is an issue that has the consensus of the Lebanese people and cannot be conceded under any circumstances.
3- Define the relationship between the Lebanese state and the Palestinians in a single institutional Palestinian framework that would be a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in Lebanon in a manner conducive to proper coordination and cooperation.
4- The issue of putting an end to Palestinian weapons outside the camps and controlling the security situation inside them should be dealt with as part of a serious, responsible and close dialogue between the Lebanese government and the Palestinians, leading to the exercise of the state’s authority and laws over the entire Lebanese territory.
10- The Protection of Lebanon and the Preservation of its Independence and Sovereignty
Protecting Lebanon and preserving its independence and sovereignty is a national public responsibility and duty, guaranteed by international treaties and the Human Rights Charter, particularly in confronting any threats or dangers from any source. Therefore, carrying arms is not an objective in itself. Rather, it is an honorable and sacred means exercised by any group whose land is occupied, similar in this way to the methods of political resistance.
In this context, Hezbollah’s weapons should be addressed as part of a comprehensive approach that falls within two bounds:
The first bound is the reliance on justifications which meet national consensus, and which would constitute a source of strength for Lebanon and the Lebanese people for keeping the weapons,
and the other bound is the definition of objective conditions that would lead to a cessation of the reasons and justifications for keeping those weapons.
And since Israel occupies the Shebaa Farms, imprisons Lebanese resistance members and threatens Lebanon, the Lebanese people should assume their responsibilities and share the burden of protecting Lebanon, safeguarding its existence and security, and protecting its independence and sovereignty by:
1- Liberating the Shebaa Farms from Israeli occupation.
2- Liberating the Lebanese prisoners from Israeli prisons.
3- Protecting Lebanon from Israeli threats through a national dialogue leading to the formulation of a national defense strategy over which the Lebanese agree to and subscribe to by assuming its burdens and benefiting from its outcomes.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on September 24-25/17
Iraq: Last Hours Race Between Referendum,Threats
Asharq Al Awsat/September 24/17/Irbil, Baghdad, Ankara- The Kurdistan Region of Iraq closed on Saturday the door in the face of regional and international parties calling for the postponement of the referendum on independence and asserted it would proceed with the vote as scheduled on Monday.
As Iraqi Kurds living abroad already started to vote electronically on the referendum, a delegation from the Kurdistan Regional Government held meetings with the Iraqi ruling Shi’ite coalition in Baghdad on Saturday. The delegation carried the last message from Irbil ahead of the vote, stipulating that there will be no backoff and that talks between the two sides will start after the referendum and not before it. “The Kurdish delegation’s visit to Iraq aims to reach an agreement and to inform Baghdad about our decision to hold the referendum on time. The Iraqi side must respect the historic dream of the Kurdish people for independence,” Kurdistan Islamic Movement Politburo member, Abdulla Warti told Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday. Warti added: “We will be allies in the war against terrorism and we will share good-neighborly relations. The Kurdistan state will be a source of stability in the region.” The race of the last hours of the vote came as Turkey escalated its threats by alluding that Ankara would take security steps in response to the referendum, while the Turkish parliament voted on Saturday to extend by a year a mandate authorizing the deployment of Turkish troops in Iraq and Syria. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Turkey would take security, economic and political steps in response to the referendum. Kurdish voters have less than 24 hours to cast their ballots on whether or not to declare independence from Iraq in the Kurdistan region-controlled areas and in a number of territories disputed between Irbil and Baghdad.
Meanwhile, in Irbil, Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani told French ambassador to Iraq Bruno Aubert that “no time is left to talk about postponing and the decision is not in the hands of a party or a person,” stressing the referendum will take place on time. On Saturday, Sherwan Zrar, the spokesperson of Kurdistan’s Independent High Referendum and Electoral Commission (IHREC) told Asharq Al-Awsat that 136 international observing teams have registered to oversee the Kurdistan Region’s independence referendum process.

Barzani: Referendum first step for Kurds to express their will
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Sunday, 24 September 2017/Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani has held a press conference in Erbil and told reporters that the scheduled referendum on independence on Monday would go ahead as planned. “We ask what is the problem if the Kurdish people have right to express their will? Only through independence we can secure our safety,” Barzani told reporters at the much-anticipated press conference on Sunday days after international pressure against the vote mounted. Barzani also spoke against those in Baghdad, saying that years of “harmful practices in the capital” prompted them to decide on a Kurdish referendum. “The Kurdish referendum is only a first step for now and it is not to redraw borders or impose status-quo on Baghdad,” Barzani said. The Kurdish politician also spoke on the future of the Peshmerga forces, saying that the Kurdish fighters will continue to work with the Iraqi army and the international coalition fighting against ISIS. Earlier in the day, three main Kurdish parties announced their commitment to holding a referendum on Iraq's Kurdistan region scheduled for Monday. A statement from three main Kurdish parties said that the referendum will go ahead as planned in all areas of the region, including Kirkuk.

Iraqi PM accuses Kurdish leaders of corruption ahead of referendum
Staff writer, Al Arabiya English Sunday, 24 September 2017/Iraq’s Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi held a concurrent press conference on Sunday in which he warned that a planned Kurdish referendum on Monday would “bring us into useless internal conflict”. Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Abadi accused Kurdish leaders, including Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government leader Masoud Barzani, of being corrupt and using the referendum as a way to hide behind internal issues like the non-payment of state employee’s salaries. “Why not be transparent regarding the mass oil exports in Kurdistan in a clear account to the citizens? Most of Kurdistan’s internal problems are not with Baghdad and will worsen after the referendum,” Abadi said. Barzani had earlier dismissed the concern of Iraq’s powerful neighbors, Iran and Turkey that the vote could destabilize the region, committing to respecting the laws on international boundaries” and not seek to redraw region’s borders. “Only independence can reward the mothers of our martyrs,” he said, reminding the international community of the role played by the Kurds in the war on Islamic State. “Only through independence we can secure our future.”

US cautions citizens of possible unrest during Kurdish independence referendum
Reuters, Baghdad Sunday, 24 September 2017/The US embassy in Iraq cautioned its citizens that there may be unrest during a referendum on independence planned by the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq, opposed by the central government in Baghdad. “In particular, US citizens should avoid travel into and within territories disputed between the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and the Government of Iraq,” the travel warning said. The KRG has resisted calls by the United Nations, the United States and Britain to delay the referendum. Iraq’s powerful neighbors, Iran and Turkey, strongly oppose the vote as they fear could fuel separatism among their own Kurds.

Trump: ‘Not much’ of a nuclear deal after Iran tests missile
AFP, Washington Sunday, 24 September 2017/Iran’s test launch of new medium-range missile calls into question a landmark nuclear deal with the United States and other world powers, President Donald Trump said Saturday, while also accusing the Islamic republic of colluding with North Korea. “Iran just test-fired a Ballistic Missile capable of reaching Israel. They are also working with North Korea. Not much of an agreement we have!” Trump tweeted. The nose cone of the missile has a range of 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) and can carry multiple warheads. The test comes at the end of a heated week of diplomacy at the UN General Assembly in New York, where Trump again accused Iran of destabilizing the Middle East, calling it a “rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed and chaos.”Previous Iranian missile launches have triggered US sanctions and accusations that they violate the spirit of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers. The US president has threatened to declare Iran to be in breach of the 2015 deal unless it is expanded to punish Iran for pursuing a ballistic missile program and for sponsoring foreign militant groups. On October 15, Trump is due to tell the US Congress whether he is ready to recertify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 deal. If he refuses to do so, it could open the door to renewed US sanctions and the collapse of the deal.

France ‘extremely concerned’ by Iran ballistic missile test
Reuters, New York Sunday, 24 September 2017/France said on Saturday it was extremely concerned by Iran’s ballistic missile test and called on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to carry out a full report on the launch.“France asks that Iran cease all destabilizing activity in the region,” Foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes Romatet-Espagne said in a statement. “(France) will consider with its partners, notably European, the means to obtain from Iran the cessation of its destabilizing ballistic activities.”
Most UN sanctions were lifted 18 months ago under a deal Iran made with key world powers to curb its nuclear program. But Iran is still subject to an arms embargo and other restrictions, which are not technically part of the nuclear agreement. Guterres reports every six months to the UN Security Council on the implementation of the remaining sanctions and restrictions. Iran said on Saturday it had successfully tested a new ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 km (1,200 miles) and would keep developing its arsenal, despite US pressure to stop.

Car bomber hits NATO convoy in Afghanistan, wounds five civilians
Reuters, Kabul Sunday, 24 September 2017/Five civilians were wounded when a car bomber attacked a Danish convoy belonging to the NATO-led international mission in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Sunday, security officials said. Captain William Salvin, a spokesman for NATO’s Resolute Support mission, confirmed an attack had occurred and said a team was on the scene to recover the vehicle. “There are no Resolute Support casualties as a result of the explosion,” Salvin he said in an emailed statement.Afghan security officials said a car bomb had been used in the attack on the convoy.

Russian general killed fighting ISIS in east Syria
AFP, Moscow Sunday, 24 September 2017/A Russian general was killed while battling ISIS militants near the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor, Moscow’s defense ministry said Sunday. “Division general Valeri Assapov was killed when a shell exploded during shelling by ISIS fighters,” the ministry was quoted as saying by local media, adding that the officer was serving as an advisor to Syrian government troops.

Sudan student condemned to hang for killing of police officer
AFP, Khartoum Sunday, 24 September 2017/A court in Sudan on Sunday sentenced a university student to death after convicting him of killing a policeman during protests in the capital last year, a defence lawyer said. Asim Omer, who was studying at Khartoum University, was arrested in December 2016 and charged with killing the policeman after hundreds of students clashed with security forces at the campus on the banks of the Blue Nile in April of that year. Last month, the court found Omer guilty, and on Sunday sentenced him to be hanged. “The judge sentenced Asim Omer to be hanged to death after finding him guilty of killing a policeman,” defence lawyer Mohamed Arabi told AFP, adding that he would appeal. After sentencing, during which AFP was unable to gain access to the courtroom, police fired tear gas to disperse a protest by students gathered outside the court. The protests relocated to areas in and around Khartoum University, with those demonstrations also dispersed by the same means. The opposition Popular Congress Party, of which Omer is a member, rejected the court’s ruling. “The sentencing of Asim Omer is illegal because the judge didn’t have full evidence to convict him,” the party said in a statement. “We will continue our fight in the higher court and all alternatives are open to us to save his life.”Students at Khartoum University demonstrated several times last year against an alleged plan to sell off buildings belonging to the institution. The government denied the charge, and police often resorted to firing tear gas. Sunday’s ruling “definitely affects the image of the country and the image of the judiciary”, said prominent human rights activist Mudawi Ibrahim Adam. In late 2016, sporadic anti-government rallies were staged in Khartoum after the government raised fuel prices. The demonstrations were swiftly broken up by security forces, and dozens of opposition leaders and activists like Ibrahim Adam were arrested. Adam was released last month under a presidential pardon. The bloodiest crackdown on protesters came in September 2013, when dozens of demonstrators were killed during anti-austerity rallies. Thousands of people took to the streets of Khartoum and other regions calling for the downfall of President Omar al-Bashir’s regime, also after fuel subsidies were slashed. Amnesty International said at the time that about 200 people were killed, hundreds wounded and more than 800 arrested. The government gave a toll of less than 100 dead.

Saudi Arabia Condemns Iran, Qatar for Supporting Terrorism
Heba El Koudsy/Asharq Al Awsat/September 24/17/New York- Saudi Arabia clearly demanded Qatar to commit to the principles of the international law in fighting terrorism, calling on Doha to abide by commitments laid out in the Riyadh agreements of 2013 and 2014. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Saturday told the United Nations General Assembly at its 72 sessions that Doha’s practices of financial support to terror while disseminating hate speech is unacceptable, and so is providing safe havens to those who violated the law and should be brought to justice. “Riyadh will continue to counter terrorism in all forms and manifestations,” Jubeir added. Referring to terrorism as “the biggest challenge facing the world,” Jubeir said Qatar was jeopardizing Saudi Arabia’s policy of combating extremism and terror financing. The position taken by the four States was meant to demand that Qatar follow the principles of international law in fighting terrorism, he explained. The 15-minute speech coincided with Saudi Arabia’s National Day, something Jubeir has referenced in his opening remarks. “At a time when my country is celebrating its national holiday, I address you as a messenger of a state that has placed its people as its first priority and created partnerships around the world”, he said. The Foreign Minister defined peace and security as key pillars driving both Saudi domestic policy and foreign policy. He said that all the instability and continuous crises witnessed by the Middle East are the result of Iran’s aggressive acts, noting that Iran sponsors terrorism and has founded armed terrorist militias, assassinated diplomats and attacked diplomatic missions; not to mention stirring up sectarian strife, interfering in the affairs of the regional countries and occupying the three UAE islands. The Saudi minister stressed that this aggressive behavior constitutes a flagrant violation of all the international conventions and of the Security Council resolutions, which made Iran subject to international sanctions. He called on Iran to abide by international laws and principles of good neighborliness and non-interference in the affairs of states if it is to be a constructive member of the international community. Pledging to continue providing aid to members of the Rohingya minority fleeing Myanmar, Saudi Arabia urged the Government of Myanmar to protect its population from discrimination. “My country is gravely concerned and condemns the policy of repression and forced displacement carried out by the government of Myanmar against the Rohingya minority,” he said. He said the “human tragedy” runs counter to all human rights, humanitarian values and international laws, and urged the Government to bring about an end in line with the UN principles. The Foreign Minister said that Saudi Arabia will disperse $15 million in assistance to host some 500,000 people, while also personally intervening with neighboring countries and Bangladesh to ensure safe passage and house families in decent living conditions.

Jordanian Security Raids IAF Headquarters
Mohamed Al-Daameh/Asharq Al Awsat/September 24/17/Amman- Jordanian security forces raided Saturday the headquarters of the Islamic Action Front (IAF) in Irbid, 85 km north of the capital Amman, demanding the handover of the headquarters for the licensed Muslim Brotherhood, according to a security source. The source told Asharq Al-Awsat that the security measure was an implementation of the decision made by Irbid’s Governor Radwan al-Atoum to handover IAF’s headquarters for the Muslim Brotherhood. The IAF’s leadership denounced the governor’s decision as the party members continue their protest inside the headquarters and refuse to hand it over. The party’s administration refused to hand over the headquarters since it is a chartered official contract, considering this action contrary to the law and the constitution “and represents a flagrant violation of freedoms as it is an invasion on the headquarters of a law-abiding party, and its entry is only permitted by a final judicial decision.” IAF Spokesman Murad Adayleh stressed his party’s refusal to hand over its branch’s headquarters, pointing out that the decision is a clear violation of the law since the headquarters belong to a licensed political party under the virtue of the law, which stipulates that the headquarters and property of the parties are protected and may not be attacked. IAF’s Deputy Secretary-General Naim Khasawneh said that the decision of the Governor of Irbid came after negotiations Saturday morning between the leadership of the party and the Deputy Governor, who asked them to handover the headquarters, but they rejected the request, stressing that the party has a legal lease that expires in 2020, and no party has the right to evacuate it without judicial order. “The leadership of the party confirmed for the deputy governor that IAF is not part of the conflict between the newly licensed Muslim Brotherhood and the old Muslim Brotherhood and that it is a licensed party by law,” Khasawneh added.

North Korea Quake Not a Nuclear Test, Say China Experts
Agence France Presse/Naharnet 24/17/A shallow 3.5-magnitude earthquake which hit North Korea near the country's nuclear test site on Saturday was not the result of a fresh nuclear test, China's seismic service said, after initially reporting a "suspected explosion."The China Earthquake Networks Center (CENC) said in a statement late Saturday that study of infrasonic data determined "the incident is not a nuclear explosion, but had the nature of a natural earthquake".The Chinese Academy of Sciences also released a report saying the earthquake was likely a "lagged collapse earthquake", echoing international experts' hypotheses that the earthquake was a delayed repercussion of a previous detonation. The North's last nuclear test, on September 3, was the country's most powerful, triggering a much stronger 6.3-magnitude quake that was felt across the border in China. Monitoring groups estimate the nuclear test had a yield of 250 kilotons, which is 16 times the size of the U.S. bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945. The test prompted global condemnation, leading the United Nations Security Council to unanimously adopt new sanctions that include restrictions on oil shipments. The strength of the quake on Saturday was much lower than the tremors registered during any of North Korea's previous nuclear tests, including its first detonation in 2006, which triggered a 4.1-magnitude quake. It came at the end of a week that saw a blistering war of words between between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, with Trump using his maiden speech at the U.N. General Assembly to warn that Washington would "totally destroy" the North if America or its allies were threatened. North Korea, which says it needs nuclear weapons to protect itself against the threat of a U.S. invasion, responded on Friday with a rare personal rebuke from Kim, who called Trump "mentally deranged" and threatened the "highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history." Washington announced tougher restrictions Friday aimed at curbing North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile program, building on tough new U.N. sanctions aimed at choking Pyongyang of cash. Russia and China have both appealed for an end to the escalating rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang.

Merkel Heads for German Poll Win, Hard-Right AfD for First Seats
Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to cruise to victory in elections Sunday but also to face the breakthrough into parliament of hard-right populists for the first time in Germany's post-war history. Voting began at 0600 GMT in Europe's biggest economy and exit polls are announced at 1600 GMT, with few expecting surprises given Merkel's double-digit poll lead. For months, the woman now dubbed the "eternal chancellor" has been the favorite over her center-left rival Martin Schulz and looked set to win another term and match the 16-year reign of her mentor Helmut Kohl. To many in the West, a fourth Merkel victory will come as a relief in a turbulent world, with hopes she will serve as a calm-headed counterweight to U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's Vladimir Putin and as the key EU ally to reformist French President Emmanuel Macron. But the election is also expected to mark a milestone for the four-year-old Alternative for Germany (AfD) which, like right-wing populists elsewhere, rails against migrants, Muslims and mainstream parties. It has been polling at 11-13 percent and could become Germany's third strongest party, driven by anger over the influx of one million migrants and refugees, many from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, since 2015. "The AfD's entry into the Bundestag marks an epochal step forward for the far right," said Joerg Forbrig of think-tank the German Marshall Fund of the United States. By entering parliament, he said, "the xenophobic, revisionist and anti-European political force" will have heightened visibility and access to campaign finance, dozens of offices and hundreds of staff.
Democracy stress test'
After a "vicious" campaign, in which the AfD demanded an end to German guilt over two world wars, Forbrig warned in an article for Politico that "German democracy is about to face its biggest stress test ever."At Merkel's final major stump speech Friday in the southern city of Munich, right-wing activists tried to drown her out with whistles and vuvuzelas and chants of "get lost.".l But the 63-year-old refused to be derailed from her stability-and-prosperity mantra, telling the crowd that "the future of Germany will definitely not be built with whistles and hollers."Schulz, for his part, recalled with pride the SPD's history of resisting the Nazi regime and told a Berlin rally that "this Alternative for Germany is no alternative. They are a shame for our nation."
Aside from the populist noise, the past two months of campaigning have been widely criticized as lackluster, with few hot-button issues dividing the main contenders. The more outspoken Schulz, former president of the European parliament, has told voters to reject Merkel's "sleeping-pill politics" and vote against "another four years of stagnation and lethargy." In greying Germany, more than half of the 61 million voters are aged 52 or older, and especially Merkel's conservatives have pitched a low-key and reassuring message of stability and prosperity. But in the western city of Frankfurt, 66-year-old Harald said he was still undecided as he headed home from his night shift as a security guard in the leafy Westend suburb. "Merkel will be chancellor, that's for sure," he told AFP. "I will make up my mind once I'm in the polling booth. You can forget about the AfD," he added, revealing that he was hesitating between the SPD and the smaller, pro-business Free Democrats (FDP).
'Sleeping-pill politics'
For the past term, Merkel's CDU has ruled with the SPD as its junior partner in a "grand coalition," marked by broad agreement on major topics, from foreign policy to migration. Governing in Merkel's shadow has cost the SPD voter support, and polls give it 21-22 percent compared to 34-36 percent for Merkel's conservative bloc, which also includes the Bavarian CSU. Looking at the surveys, many rank-and file SPD members believe the traditional working class party would benefit from a stint in opposition to rekindle its fighting spirit. This would leave the presumed winner Merkel in need of new coalition partners -- possibly the liberal Free Democrats, who are hoping for a comeback after crashing out of parliament four years ago. Another potential partner would be the ecologist and left-leaning Greens party, which, however, starkly differs with the FDP on issues from climate change to migration policy.

Gaza Residents ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ over Hamas-Fatah Reconciliation
Asharq Al Awsat/September 24/17/Gaza Strip- People living in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip are eagerly awaiting the completion of a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Palestinians hope reconciliation will rid them of the difficult and complicated crises they have been living for a long time now. Despite rising aspiration and the recent positive atmosphere, Palestinians are dealing very cautiously with the recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas in Egypt, fearing a new failure or setback. Many former agreements have been unsuccessful. Pessimism hovering over Palestinians in Gaza, interviewed by Asharq Al-Awsat, dominated most views concerning the reconciliation file. Most residents stressed that they did not see the possibility of overcoming the many obstacles lying ahead. “I am not optimistic because Hamas and Fatah have often agreed,” said Fadi Raafat, 27, a media college graduate. But when the application fails the agreement and the situation returns to the worst it was.» To justify his pessimism, Raafat added, “I graduated six years ago. I am 27 years old, but I have not found a job. I have no future here, so I wait impatiently for reconciliation. I want it badly, but when I see both parties agree on a dozens of times on settlement fail, I cannot say I’m particularly optimistic about this agreement … However, I hope that I’m proven wrong and that Egypt will succeed significantly this time.” “I am not very optimistic about the success of reconciliation because the parties are looking for their partisan interests more than our interests,” said trader Abdul Rahman Hamida, 56. “They do not give us any attention to our issues or our difficult living conditions,” he added. “Young people have no future, and they are waiting for reconciliation so that the Rafah crossing border will open enabling them to have a better chance at migrating to any country and live their lives,” Hamida said in an angry tone. The Rafah Crossing Point is the sole crossing point between Egypt and Gaza Strip. It is located on the Gaza–Egypt border, which was recognized by the 1979 Israel–Egypt Peace Treaty. “The economic situation is deteriorating and affecting everyone. There is a decline in income and an unprecedented spike in poverty rates,” added Hamida. On the other hand, Baker Qandil, a 41-year-old employee of the Hamas government, expects reconciliation between the two sides to succeed in light of Egypt’s strong pressure on the PA to deal positively with Hamas positions. But he does not deny his great fear of the fallout should things fail again. “There is a clear seriousness in Hamas to end the division, and a desire to salvage the rest of the national project to preserve the rights and principles of the Palestinian people, and to criminalize the occupation in international forums, while strengthening the field resistance work and stand side by side against any meager settlement attempt or the watering down of the Palestinian cause. So we hope we can succeed this time,” said Qandil. Gaza residents are quite aware of the complexities surrounding the political situation and are leading a difficult life, so they have begun to dream in light of hopes of a new agreement, but cautiously so.

Signs of Political, Military Confrontations to Gain Control in Tripoli
Asharq Al Awsat/September 24/17/Tripoli- It seems that Tripoli, with its clouded skies, will witness a conflict very soon as it may erupt on September 25 since rival armed local factions have begun to put plans to fight over the control of the capital, Tripoli. This is a worrisome development for Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya and Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez Sarraj, who pointed out, during his speech at the United Nations, the risk of exceeding the political agreement that was put into force early 2016. “Many western officials no longer answer the Council’s urgent phone calls, which indicates that there is a new political stance, which we don’t know and may not like,” a member of the Presidential Council said with s frustrated tone. The biggest problem, according to some, is that there is no unified vision among the Europeans, at least, on resolving the Libyan problem. The competition in Libya these days is not between pro-Sarraj forces and pro-Khalifa Haftar’s forces as it was in the past, but it is confined to the capital between some of Sarraj’s forces and armed groups that announced their allegiance and support to the Libyan businessman, who studied in the west and has US citizenship, Abdul Basit Igtet, to be the first president of Libya. It is said that Igtet has relations with Qatar and with extremist armed groups inside Libya. However, Igtet himself told Asharq Al-Awsat that this is not true at all. “On the contrary, I am against the Qatari presence in Libya. This is something I am saying quite frankly. I am against the existence of any state in Libya.”“I am against the presence of any group or movement opposing the interest of the homeland or that takes instructions from a third party, whether they are the Muslim Brotherhood or any other party.”A western diplomat said that he believes there are two controlling parties in Libya. The first is the US-British party and the second is the EU party, noting that the latter suffers internal conflicts, especially between France, Italy, and Germany. While UN envoy Ghassan Salameh has proposed a roadmap aimed at amending the political agreement concluded in Skhirat and holding comprehensive elections before the end of next year, Igtet has called all Libyans to carry out protests for change on Monday at the Martyrs’ Square.

Washington’s Allies Control Syria’s Most Important Gas Field
Asharq Al Awsat/September 24/17/Beirut- The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Deir Ezzor Military Council announced on Saturday that it seized the Conoco Gas Plant in the Deir Ezzor countryside after kicking out ISIS militants. Before the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, the Conoco field was one of the most important processing plants in the country and was used to supply cooking gas canisters for household use, with a capacity of 13 million cubic meters of natural gas per day, according to The Syria Report, an economic digest. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the news and said the SDF managed to fully control the gas field of Conoco, the largest in Syria. In Deir Ezzor, the last stronghold of ISIS in the country, there are two separate offensives launched against the terrorist organization: The first is led by the Syrian regime and its Russian ally and the second by the SDF, a Kurdish-Arabic alliance backed by the Coalition warplanes. Meanwhile, in France, the presidential palace said in a statement that President Emmanuel Macron had “learned with great sadness” of the death of a soldier from the 13th regiment of paratroopers who were killed in combat in the Levant. In Idlib, the Observatory reported more casualties due to the heavy airstrikes that targeted the area of Tel Mardikh in the eastern countryside of the province, where at least 22 militants were killed in airstrikes carried by warplanes believed to be Russian on a headquarter of al-Sham Corps in Tel Mardikh near Saraqeb. It said the death toll is expected to increase due to the presence of injured people in serious conditions, while reliable sources asserted to the SOHR that tens of fighters are still missing under the rubble caused by the destruction of headquarters of Corps.

At Least 21 Journalists Held Captive by Houthi Militias in Yemen

Asharq Al Awsat/September 24/17/Aden- Journalists in Yemen are the subject to ongoing oppression and tragic setback as insurgency militias exercise brutal authority inhibiting the press. Iran-allied Houthi militias along with armed loyalists backing ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh have employed coercive control against the Sana’a-based government news agency and independent partisan outlets since the start of the coup. Meanwhile, voices are raised demanding the release of journalists detained by coup militias, the number of captives rose to 21 journalists last week. Houthi militias arrested a number of pro-coup journalists, most of which advocating Saleh loyalists forces. Despite the coup’s so-called Supreme Political Council President Saleh al-Samad ordering the release of Yahya Abdel-Raqib al-Jubeihi who is both journalist and university professor that was sentenced by the Houthi court to death for his anti-coup views, he remains in lock up. Samad also issued directives to free remaining detained journalists, but none of the orders were followed with action. Al-Maqri, a journalist imprisoned by the extremist al-Qaeda off-shoot AQAP, is still held in captivity. He was kidnapped by the terror group in Hadramout before pro-government forces, backed by the Saudi-led Arab coalition, liberated the city of Mukalla and other coastal cities in April 2016. According to Nabil al-Asidi, a member of the Yemeni Syndicate of Journalists, “most detainees in the hands of militias are subjected to torture, psychological trauma, and are suffering from many diseases.” “Militias refuse to treat them or offer them medical assistance,” Asidi told Asharq Al-Awsat. “Veteran journalist Yahya al-Jubeihi, sentenced to death, suffers from severe asthma and deteriorating health conditions.”“Abdel Rahim Mohsen, kidnapped by the militia while receiving treatment in a hospital in Rahda city and has fallen into coma repeatedly as a result of continued torture and violent interrogation,” Asidi cited information received by the syndicate. “As for the statement on the coup granting a general amnesty for all journalists and ordering their release, including the journalist al-Jubeihi, the syndicate stresses that it is their right to be free, and not a privilege to be granted by coup militias,” he said. “The kidnapping and arrest by the militias constitute a crime against the law and those militias are violating perpetrators, yet we are still waiting for the truth behind their promises to release journalists and give them the freedom they deserve,” he added.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on September 24-25/17
Iraqi Kurds vote for independence. Barzani: Our borders lie where our tanks stop
الأكراد في العراق يصوتون على استفتاء الإستقلال والبرزاني يقول لإن حدودنا هي في المواقع التي تتمركز عليها دباباتنا

Debkafiles/September 24, 2017
The 5.2 million eligible voters of the semiautonomous Kurdish Republic of Iraq avow their desire on Monday, Sept. 25 to establish the first independent Kurdish state in history. An estimated 15-20 percent of the Iraqi population, the Kurds of Iraq won their autonomy in 1991. This was the halfway mark to their final goal which, too, was denied their brothers in Syria, Turkey or Iran.
“Yes” voters are expected to pack polling booths in Dahuk, Irbil and Sulaimaniya the three official provinces of KRG, plus “areas outside its administration,” such as Kirkuk, Makhmour, Khanaqin and Sinjar, where the Kurdish Peshmerga established control after expelling the Islamic State invaders.
Most world powers, including the UN Security Council, warned KRG President Masoud Barzani to back off the referendum because of its potentially destabilizing impact on the region and as a distraction from the main war on ISIS. Iraq, Turkey and Iran threatened “counter-measures,” fearing the impact on their own Kurdish minorities. Doubling down on their threats, their armies staged military exercises around the borders of the Kurdish Republic on various pretexts. Barzani’s reply: “Our borders lie where our tanks stop.” Furthermore, Kurdish leaders explained the referendum was not Kexit on the model of Brexit. It had no built-in declaration of secession from Iraq. “On the road to independence, the referendum is only one step,” said Hoshyar Zebari, former Iraqi foreign minister.
Neither Turkey, Iran or Iraq, while making threatening motions, are unlikely to take on the fierce Kurdish Peshmerga in a full-fledged war, especially when it has the backing of the US, Russia, Germany and up to a point, Israel.
With this card in hand, Iraq’s Kurdish leaders are in no hurry. They find that their people’s commitment to the independence, even though it is unconsummated, arms them with an ace in the hole for the lengthy negotiations ahead with the Baghdad government on separation – and possibly on rights for their fellow communities as well, with Ankara, Tehran and Syria.
These negotiations are likely to wind back and forth and erupt into violent outbreaks, with the potential for inflaming the national ambitions of the Kurdish communities outside Iraq. Turkey has the largest Kurdish minority – 15 million; Iran around 6 million; and Syria 2 million – together with Iraq a total of 35 million, who dwell in regions fragmented among the four neighboring countries. The Kurdish national struggle carries the potential of being caught up in a bloody conflict with Sunni Arab or Shiite Iranian opponents, with unpredictable consequences.
The most immediate prospect now is an Iraqi-Kurdish confrontation, triggered not just by the Kurds’ national referendum, but by the battle for control of Iraq’s northern oilfields, centering on Kirkuk. The Kurds cherish Kirkuk as their Jerusalem, whereas for Baghdad, it represents one-quarter of the oil produced in the northern region.
Russia is the only world power which has not publicly condemned the Kurds for their referendum – for the very good reason that the Russian energy giant, Rosneft, last week announced a pledge estimated at $4 billion for the development of Kurdish oil and gas fields for domestic consumption and eventual export. Barzani not only has his tanks on the ready, but also a timely big-power insurance guarantee Moscow is hardly likely to let the Iraqi army attack Kirkuk, after successfully planting there Russia’s first strategic foothold in Iraq, since the Americans toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.
And so the Kurds can continue to safely pump around 600,000 barrels of oil a day under their tricolor red, white and green flag, set with a blazing sun.

Europe: The Great White Death?
Drieu Godefridi/Gatestone Institute/September 24/17
It will take only 30 to 40 years for the Muslim population to become the majority in Europe. — Charles Gave, French financier, website of the Institut des Libertés.
What is of concern, is that there is a sub-group of the European population which is in the process of very efficiently wiping itself out of existence.
That uttering this truth causes such mayhem and furious condemnations in the media reveals that in Europe, not only is the "native" population dying, but free speech as well.
A riveting -- thanks to its subject -- paper was posted the September 4, 2017 on the website of "Institut des Libertés," the think tank of the great French financier Charles Gave. In it, he asks: Does the native population -- by which he means the white population -- of Europe face extinction?
His answer is "yes": "It is not good or bad. IT IS", Gave writes. His basic argument is that with a "native" rate of fertility of 1.4, a "migrant" -- by which he means Muslim -- rate of 3.4 to 4 children per woman, and taking the initial Muslim population to be 10% of the total, it will take only 30 to 40 years for the Muslim population to become the majority. Indeed, writes Gave, with a "native" rate of 1.4 for a population of 100, after only two generations you merely see 42 "native" children born.
As expected, Gave was almost immediately scorned as a far-right lunatic for having adopted the theory known in France as "le grand remplacement" ("the great replacement") -- of the native population by a new, migrant population. The theory was earlier disseminated by the writer Renaud Camus, who was close to the Front National political party of Marine Le Pen.
In a furious and venomous article about the "foolish calculations" of Gave, the newspaper Libération -- compared to which the New York Times or the Washington Post look honest and balanced -- wrote that the Muslim population is not 10% of the French population, but less; that the fertility rate of the native population is 1.8, not 1.4; that the fertility rate of the migrants from the Maghreb is 3.53, not 4 and that the concept of "Muslim origin" is nonsensical.
Who then is right, Gave or his critics?
Let us begin by noting that the observation from Libération is fundamentally weak. Gave writes that the fertility rate of the Muslim migrants is between 3.4 and 4 -- not 4, as Libération falsely claims (Gave: between 3.4 and 4, Libération: 3.53, exactly the same). Moreover, nobody knows the exact proportion of Muslims in France -- the French State explicitly forbids any kind of religious or racial census -- but 10% seems a reasonable and moderate estimate. In addition, Libération misses the only real mistake in Gave's calculation: with a fertility rate of 1.4 and considering an initial population of 100, no other factors being taken into account, after two generations you do not have 42 children (Gave), but 49 (100 x 0.7= 70 x 0.7= 49, not 42).[1]
That being said, Gave's paper made a few assumptions with which I would disagree, for instance:
"Those who are born today will be there in thirty years and those who are not born will not be there. This is CERTAIN", writes Gave. One imagines that the same certainty was just as true in 1913, 1937 or just before the Black Death;
"Thinking that real estate will go up when there are only 42 buyers for 100 sellers is an interesting idea but I have a hard time understanding the logic", writes Gave; but he had just mentioned that the migrant population was replacing the native one -- in fact, France has never been as populous as it is today;
Gave concludes that the European native population is going to disappear in 40 years: "The immense news of the next thirty or forty years will thus be the disappearance of the European populations, whose ancestors created the modern world." Bearing in mind a fertility rate of 1.4 for the "natives", it would take more than 40 years for them to vanish from the surface of Earth; to say nothing of "mixed" marriages, and so on.
Most importantly, Islam is not a race. Islam is a religion and, in fact, much more than that; it is a doctrine, a political movement, an ideology, and a complete set of norms (Islamic jurisprudence in the form of Quran, Sunnah, Fiqh) intended to rule each and every aspect of human activity. Being a doctrine, one can join it and convert to Islam. One can also leave Islam; however, the punishment for leaving, called "apostasy," is death.
There are, nevertheless, people who define themselves as "former Muslims", even if they may not be a majority. It does not make much sense, however, to pretend to know 40 years in advance what will be the future of a belief, creed, ideology or cult, especially in Europe and the Western world. As the saying goes, "It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future."
Only two or three generations ago, tens of millions of Europeans knelt several times a week in churches to show their adoration of Jesus Christ. Forty years after this religious fervor, almost nothing remains. What we have instead is the well-known phenomenon of "dechristianization", which has engulfed the whole of Europe.
Yet, despite a few differences, there is truth in Gave's paper. Bluntly put, Europeans are not making babies anymore. And this has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam; this "malady" is entirely self-inflicted.
In his book, The Population Bomb, published in 1968, the American biologist Paul Ehrlich wrote that the best method to reduce population is the legalization of abortion. And that was without even considering the effect of birth control.
When Europeans began to legalize both birth control and abortion 40 years ago, a few years after Roe vs. Wade (1973), the Catholic Church warned of the risk of Europe entering into a "morbid civilization". When the Belgian Parliament decided to depenalize abortion in 1990, the King -- a fervent Catholic -- refused to sign the law, there was a "crise de régime" and the Prime Minister at the time had to devise some kind of constitutional patch to sanction the law despite the King. Although this was said only a few short years ago, the mentality of the king now seems archaic.
Forty years later, we now know that Paul Ehrlich as well as the Catholic Church were right: Europeans evidently feel they have better things to do than look after babies.
Abortion has recently assumed epic proportions in countries such as Sweden or France. In France, there are 200,000 abortions a year. To put things in perspective, there are in France around 750,000 births a year. France, therefore, is aborting 20% of its babies/fetuses/embryos/cell clusters -- choose according to your personal convictions -- each year.
The French Parliament recently made abortion an absolute right (the Vallaud-Belkacem law of 2014). Before that, the mother had to be in a condition of distress for an abortion to be legal. This "condition" -- which was never verified nor controlled -- has now been done away with and abortion is now an everyday right, such as the right to drive a car or buy a sandwich.
The French Parliament also recently approved one of those laws -- outlawing "digital obstruction to abortion" -- for which France has a penchant. This new law states that it is a criminal offense to disseminate "false information" concerning abortion in order to deter women from having one. But what is "false"? Is it false to state that the psychological consequences of abortion are often devastating? Is it "false" to illustrate the clinical steps of an abortion? Is it "false" to put the value of human life above anything else? By the way, if "free speech" shall not entail the right to say "false" or even abhorrent things, the speech is free no more. This law means that probably around 99.9% of American pro-life websites are now set against the French criminal law: Americans, beware! In France, the right to have an abortion is now a dogma.
Some of these abortions are from "native" Westerners who have lived in France for generations, and some from people who have come as migrants. After a while, however, the "migrant" rate of abortion tends to converge with the "native" one.
But this is not of concern to us here. What is of concern, is that there is a sub-group of the European population which is in the process of very efficiently wiping itself out of existence. Indeed, with a fecundity of 1.4 the initial, "native Western" group of 100 becomes fewer and fewer -- 70, 49, 34, 24, 17, 12, 8, 6, 4, 3, 2, 1 -- in thirteen generations. The result is mathematical.
Of course, even if abortions were not permitted, there could be a demographic decline -- from war, disease, the "one-child" policy of the Chinese government (which sometimes involves forced abortions), and the like (see John Bongaarts' aggregate model of the proximate determinants, "Demographic Research," 33, 19: 535–560, 2015). One can think theoretically of a population where abortion is legal, yet the fertility rate in the long run is 3. But in real terms, there is not to my knowledge, in the vast literature on the subject[2], a single example of a population that has not declined after abortion has been made widely available -- especially, as in France, as a "right".
The point here is not whether or not abortion is "bad" or immoral, or if the policy should be reversed. The point is to show that the "white death" of Europe is a mathematical reality; and that this plague is not only self-inflicted, but that it began with the legalization of "birth control" and abortion even before the massive influx of Muslim migrants.
That uttering such a truth -- routinely predicted by such respected figures as the philosopher Raymond Aron (author of In Defense of Decadent Europe), the former Prime Ministers Michel Rocard and Alain Juppé, or even former President François Mitterrand ("demographic suicide") -- causes such mayhem and furious condemnations in the media, reveals that in Europe, not only is the "native" population dying, but free speech as well.
(Image source: Eric Chan/Wikimedia Commons)
Drieu Godefridi, a classical-liberal Belgian author, is the founder of the l'Institut Hayek in Brussels. He has a PhD in Philosophy from the Sorbonne in Paris and also heads investments in European companies.
[1] Actually it's probably around 45, if you take into account the fact that for a population of 100 you have 48 women able to procreate. See the book of the demographer Jacques Dupâquier, "Ces migrants qui changent la face de l'Europe" (with Yves-Marie Laulan), Paris: L'Harmattan, 2004.
[2] See e.g. Kapótsy, B., "The demographic effects of legal abortion on the Hungarian labor force," European Demographic Information Bulletin, September 1973, 4:136; Potts, M. Diggory, P., Peel, J., Abortion, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977; Berelson, B., "Romania's 1966 Anti-Abortion Decree: The Demographic Experience of the First Decade," Popu. Studies, 33, 2: 209s. ; Tomas Frejka, "Induced Abortion and Fertility: A Quarter Century of Experience in Eastern Europe", Population and Development Review, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Sep., 1983), pp. 494-520; Senderowitz J., Paxman JM., "Adolescent fertility: worldwide concerns," Popul Bull., 1985 Apr. 40(2): 1-51 ; Susan Gross Solomon, "The demographic argument in Soviet debates over the legalization of abortion in the 1920's", Cahiers du monde russe et soviétique,1992, 33, 1: pp. 59-81; Carroll, P. "Ireland's Gain -- The demographic Impact and Consequences for the Health of women of the Abortion Laws in Ireland and Northern Ireland since 1968," London: Papri (Pension and Population research Institute), 2011; Potrykus, H., Higgins, A., "Abortion: Decrease of the U.S. Population & Effects on Society," MARRI Research (Marriage and Religion Research Institute), January 2014; Mueller, JD, Redeeming Economics: Rediscovering the Missing Element, Intercollegiate Studies Institute: 2014; John Bongaarts, "Modeling the fertility impact of the proximate determinants: Time for a tune-up," op. cit.
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Egyptian-Canadian Writer Said Shoaib: 'Our Conflict With Israel Is Mostly Religious'
Special Dispatch | 7103 | September 24, 2017 The Middle East Media Research Institute
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Egyptian-Canadian Writer Said Shoaib: 'Our Conflict With Israel Is Mostly Religious' – Otherwise We'd Be Treating Iran Like We Treat Israel; Only Muslims Take Pride In 'Their Colonialist Crimes'; 'The Reforms In The Jewish Religion Improved It'
In a June 29 interview with the Arab-Christian channel Al-Hayat TV, Egyptian-Canadian journalist Said Shoaib called Al-Andalus a "colonialist occupation" and added that it is very sad that the Muslims "take pride in their colonialist crimes." Muslims, he said, have no choice but to reform their religion, rather than continuing to be "a burden on civilization." He pointed out that "our conflict with Israel is mostly religious, otherwise we would be treating Iran the same way we treat Israel," and added that "the reforms in the Jewish religion improved it." He also criticized Egyptian media and public for refusing to admit that the kidnapping and slaughter of Copts by jihadi terrorists is based on religion.
"Our Conflict With Israel Is Mostly Religious"
Said Shoaib: "The Islamists and the Muslims are held captive by history. Our conflict with Israel is mostly religious."
Interviewer: "Absolutely."
Said Shoaib: "Otherwise, we would be treating Iran the same way we treat Israel. Iran is occupying the Arab region of Ahwaz and oppressing the Sunnis, and it is occupying the UAE islands. Turkey is occupying the Alexandretta province. Is there one occupation that is halal and another that is haram?"
Interviewer: "In Morocco, we also have two cities that we consider to be occupied by Spain."
"We Consider Al-Andalus To Be A Source Of Pride For The Muslims" – But It Was "A Colonial Occupation"
Said Shoaib: "But nobody cares. They only care about Israel, because the Prophet Muhammad engaged in a political armed and unarmed conflict [with the Jews] 1,400 years ago, and we act as if it happened today. There is another upsetting paradox. We consider Al-Andalus to be a source of pride for the Muslims, although it was, in fact, a colonialist occupation."
Interviewer: "Of course."
Said Shoaib: "We should wash our hands of that aspect. There was scientific and cultural progress there, but as a matter of principle [it was occupation] and we Muslims should be fair about it."
Interviewer: "You won't hear France saying today with pride: 'remember how we occupied Algeria and Morocco? Those were the days...'"
Said Shoaib: "Nobody says that except for the Muslims, and this is very sad. The Muslims are the only ones who take pride in their colonialist crimes."
Interviewer: "Because it is a religious matter. They consider this to be sacred."
Said Shoaib: "If you are so proud of the occupation of Al-Andalus, why are you angry at Israel? This is very strange. I once interviewed [former MB Supreme Guide] Mahdi Akef. It was the famous interview in which he said: 'To hell with Egypt.' I mentioned to him that the Ottomans had been occupiers [in Egypt]. 'Occupiers?' he was bewildered and hit the table. 'They were Muslims! Muslims cannot occupy Muslims.' Of course Muslims can be occupiers. The Ottomans destroyed the entire region."
Interviewer: "Sure there can be occupation. What was Iraq doing in Kuwait? Dropping in for breakfast?"
"The Reforms In The Jewish Religion Improved It"
Said Shoaib: "It's insane. The Muslims are the only ones who want to restore their colonialist empire.
"The reforms in the Jewish religion improved it. The most important aspect of this was that they abandoned the textual understanding of the religion."
Muslims Have No Choice But To Reform – "Better Late Than Never" – They Cannot "Continue Being A Burden On... Civilization"
Interviewer: "Don't you think that it's too late [for the Muslims], because generations and generations were raised on this? People blow themselves up and kill people in Manchester and in Paris – there is nothing to be done. The cancer has spread. Isn't it too late? Even in the West, in some Western countries, perhaps the time for reforms is gone..."
Said Shoaib: "First of all, you must know the saying 'better late than never.' Second, what choice do we Muslims have? To continue being a burden on the world, on human civilization? I feel that Muslims I know personally – I'm not talking about the Islamists – are upset. They are not pleased. They are angry. My mother is upset. She's not happy."
Interviewer: "Most people just want to live in peace."
Said Shoaib: "Of course, and we must provide them with solutions."
"The Religious Conflicts Will Continue... People Refuse To Admit That The Kidnapping And Slaughter Of Copts Is Motivated By Religion"
Interviewer: "What do you think will happen in the Middle East? Will it come to an explosion? Will we go on like this?"
Said Shoaib: "The religious conflicts will continue. One of the things that saddens me in Egypt is that people refuse to admit that the kidnapping and slaughter of Copts is motivated by religion. Even now, the public mind is closed. Even my friends and colleagues, who are senior journalists and excellent people, refuse to admit it. Christians in Egypt are being killed on the basis of religion. Why is that?"

How Saudis Refused to Suppress Patriotic Joy
Salman Al-dossary/Asharq Al Awsat/September 24/17
In 2005, Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz acknowledged that as of the 75th National Day, the occasion will become a national holiday celebrated annually.
The Saudi National Day is celebrated on every September 23 to commemorate the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by King Abdulaziz in 1932.
Establishing the holiday saw multiple opposition attempts from groups that sought to thwart every act aimed at bolstering national pride and identity. Joy for the holiday, unfortunately, was shy.
Saudis were not used to freely express their happiness celebrating independence.
Shortly after, Saudis began rejoicing in a homeland that united them after dispersion and started expressing suppressed and forbidden joy openly.
The joy spread nationwide, young or old, men and women, and even a large group of those who initially criticized and rejected the whole idea have become part and parcel of a national system commemorating a dear memory to all.
National pride and joy filled every Saudi home.
Muslim Brotherhood cells played a major role in promoting fatwas prohibiting the celebration of the National Day.
They aimed at spreading a culture of frustration among the Saudis, despite knowing that national pride for Saudis is untouchable given.
The idea of removing any manifestations of renewed loyalty to the nation year after year contributes to the promotion of several negative concepts marketed as criticism of enforcing strong national state institutions.
They hope to reach the ultimate goal of destroying confidence in the state little by little. What is more is that those who often oppose celebrating the National Day in Saudi Arabia do not hold the same views for neighboring.
Clearly displaying double standards, they even celebrate national independence days in other countries, as if Saudis alone hold the dim duty of suppressing national pride.
As soon as a policy was adopted to actively diminish the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence, patriotic feelings surged all over the kingdom. The celebration went extended beyond Saudi Arabia to all who love and admire the kingdom such as Kuwait, Egypt and others also rejoiced, in a reflection of the size and influence of Saudi Arabia.
This exclusive and unprecedented joy has become a “registered trademark” for Saudis as if they want to make up for what they missed.
Saudis and their sincere willingness to express their patriotism this year, in particular, seemed amazing and striking. It was a terrible blow to anyone who believed in a false ability to manipulate national feelings in the hope of achieving dubious goals or undermined the statehood of Saudi Arabia.
The kingdom’s public spoke in a loud voice that the rules of the game had changed and it was no longer allowed for the terrible exploitation of religion to deprive them of patriotism. They completely stood against any agenda promoting a pro-group and an anti-state ideology.
It is enough for Saudis to rejoice in their homeland and take pride in their kingdom without looking at their living problems as the “Brotherhood” works on spreading this absurd equation.
Yes, the Saudi citizen has a fair share of living problems. Yes, Saudis have many worries about life, but all this doesn’t collide with sincere patriotism, which has long been stifled.
Whether oil rates rise or fall, whether daily worries worsen or disappear, there is a big difference between a citizen making demands of his state as a natural right and his government’s right to improve their living conditions, and that this is exploited horribly to reduce patriotism.
The greatness of Saudis is awe-striking! In just two years they managed to demolish an organized and years-in-the-making project to put a barrier between them and their homeland.
**Salman Aldosary is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

Trump at the UN: Launching serious negotiations
Raghida Dergham/ArabNews/September 24/17
Between the American din and the Russian quietude, world leaders participating in the UN General Assembly session were struck first by the threat made by President Donald Trump of “totally destroying North Korea” if its leader continued his dangerous provocations. In the meantime, Russia was pressing ahead with its Syrian-enabled breakthroughs on the world stage, where it has regained its initiative, leadership, and even national pride, the same one it believes was slighted by the West during the Libyan crisis.
Russian diplomacy seemed well reassured now that all players have acknowledged it is the anchor of Syria’s future, distributing spheres of influence and geographical slices as it sees fit. More importantly, Russian-American accords are pressing ahead behind the scenes, in Syria but also soon in Ukraine, despite the public disagreements. While this does not mean that the grand bargain is around the corner, it suggests that the two big players are engaged in a different kind of conversation relative to others.
Contentious issues abound between Washington and Moscow, from North Korea to Iran, and the two sides must adapt at times or pull the strings at others. When it comes to North Korea, the EU is not that important, but with regards to the fate of the nuclear deal with Iran, the Europeans are key because Tehran relies on the EU in the confrontation with Washington, now that Donald Trump has made it clear that he has decided to depart from the principles of his predecessor Barack Obama on Iran, from the nuclear issue to the legitimacy of the regime there as well as its expansion in the Arab world.
Iran is pushing back, but it is anxious. The Gulf countries concerned are reassured by Hurricane Trump at the UN, though questions remain in international circles regarding whether Trump’s announcements at the UN podium represent long-term US policy, or just lip service and verbal escalation by Trump designed to secure compromises. Trump’s description of Iran as a rogue state using its resources to finance the dictatorship of Bashar Assad and Hezbollah and terror groups is one thing, but taking measures to force Iran out of Syria is another. At present, there are many question marks amid the din in America and the silence in Russia, which are both intriguing and suspicious.
One view holds that Trump is escalating to cut the best possible deal. On North Korea, Trump’s threat of total destruction could be a message to China to pressure it to be more serious on the Korean crisis, given the instruments it has in its possession to pressure the North Korean regime. Trump was also keen to slight the communist regime in Beijing in his UN speech, as though launching a round of negotiations with deliberate escalation.
On Iran, Trump has informed all those concerned that the nuclear deal signed by the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany is no longer sacrosanct as it was under Obama, though he did not say he would tear the agreement apart, and raised the possibility of including Iran’s ballistic missile program in a re-negotiated accord. This was categorically rejected by the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, who said either the agreement stands as is or does not. Rouhani also made it clear that the EU is extremely central to the fate of the agreement, not just China and Russia. He did not say what his country would do if Trump discarded the agreement. He hid his anxiety and spoke defiantly.
What Trump raised was not just the nuclear aspect of Obama’s pledges, that is, Tehran’s three achievements. Indeed, Barack Obama caved to a fundamental Iranian condition during the nuclear negotiations, namely, to separate its regional role from the nuclear issue. In other words, Obama rubberstamped Iran’s expansionist schemes in the Arab region, in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, in the name of safeguarding the deal. Europe did the same. Thus they all sat idly by during the Syrian massacre, silent about Iran’s role there in support of Bashar Assad, and later accepted the bid to reduce the Syrian issue into one of counter-terrorism.
In his speech at the UN, Donald Trump, at least verbally, pledged to discontinue Obama’s approach that had exempted Iran from accountability for its regional violations. That policy had empowered Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to double down on their adventures in Syria, Iraq and Yemen with help from Lebanon’s Hezbollah, rewarding instead of punishing Iran. Donald Trump is saying today that he has decided to reverse this second major achievement by the Islamic Republic, claiming that he will confront Tehran and deny it the trophy of consolidating its presence in Syria and Iraq.
The US president’s rhetoric in New York has not been matched with concrete action, but it encouraged the Gulf states, for whom Iran remains the priority.
The third Iranian condition that Obama had fulfilled, and now Trump is trying to absolve the US of, is recognizing the legitimacy of the regime in Tehran and pledging not to support its opponents. He said: “The day will come when the Iranian people will face a choice. Will they continue down the path of poverty, bloodshed and terror? Or will the Iranian people return to the nation’s proud roots as a center of civilization, culture, and wealth where their people can be happy and prosperous once again?” Trump spoke at length about the domestic situation in Iran, saying the Iranian government “masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy.”
This is a new language in US post-Obama policy, and is close to inciting regime change in Iran. But are these just empty words by Trump, or a radical change to be followed by measures on the ground? There is no clear answer to this, at least for now.
The Gulf countries directly concerned by the crisis with Iran are reassured by Trump’s speech, especially his messages to Iran. One Gulf official said: “We can coexist with Trump withdrawing from Obama’s deal and the nuclear deal. If the ballistic missile program were to be included in the nuclear deal, and Iran’s ambitions and interferences in the region are curbed, then the deal becomes a good deal. Otherwise, the previous years have proven that Obama’s wishes for the deal to become a turning point for Iran, regionally and domestically, were not fulfilled. Neither are the moderates ruling in Tehran, not did Iran roll back its expansionist policies.”
Gulf diplomats admit that the positions of the Trump administration on Iran, beginning with its promises at the Riyadh summit and not ending with Trump’s UN speech, have not been coupled with pressure on the ground on Iran. To date, Iran continues apace with its military, political and economic arrangements in Syria and Iraq without being challenged, except verbally.
What is new perhaps is the introduction of its ballistic missile program to the fray surrounding the nuclear deal, amid a push for a political process in Syria that may lead to curbing Iran’s dominance there, from the US and Gulf perspective.
These countries are currently supporting Russian proposals on Syria, despite the ambiguity surrounding Russia’s deals with Turkey and Iran, and the major Russian role in ensuring the survival of Bashar Assad in alliance with Iran.
They however reject a recent French attempt to bring Iran into the political process in Syria, which would legitimize its role there. France had proposed establishing a contact group comprised of the five permanent members of the Security Council and several concerned countries including Iran. The French president Emmanuel Macron’s initiative is aimed at legitimizing Iran’s role in the political process after the Astana talks involving the three so-called guarantors — Russia, Turkey, and Iran — in coordination with Russia, in support of the efforts of the UN Syria envoy Staffan De Mistura.
France assigns no priority or importance to Iran’s withdrawal from Syria, and remains committed to the priority of safeguarding the nuclear deal at the expense of Arab territory. The threat looming over the fate of the nuclear deal enhances the French and European willingness to continue to turn a blind eye to Iran’s regional ambitions.
The big contradiction in the positions of President Macron lie in his insistence on describing Bashar Assad as a war criminal who must not escape punishment, while insisting on allowing him to remain in power and refusing a specific timetable for his departure. Macron has said repeatedly his enemy is Daesh, not Assad.
What is the Gulf strategy on all this? First to reject Macron’s proposal, although it is a Russian idea, at a time when the Gulf is cooperating with the Russian leadership on a solution in Syria. Second, the Gulf countries will work to unify the Syrian opposition to present themselves as a civil secular voice, as one Gulf figure put it, and engage frankly with Russia. However, this does not mean that Moscow will be convinced of the Gulf view regarding the legitimization of Iran’s role and other issues.
The Gulf priority is to push back against Iran, not just in Syria but also in Iraq, according to the Gulf source, who insists Iraq is the key to confronting Iran. For one thing, challenging Iran in Syria means challenging Hezbollah, which could lead to a regional war. In Iraq, however, the Gulf has a bigger ability to influence. In addition, Iraq has a border with Iran. This does not mean abandoning the priority to remove Iran and its militias from Syria as soon as possible, because failing to do so would lead to the institutionalization of Iranian presence and influence in this Arab nation.
Is there a plan to make this actionable? Is there a serious conversation taking place with the Russians in this regard? No, the Gulf official says. These are mere wishes, a wager that it would become a serious American policy and that the Russians could get on board.
• Raghida Dergham is a columnist, senior diplomatic correspondent, and New York bureau chief for the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper since 1989. She is the founder and executive chairman of Beirut Institute. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and an honorary fellow at the Foreign Policy Association and has served on the International Media Council of the World Economic Forum. Twitter: @RaghidaDergham

The truth behind military intervention in Qatar
Salman al-Dosary/Al Arabiya/September 24/17
Only 48 hours into Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt putting their boycott with Qatar into effect, Doha straightaway announced resorting to Turkish army troops. The move shocked all Gulf States and even other foreign forces. Neither was the rift with Qatar a newly found dilemma, nor was the list of demands put forth by the quartet unexpected. Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani had already signed onto them, but without fully falling through with implementation. Political disputes and crises– among Arab Gulf countries in particular– have long been known to be settled through diplomacy and never military interventions. In a nutshell, the four countries practiced rights dictated by sovereignty and have shut down all vents that could allow for evil or terror to come through the Qatari peninsula. On the other hand, Qatar’s response was to open up all ports and airspace to military troops—although it paradoxically made claims of being put under a brutal siege. The move presented a disastrous escalation for the region.
Doha, without previous warning, decided on militarizing a diplomatic crisis, unaware of the grave tensions it brought along by inviting foreign troops into the region. Even though boycotting countries made it clear on many occasions that the row with Qatar goes beyond independent perceptions and is based on views shared by many other Arab and Islamic countries, Qatar’s reactions were shocking, nonsensical and quite rebellious–anyone could see that. Many times, Doha’s policy-making decisions went against the interests of the Qatari people. Its confused stance and promotion of delusional claims on military threats, counteractively verifies the truth behind the quartet’s position and reasons for distancing itself up until this very moment.
Escalatory stances
Qatar’s escalatory stances sent a dangerous message it fails to see the aftermath entailed, given they compromise regional security and stability. Despite the Saudi-led bloc of four not going after a military option itself, the boycotting countries –like any other country in the world- are obliged to uphold their national security. It is only natural that they do not allow for Doha to bring about impending threats to the security and stability of their people, which inviting foreign troops into the Gulf region exactly does. All the more, Qatar’s move was based on invalid justifications.
Absurdly, a state coming from a politically, socially and military weak position would still take on the risk of provoking mightier neighboring states which itself accuses of attempting to impose a regime change within its territory.
The matter of the fact is that regime change in Qatar was never an option, and that the goal was clearly defined by forcing the peninsula to reconsider its aggressive behavior.
It is worth noting that by Qatar turning to loud rhetoric, political cries, and foreign military intervention to escape its diplomatic crisis evidently proves that Doha policies weren’t strong enough to preserve the stability of its ruling regime in the first place. A thought-provoking scene of political adolescence?!
US President Donald Trump summarized the whole feeble Qatari cry on it being under the threat of military intervention by telling the Emir of Qatar himself “no,” when he asked Trump on whether he had warned the Saudis against taking up military action against Qatar.
Qatar’s position was embarrassing as the president of a world super power snubs its narrative which was the product of a grievances-based policy. The same cry it used to justify allowing foreign forces to set foot in the region. Qatar wrongly employed a strategy to incite the four countries, but it only backfired as it proved Doha’s regime fragile and a volatile threat to both Gulf state and regional security. Doha’s credibility before the world has been compromised by its own lies. The Qatari regime has emerged with no cover to confront the boycott’s effects. Promoting military intervention only shows how fear-struck the peninsula regime is. Day by day, the crisis deepens as Doha turns a blind eye. What Qatar truly fears is not ‘military intervention’, but its revolutionary policies proving a costly failure which the regime cannot easily dodge.

Morphing the Kurdish referendum into a mistake
Amir Taheri/Al Arabiya/September 24/17
What is the first thing you should do when you have dug yourself into a hole?
The obvious answer is: stop digging. This is the advice that those involved in the imbroglio over the so-called independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, due to be held next Monday. But still in the suspense of writing this column, would do well to heed. The idea of holding a referendum on so contentious an issue at this time is bizarre, to say the least. There was no popular demand for it. Nor could those who proposed it show which one of Iraq’s problems such a move might solve at this moment. In other words, the move was unnecessary, in the sense that Talleyrand meant when he said that, in politics, doing what is not necessary is worse than making a mistake.
If by independence one means the paraphernalia of statehood, the three provinces that form the Iraqi Kurdistan lack nothing: They have their president, prime minister, Cabinet, parliament, army, police, and, even, virtual embassies in key foreign capitals. They are also well furnished with symbols of statehood including a flag and national anthem.
Having said all that, one could hardly deny the Kurds a desire for independence.
In a sense, some Kurds have dreamt of an independent state for over 2000 years when the Greek historian Xenophon ran into them in the mountains of Western Asia. (See his account in his masterpiece Anabasis).
Right now, however, all indications are that any attempt at a unilateral declaration of independence by the Kurds could trigger a tsunami of conflicts that the region, already mired in crisis, might not be able to handle. In other words, the hole dug by Erbil may become an ever-deepening black hole sucking a bigger chunk of the Middle East into the unknown; hence the need to stop digging.
Yet, almost everyone is doing the opposite.
A ‘red line’
Massoud Barzani, the president of the autonomous government has lashed out against Turkey and Iran while threatening military action to seize disputed areas in Iraq. Barzani’s tough talk may please his base but could strengthen chauvinist elements in Bagdad, Ankara and Tehran who have always regarded Kurds as the enemy.
For his part, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has come close to threatening the use of force to stop a process that remains unclear.
Threats have also come from Tehran, where National Security Adviser Ali Shamkhani says the Islamic Republic would cancel all security accords concerning the Kurdish region and might intervene there militarily to deal with anti-Iran groups.
For its part, Ankara has branded the referendum a “red line”, using a discredited term made fashionable by former US President Barack Obama in 2014 over Syria.
Just days before the referendum, the Turkish army staged a highly publicized military demonstration on the border with the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, presumably as a warning to Erbil.
As for Russia, the sotto voce support given to the referendum is more motivated by hopes of juicy oil contracts than sober geostrategic considerations. Such a stance might win President Vladimir Putin more support from the oligarchs but risks dragging Russia into a risky process over which it won’t have any control.
Washington’s mealy-mouthed comments on the issue are equally problematic.
Iraqi Kurds have been the United States’ best allies in dismantling the Saddamite system in post-liberation Iraq and the current fight against ISIS. The US would gain nothing by casting itself as an opponent of Kurdish self-determination.
Tackling the problem from a legal angle, Iraq’s Supreme Court has declared the proposed referendum in violation of the Iraqi Constitution. For its part the National Parliament has invited the Erbil leadership to postpone the referendum, echoing a message from the United States and the European Union.
It is not clear where all this talk of canceling the referendum at the 11th hour may lead. However, I think cancellation at this time could do more harm than good.
First, it could discredit the Erbil leadership at a time it needs to prop up its authority, indeed its legitimacy. Whether one likes the Erbil leadership or not, sapping its authority is neither in the interest of Iraqi Kurds nor, indeed, of Iraq as a whole. Encouraging splits in the Kurdish ranks and promoting a political vacuum in the autonomous region is the last thing Iraq needs.
Secondly, last minute cancellation could strengthen elements who still believe that force and threat of force are the most efficient means of dealing with political problems. Almost 14 years after the demise of Saddam Hussein, Iraq isn’t yet free of past demons who dream of a monochrome Iraq dominated by a clique.
Thirdly, a last-minute cancellation could be seen as a legitimization of the right of Ankara and Tehran to intervene in Iraqi domestic affairs through a mixture of military pressure and thinly disguised blackmail.
So, what is the best way to stop deepening the hole?
A possible answer may be built around the position taken by Iraqi President Fouad Maasoum, himself an ethnic Kurd but, apparently at least, genuinely committed to building a pluralist system in Iraq. Maasoum has not offered an elaborate scheme. But his suggestion that the imbroglio be tackled through talks between Baghdad and Erbil could be used as the basis for a compromise.
In such a compromise the referendum would go ahead unhindered while it is made clear that its outcome would in no way be legally binding on anyone. In other words, the referendum, whatever its result, would be accepted as a political fact that could and should be taken into consideration in designing the road-map Iraq would need once it has wiped out ISIS.
Iraqi Kurds cannot impose their wishes by force, especially when they are far from united over national strategy. On the other hand, Iraq cannot revert to methods of dealing with its “Kurdish problem” that led to so many tragedies for the Kurds and derailed Iraqi national life for decades.
Next Monday’s referendum is unnecessary. The best one could do at the 11th hour is to help morph it into a mistake. Politics cannot deal with the unnecessary, but it can deal with mistakes.

Is the Kurdish Referendum 'Mission Accomplished' for Barzani?
Bilal Wahab/The Washington Institute./September 22, 2017
International pressure has raised the stakes of the planned referendum, but the Kurds have made their case even if the vote is canceled.
Nearly every major regional and international player stands against the independence referendum that the Kurdistan Regional Government has planned for September 25. In Washington, the White House issued a statement on September 15 asking the KRG to call it off, while the State Department hardened this position five days later, declaring that the United States "strongly opposes" the vote and urging the Kurds to instead pursue "a serious and sustained dialogue with the central government, facilitated by the United States and United Nations, and other partners, on all matters of concern." The statement warned that this alternative would be off the table if the Kurds proceed with the referendum. The UN, Britain, and several EU members have reinforced the U.S. position, while the KRG's neighbors have gone further by threatening to isolate it.
The decision to proceed with the referendum lies solely with KRG president Masoud Barzani, who has essentially cornered himself. The rising pressure may spur him to delay the vote or limit its scope.
For now, Barzani remains adamant about carrying out the referendum and has declined the proposed alternatives. His campaign for independence has been grounded in frustration with Baghdad, which he sees as dominated by anti-Kurdish Shia parties under Iran's sway. The KRG is also in a strong position after fighting the Islamic State in coordination with the international coalition. The resultant Kurdish nationalist fervor has paid local dividends by galvanizing the public, creating greater unity and drawing attention away from the KRG's domestic political and economic woes.
Nevertheless, the referendum remains a gamble. It could pave the way to the Kurds' dream of statehood, but it could also cost them the relative stability and prosperity they have carved out of an otherwise chaotic Iraq. Because Barzani has exerted unprecedented zeal and leadership in rallying popular and legislative support for independence, he is now the only KRG actor capable of defining a viable alternative to the referendum. In his eyes, the U.S.-UN alternative lacks a crucial element: a pathway to independence.
Barzani also believes that further negotiations with Baghdad would have little chance of success. This is an understandable view; he has repeatedly pointed out the central government's failure to abide by Iraq's constitution and federalist system. In the end, however, some of the blame for the breakdown in negotiations falls on his lap. Many referendum supporters are adamant that KRG relations with Baghdad are broken beyond repair, at least within the framework of a unified Iraq. Yet the alternatives offered to Barzani promise to do just that -- fix the protracted conflicts over money, oil, and borders. Even the Kurds admit that past U.S. mediation has had some success, particularly on oil and gas issues. At the same time, though, they lament the lack of progress on disputed territories and the federal budget, and they no doubt realize that outside pressure has essentially internationalized these grievances -- which is itself a victory of sorts.
Domestically, Barzani has amassed more than enough popular and political support to continue with the referendum. Opposing it has become costly for his rivals, and a feeble "No" campaign has only bolstered the "Yes" camp. A parliamentary vote to postpone the referendum would have been a face-saving exit for him, but the legislature endorsed it despite two of the five major political parties boycotting the meeting. As for international opposition, Barzani seems to believe that the West will not take punitive measures against the KRG simply for holding a nonbinding, unilateral poll. Yet Turkey and Iran could cause the Kurds significant harm.
The KRG economy depends on oil exports piped through Turkey. At the UN General Assembly earlier this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized the referendum at the same time that his military was conducting exercises on the KRG's northern border.
For its part, Iran has threatened to cease economic and security cooperation with the KRG, and to escalate violence against Iranian Kurdish opposition groups based inside Iraqi Kurdistan. Tehran also exercises leverage over the Iraqi government and the Popular Mobilization Units; this influence may have played a role in the Iraqi parliament's decision to denounce the referendum and authorize the prime minister to spare no effort in curtailing it. Shia militia leaders have voiced their own threats against the Kurdish move, though prominent Shia figure Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has remained silent.
As expected, however, such criticism has only cemented Kurdish resolve, and Barzani has downplayed the external threats. He is apparently counting on the KRG's positive bilateral relations with Turkey and Iran. The Kurdish region has been an attractive market for goods and services from both countries, so sanctions or other anti-referendum moves would hurt them as well. Barzani is also playing a balancing act, seemingly doubting that Turkey, Iran, and the United States would ever countenance a unified stance on punishing the KRG. If one country unilaterally penalizes the Kurds, he is confident that another will come to their aid; for example, amid the escalating international pressure, Russia recently announced that it would increase its investment in the KRG energy sector. Yet such balancing acts could backfire -- for instance, after Israel's prime minister voiced support for the referendum, Turkey and Iran hardened their opposition.
Another reason for the Kurds' confident posturing could be their proven ability to create facts on the ground and impose the status quo on rivals. This is partly how the KRG became an oil-exporting region despite Baghdad's opposition. The referendum could embolden the KRG to solidify its grip on the disputed territories it currently controls, and Barzani seems confident that the world would adapt to the redrawn map.
Yet Erbil should not blind itself to the potential risks of such action. Even a temporary shutdown of the KRG's export pipeline or borders would cripple its economy, and its food security is heavily dependent on imports. Moreover, Baghdad still controls all of Iraq's airspace and could halt overflights and traffic at the KRG's two international airports. In this sense, Barzani has invested his entire political capital on a pathway toward independence. By seemingly dismissing the risk of dire consequences, he has put the onus of finding a way out on those who oppose the referendum.
Between now and referendum day, one of several scenarios may unfold. First, the vote could be cancelled if Barzani accepts one of the proposed alternatives. Kurdish leaders are taking the international backlash seriously, and Barzani still hopes that ongoing negotiations with various governments will result in an offer he can sell to the people. He recently noted that the massive pro-independence rallies across Kurdistan served as an informal referendum of sorts, perhaps signaling his willingness to cancel the formal vote.
Turkey may have the ultimate influence in this scenario; its National Security Council will convene on September 22 to determine its official response to the referendum, and any threatening announcements emerging from that meeting could affect Barzani's calculus. The fate of this scenario also hinges on Washington's leverage in Baghdad. At least in public, U.S. pressure has been squarely on the KRG to postpone the referendum, and Baghdad has made no effort to appease Erbil, instead repeating its unwillingness to compromise. This apparent inflexibility could undermine the U.S. counterproposal.
Second, Barzani might take his chances and proceed with the referendum, risking the eruption of armed conflict with Baghdad. This scenario would indicate that U.S. leverage in Iraq has fully waned, including over the KRG. Washington has made its opposition to the referendum clear ever since Barzani announced it in June, but the administration did not buttress its stance with adequate carrots and sticks. If the vote takes place, the United States may find itself compelled to take a tougher stance against the KRG, which would not be constructive in a previously positive relationship.
Third, Barzani may decide to save face and mitigate risks by limiting the referendum to the three recognized KRG provinces while canceling it in the disputed territories. Erbil could plausibly claim that it is unable to secure these territories adequately to hold the vote there, since the areas in question have witnessed sporadic violence and threats by Shia militias in recent weeks. But this scenario would hold uncertain political consequences for Barzani, since the disputed oil-rich territory of Kirkuk remains at the heart of the KRG's disagreements with Baghdad.
*Bilal Wahab is a Soref Fellow at The Washington Institute.

Iran's Military Options Against Kurdish Independence
Farzin Nadimi/The Washington Institute./September 22, 2017
Tehran has several means of putting military and economic pressure on the Iraqi Kurds following the independence referendum, but taking action on its recent warnings could widen Kurdish discontent at home.
The Kurdish independence referendum is only a few days away, and there are growing indications that Iran is considering drastic measures to stop the process. As Tehran increases diplomatic pressure on the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), military measures could also be on the table, whether in the short or long term.
The lack of political coherence among the millions of Kurds scattered throughout the Middle East has prevented them from achieving their dream of independence and statehood. This dream in turn has led many of them to launch armed struggles against the governments under which they live. The only modern-day Kurdish state, the Mahabad Republic of 1946, was formed in parts of Iranian Kurdistan with direct Soviet support. This self-declared republic was the birthplace of the Peshmerga movement, but it soon ended after Soviet forces withdrew from Iran the next year.
Armed Kurdish insurgency against the central government in Tehran began in the 1960s, during which the Kurdish Barzani clan in Iraq initially sided with Iranian Kurdish rebels. This insurgency was eventually quelled with the help of American military advisors. Years later, Iranian and American military personnel came to the aid of Iraqi Kurds fighting for autonomy from the Baath government in Baghdad. This covert support continued until the March 1975 Algiers agreement between Iran and Iraq, bringing the insurgency to a temporary pause.
Iran's 1979 revolution and its 1980 border clashes with Iraq triggered a series of armed skirmishes and bloody urban fighting with Iranian Kurdish rebels, but the latter again failed to win autonomy. The Kurdish armed rebellion was further revived by the Iran-Iraq War, but U.S. intelligence assessments from the early 1980s judged that deep internal splits prevented the Kurds from seriously threatening the Iranian, Iraqi, or Turkish governments. Even so, several groups -- including the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), a branch of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) -- have continued to fight a low-intensity insurgency against the Iranian government since the early 2000s.
Meanwhile, the KRI achieved a great degree of autonomy following the 1991 Gulf War, and for the most part enjoyed neighborly relations with Iran even amid armed conflicts between Iraqi Kurdish parties. One of these parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), had developed close relations with Tehran during the Iran-Iraq War, when it partnered with elements of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to fight Saddam Hussein. Yet the PUK has put this relationship at risk by supporting the current KRI independence drive.
Iran's bloody history of Kurdish insurgency shows how Tehran is prepared to go to great lengths to prevent Kurdish autonomy on its own territory, let alone independence. Iran continues to maintain sizable military forces near Kurdish populations in the provinces of Kurdistan, West Azerbaijan, and Kermanshah. In recent years, these forces have witnessed a surge in armed clashes with Kurdish insurgents, resulting in heavy casualties on both sides.
The country's two main Kurdish opposition groups are the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KSZK) and the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI). PJAK is also very active in the Kurdish regions. If a strong, independent Kurdistan emerges in Iraq, Iranian Kurdish unrest could become more vocal and forceful. Such concerns are the main driver behind Tehran's vehement opposition to the KRI referendum and calls for independence in general. As a result, Iran's intelligence services have been closely monitoring Kurdish communities for signs of discontent or separatist activities.
Tehran is also wary of perceived Israeli geopolitical designs on northern Iraq, probably seeing Israel's public support for the referendum as a response to years of Iranian/Hezbollah posturing on its northern borders. Iran will therefore continue to scrutinize Kurdish-Israeli relations.
Iran has four command-and-control structures in place to handle threats ranging from cross-border incursions to street riots in the Kurdish regions. The IRGC's Hamzeh Sayyed al-Shohada headquarters in Urmia handles the northwest sector, while the Najaf Ashraf headquarters in Kermanshah handles the west. Together they oversee four corps, including the Beit al-Muqaddas Special Provincial Corps in Kurdistan; each corps has a division with two brigades.
Tehran has always feared that a punitive security operation against one Kurdish group or town could spur more widespread unrest in other regions. It has therefore tasked these local IRGC headquarters and their Basij affiliates, along with various intelligence services, to establish an urban control and containment system in Kurdish areas that is second only to that seen in Tehran province.
The national army (Artesh) complements these efforts with its own Northwest and West Regional Command Headquarters, also based in Urmia and Kermanshah. They each control three skeleton divisional headquarters whose subordinate units act as independent "operational brigades," reportedly with more firepower and mobility. These units are mainly oriented toward foreign threats; they include the 35th Brigade, a quick-response special forces unit in Kermanshah, usually the first Artesh force deployed in response to any border incident.
On September 17, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, threatened to sever all military and security agreements with the KRI and close all border crossings if the Kurds proceed with their referendum, while parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani alluded to a possible economic blockade. Shamkhani also threatened to use "totally different measures" against Iranian Kurdish opposition groups allegedly based in Iraqi Kurdistan, which could mean more forceful and frequent military action against PJAK and other groups in the mountainous border areas. Such actions could gradually target KRI forces as well.
Likewise, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, chairman of the Armed Forces General Staff, has spent the past few months warning of the referendum's "dangerous consequences." In August, he surprised observers by visiting Turkey and meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his army chief of staff Gen. Hulusi Akar. Officials from both countries later spoke of possible joint military operations against Kurdish "separatist plans," not only along their shared border, but also in Syria and Iraq.
Going forward, Iran can be expected to throw its weight behind Baghdad's threat to use force against the Kurdish drive for independence, perhaps by offering more arms and special operatives to the Iraqi army and Shia militias. But Tehran is likely aware that any shipments of heavy weapons (e.g., large-caliber artillery, Fateh-110/Zolfaqar missiles) to those parties are prohibited under UN Security Council Resolution 2231, even if rerouted through Syria. Iran may also try to exploit intra-Kurdish rivalries by wooing specific factions away from the independence movement with arms and other support.
In the longer term, Iran, Iraq, or Turkey could decide to counter the land-locked KRI with an "aerial unsafe zone," a no-fly zone, or even an air blockade, preventing international flights from landing at Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, or Kirkuk. Given the limited number of fighter aircraft at its northwestern air bases in Tabriz and Hamedan, Iran's participation in such efforts would likely be limited to forward-deploying air defense assets such as S-300 missile batteries. The KRI lacks a capable air force or air defense system, and no foreign air force is currently committed to protect it, so its oil facilities and military infrastructure remain very vulnerable. At the same time, Iran may be restrained by the possibility that tensions on its western and northwestern borders could affect the thousand-plus daily commercial overflights of those areas, for which it is paid a substantial surcharge by international airlines.
Moreover, for any blockade to be successful, Russian cooperation would be needed. Moscow's position on Kurdish independence has been ambiguous despite its warming relations with states bordering the KRI. Recently, the state-owned Russian energy company Rosneft signed a deal with the KRI to build a pipeline to Turkey, potentially allowing it to send as much as 30 billion cubic meters of gas per year to feed European demand. Turkey's large gas market would also benefit from this new initiative. With the help of major Russian investment, KRI oil exports are expected to grow as well, increasing from their current level of about 650,000 barrels per day to as high as 1 million. These economic factors could greatly complicate any Iranian plans to put military pressure on the KRI.
Tehran would likely perceive an independent KRI as a direct threat to its sovereignty and revolutionary ideology, so it may do whatever it can to prevent that outcome. Accordingly, the United States should prepare itself for escalation along the KRI's borders. Yet Washington should also realize that continued opposition to the independence movement will weaken its leverage on the Kurds and perhaps open further opportunities for Russia.
Tehran would not be immune to the consequences of opposing the KRI either. Any Iranian attempt to actively derail the Kurdish independence drive or supply other actors with arms would be a gift to the Trump administration, which has already set its sights on Iran's regional activities. And even if Tehran limits its interference to trade leverage, it would still risk becoming a common enemy to the Kurdish cause. Many Iranian Kurds are dependent on cross-border trade, so economic sanctions or blockades against the KRI could lead to further destabilization and discontent in western Iran -- the very outcome Tehran is striving to avoid.
**Farzin Nadimi is a Washington-based analyst specializing in the security and defense affairs of Iran and the Persian Gulf region.