December 23/18

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
The Parable Of the Sower/Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty
“Matthew 13/01-09: “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen”.

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 22-23/18
Modesty is A Grace From Almighty God
Lebanon: Cabinet Formation Delayed by Portfolio Swaps
MP Faisal Karami Meets Adra Says ‘He Doesn't Represent’ the Consultative Gathering
Hashem: Our Govt. Representative Must Be True to Consultative Gathering
Former President Amine Gemayel Hopes New Government Would Be Different from Previous Ones
Kataeb Chief Blasts 'Shameful' and 'Insulting' Government Formation Play
Jumblatt: Lebanon needs more deliberation
Siniora after meeting Derian: There is a need to form the cabinet and move towards necessary solutions
Consultative Gathering: We announce the withdrawal of Jawad Adra's candidacy, our meetings are kept open
Lebanon's Green Party attends Federation Representatives' meeting in Australia
Alameh calls for a government capable of confronting challenges
Abi Ramia before French parliamentary delegation in Jbeil: Relationship between Lebanon and France is historic and deeplyrooted, we seek to activate it
 What to Watch for as Lebanon Forms a New Government

Titles For The Latest  English LCCC  Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 22-23/18
Kremlin: No One Will Regret US Troop Pullout from Syria
Kurdish Rallies Demand Anti-ISIS Coalition to Condemn Turkish Threats
US Aircraft Carrier Arrives in Arabian Gulf
Iran: Businessman Dubbed 'Sultan of Bitumen' Executed Over Fraud Charges
Iran Says US Troop Presence in Syria 'Wrong' from Start
Moscow Calls for Returning to ‘Joint Formulas’ for Middle East Settlement
Iraq: Fayadh’s Candidacy Taken to Parliament after Impasse between Binaa, Islah Blocs
Abdul Mahdi, Pompeo Discuss US Withdrawal From Syria
Head of UN Monitors on Hodeidah Arrives in Aden
Yemeni Rebels Say UN Resolution 'Important Step'
Palestinian Shot by Israeli Forces Dies, Gaza Ministry Says
Israeli Fire Kills Four Palestinians, Including Two Teenagers
Libya Reunites 12 Egyptian Children with their Families
US Govt Partially Shuts as Congress, Trump Fail to Reach Deal

Titles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 22-23/18
Modesty is A Grace From Almighty God/Elias Bejjani/December 21/12/18
 What to Watch for as Lebanon Forms a New Government/Hanin Ghaddar/The Washington Institute/December 22/ 2018
Kurdish Rallies Demand Anti-ISIS Coalition to Condemn Turkish Threats
Kamal Sheikho/Asharq Al-Awsat/December 22/18
The EU’s Misguided Policy on Iran/David Ibsen/Asharq Al Awsat/December 22/18
Germany: New Law Banning Child Marriage Declared Unconstitutional/Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/December 22/18
Egyptian novel explores Christians under controlling church/Associated Press/Ynetnews/December 22/18
The US will still “maintain a presence” after troop pullout from NE Syria/DEBKAfile/December 22/18
Pope Gives Rome Homeless the Christmas Gift of a New Clinic in the Vatican/The Daily Mail/December 22/18
 As Washington Prepares to Withdraw from Syria, Turkey Is Set to Invade/Dana Stroul and Soner Cagaptay/The Washington Institute/December 22/2018
The Islamic State Inside Iraq: Losing Power or Preserving Strength/Michael Knights/Combating Terrorism Centre/December 22/18

Latest LCCC English Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on December 22-23/18
Modesty is A Grace From Almighty God
الياس بجاني: التواضع نعمة ربانية
Elias Bejjani/December 21/12/18
Jesus Christ Himself has set the best and most powerful role model in modesty when with humility, joy and enthusiasm He washed his disciples feet.
“He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down princes from their thrones. And has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things. He has sent the rich away empty”. (Luke 01/51-54)
Those who falsely delude themselves into thinking they are superior to others, super wise and can do everything and any thing, fall into the evil trap of arrogance. By doing so they badly detach themselves from the reality of God’s love. They build delusional castles in their minds, imprison themselves inside its imaginary gates and ultimately become completely blind in both heart and soul .
Arrogant individuals inevitably become hostile, angry, childish, selfish, antisocial and narcissists who end to be not welcomed anywhere. In general people avoid those who brag and exalt themselves.
Arrogance is a very serious social problem caused by lack of faith that needs to be fixed before it gets worse. God does not bless those who are arrogant.
Almighty God has made it very clear in His Holy Book that He does not like those who are pompous, proud, and conceited because He Himself is a caring, humble, and meek Father.
“Come to me, all you who labour and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Meanwhile, we cannot solve any problem unless we admit that it actually exists, and at the same time become fully aware of its causing factors.
We cannot defeat the evil of arrogance and the destructive self-exaltation that results unless we know our own capabilities, means and resources. And most importantly, recognize that all people are brothers and sisters to one Father, the Almighty God.
One might wonder why some people tend to behave in such a way that they end being socially hated and isolated?
This social Isolation takes place mainly because of their ignorance, distorted self-image, and most importantly because they have very little or no faith at all.
They fail to gain genuine friends and have no room for intimate and long lasting relationships.
Even their close family members avoid them and do not feel comfortable in their presence.
They cannot love others because of their narcissism.
These disturbed individuals need to be humble, loving, and honest to overcome their arrogant behaviour.
They need to call on Almighty God for the grace of humility knowing that God always responds to our calls and prayers when we put our full trust in Him, recognize His love, and lay our lives in His generous hands.
“Most certainly I tell you, if you have faith, and don’t doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you told this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it would be done. All things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” (Matthew 21/21-22)
Humility is the magic curing medicine for arrogance. This heavenly grace is always there for us if and when we pursue it with faith and unquestionable trust in God. Knowing what humility means to our lives and for our salvation is critically important.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow His precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise. (Psalm 111:10)
There is humility that comes from the fear of God, and there is humility that comes from God Himself. Some are modest because they fear God, and some are modest because they know how to live with all the heavenly endowments that banishes all doubts, fears, selfishness, hatred, covetousness and grudges from our earthly nature.
Those who fear God are humble because they enjoy peace within themselves.
Those who fear God watch what they say and do, find sweetness in their bodies which are God’s temples, and experience the priceless grace of balance in their senses, granting them full control over their instincts and a forgiving heart at all times.
Those who are humble because they know and experience genuine happiness with purity, enjoy great simplicity all the time with a cheerful and transparent heart.
God loves the humble and always comes to their rescue so that no hardships or evil things can weaken their faith, entraps them into the temptations of the wicked and unrighteous, or makes them slaves to sin.
Jesus Christ Himself has set the rules in regards to humility:
“But he who is greatest among you will be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23/11-12)
The Bible (Malachi 4/1-6), Tells us exactly what the proud and wicked will be facing on the Day of Judgment. Let us never forget this or keep a blind eye on it: “For, behold, the day comes, it burns as a furnace; and all the proud, and all who work wickedness, will be stubble; and the day that comes will burn them up,” says Yahweh of Armies, “that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings. You will go out, and leap like calves of the stall. You shall tread down the wicked; for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I make,” says Yahweh of Armies. “Remember the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded to him in Horeb for all Israel, even statutes and ordinances. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of Yahweh comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”
In conclusion, humbleness is a blessed grace that we need to pursue via faith, love and fear of God. To be really God’s children we must dearly hold on to this grace and integrate it into our every day life, heart, mind and practise.
We are all equal and have one Father who created us on his image. We are all one family, brothers and sisters no matter who we are.
We are all children of God no matter where we live, what our racial identity is, the language we speak, the social status that we enjoy, the wealth that we have, the strength that we possess, and even whether we are good or sinful.
Almighty God is our loving Father and accordingly we must learn to be humble before Him and love each other more intimately as members of His own one family.

Lebanon: Cabinet Formation Delayed by Portfolio Swaps
Beirut- Nazeer Rida/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 22 December, 2018/Political figures remained confident a new government would be formed over the weekend after last-minute fine-tuning held up finalizing the Cabinet lineup Friday. Presidential sources told Asharq Al-Awsat on Friday there was some “breakthrough at the level of the distribution of ministerial portfolios,” and that contacts were ongoing to complete the formation process. “The atmosphere is positive. All parties are collaborating in this regard,” the sources said, predicting that a solution could be reached soon. On Friday, last-minute demands related to some ministerial portfolios have postponed the announcement of a new cabinet. Sources said “small knots” emerged in the last minutes before the birth of the new cabinet when disputes emerged over the distribution of the Environment, Information, Industry and Agriculture portfolios among rival parties. President Michel Aoun said Friday the formation of the new government was "faster than expected." "Forming governments in Lebanon usually takes time because the Lebanese system is based on consensus and requires the participation of all sides in the national unity government," Aoun told his visitors at Baabda Palace. For his part, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri hoped to finalize the government following seven months of disputes over ministerial shares. But, against all expectations, Friday passed without reaching a final lineup of the cabinet, when some political forces demanded the exchange of some ministerial portfolios. “The demand to exchange some portfolios has delayed the announcement of a government,” sources close to the cabinet formation process told Asharq Al-Awsat. “We still don’t know what reasons drove the emergence of those knots, but we are sure things will be solved soon,” the sources said. “When a party accepts to get the Information Ministry, all other portfolios would be automatically solved,” they said. Several suggestions emerged on Friday to arrange the exchange of the mentioned four portfolios, but sources said concerned parties accepted none of them.

MP Faisal Karami Meets Adra Says ‘He Doesn't Represent’ the Consultative Gathering
Naharnet/December 22/18/Karami Says He Backs Mrad ‘Adra Doesn't Represent’ the Consultative Gathering MP Faisal Karami of the Consultative Gathering MPs asserted on Saturday that the deputies have held a meeting away from the spotlight with Jawad Adra, noting that the latter “does not represent the Gathering anymore,” in the new government to be formed. Speaking to reporters before heading to the residence of MP Abdul Rahim Mrad where the six MPs are expected to meet over the issue, Karami said: “A meeting took place with Adra, but we chose to keep all contacts away from the media spotlight hoping it would lead to fruition.” A meeting was reportedly held in Karami’s residence earlier but reports described it as “negative” because the interlocutors failed to persuade Adra of “their conditions.”LBCI said Saturday’s meeting took place at Mrad’s residence in the absence of MP Walid Sukkarieh and Qassem Hashem. In addition to Mrad, Karami, Sukkarieh and Hashem, the Gathering also includes MP Adnan Traboulsi and Jihad Samad. “Discussions are underway,” Karami told reporters, adding “I support Mrad’s remark that Adra doesn’t represent us anymore. General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim sponsored “mediation” efforts between said MPs and an initiative brought forward by President Michel Aoun to ease the so-called Independent Sunni MPs representation obstacle. The MPs suggested three nominees from outside their group to represent them in the Cabinet. MP Qasem Hashem submitted a fourth name in a closed envelope that the MPs said had no knowledge of. Aoun is to choose a figure between the four nominees to represent the MPs.

Hashem: Our Govt. Representative Must Be True to Consultative Gathering
Naharnet/December 22/18/MP Qassem Hashem, of the Consultative Gathering MPs, said the group has the right to have a representative in the government true to the causes of their group, the National News Agency reported on Saturday. "The Consultative Gathering causes no problem with anyone. Its recognized right to having a representative in the awaited government is clear to all, as agreed upon in light of President Michel Aoun’s initiative," said Hashem. He highlighted the importance of selecting the representative in cabinet exclusively from the Gathering members, in order to ensure true representation. As for the stalled government formation over the past few hours, Hashem said, "It is incorrect to blame the Gathering for the delay,” noting the difficulty that arose on Friday related to the portfolios of trade, environment, information and justice. “It is a proof that the formation was not ready and we are not to blame,” he said. Asked about the possibility of the cabinet's formation over the weekend, Hashem said, "We are in Lebanon, the country of surprises...matters may be solved within an hour or less or may be complicated! It depends on contacts...consultations are underway on more than one level," he added.

Former President Amine Gemayel Hopes New Government Would Be Different from Previous Ones 22/18/Former President Amine Gemayel hoped that the new government would be different from previous ones, voicing confidence in the Kataeb party's resilience in the face of hardships. "The Kataeb party, which survived all kinds of difficulties throughout its history, will remain just as it has always been," Gemayel assured during a Christmas recital performed by singer Pascale Sakr and organized by the Kataeb's Majdel sector at the Saint George Church in Halat. "We are reassured by everything being done by the Kataeb's leadership presided by the party's president Samy Gemayel," he stressed.

Kataeb Chief Blasts 'Shameful' and 'Insulting' Government Formation Play 22/18/Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel on Saturday slammed the protracted government formation, deeming what has been happening for the past months as "shameful" and "insulting". “The country has been without a government for more than seven months just because of a minister or a portfolio here and there, while people are suffering and the economy is deteriorating,” Gemayel wrote on Twitter.

Jumblatt: Lebanon needs more deliberation
Sat 22 Dec 2018/NNA - "It seems that the national unity government is no longer recognized locally...After deliberation, Lebanon does not need museums, statistics, Roman walls, heritage buildings or the preservation of Lycée Abdelkader...There seems to be more need for deliberation," said Progressive Socialist Party Chief, Walid Jumblatt, via Twitter on Saturday.

Siniora after meeting Derian: There is a need to form the cabinet and move towards necessary solutions
Sat 22 Dec 2018/NNA - Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora pointed Saturday to the urgent need to form the new government and move forward with necessary solutions to pending issues. Following a closed meeting with Mufti of the Republic, Sheikh Abdul-Latif Derian, at Dar Al-Fatwa this morning before joining the Islamic Supreme Council session, Siniora hoped that the government formation would be accelerated in wake of the huge bulk of problems that require immediate attention. "If not addressed, they will threaten of further decline in the country on more than one level," he said. Responding to a question, Siniora deemed that the whole country is losing in wake of the prolonged cabinet formation delay. "We hope after forming the cabinet to work on restoring confidence between citizens and the state, and between citizens and political groups...and restoring commitment to the basic principles and to respecting the Constitution, and commitment to the state's interest and its sovereignty over all its territories and to the judiciary's independence, and commitment to having competent people assume state responsibilities."

Consultative Gathering: We announce the withdrawal of Jawad Adra's candidacy, our meetings are kept open
Sat 22 Dec 2018/NNA - The "Consultative Gathering" convened this afternoon at the residence of MP Abdel-Rahim Mrad with its six members attending, namely Abdel-Rahim Mrad, Faisal Karameh, Al-Walid Sekarieh, Kassem Hashem, Jihad al-Samad and Adnan Traboulsi. After the meeting, MP Samad indicated that the Gathering has decided to withdraw its nomination of Jihad Adra to represent the Gathering in the new cabinet, following Adra's announcement that he does not consider himself an exclusive representative of the Gathering.Samad indicated that the Gathering has approached the President of the Republic's initiative with all openness and positivity, and dealt with the mechanism set by General Abbas Ibrahim to implement this initiative in the same manner. However, he disclosed that following Jawad Adra's announcement, the logic of things leads to announcing the withdrawal of his name. "This is a clear statement of the Consultative Gathering," Samad said, adding, "Our meetings will remain open, God willing."

Lebanon's Green Party attends Federation Representatives' meeting in Australia
Sat 22 Dec 2018/NNA - The Lebanese Green Party participated in a meeting by the representatives of the Asia-Pacific Green Parties Federation to discuss issues of interest and to conduct a weeklong tour d'horizon in the cities of Brisbane and northern New South Wales in Australia.Green Party Political Bureau Member Imad Farhat and the Party's Representative in the Asia-Pacific Greens Federation Roy Ghawi represented Lebanon at the meeting. Representatives of Green Parties in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, India, Nepal, Mongolia, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Iraq and the Solomon Islands also took part in the meeting. Featuring high during talks was the management of national issues, leadership skills, policy development, communication strategy, media and database development. Lebanon's Green Party Member Farhat delivered two presentations on the party's experiences and future projects. He said that the party's permanent participation in such activities springs from its belief in strengthening and developing its capabilities to achieve its principles and objectives. On the other hand, Lebanon's Green Party held joint talks with a delegation representing the Dutch Green Party on the promotion of bilateral cooperation.

Alameh calls for a government capable of confronting challenges
Sat 22 Dec 2018/NNA - "Development and Liberation" Parliamentary Bloc Member, MP Fadi Alameh, called Saturday for forming a harmonious government that is able to meet the challenges ahead. He stressed that "the past seven months have been enough to emphasize that we have no choice but to join under the title of national reconciliation and accord." Alameh hoped that the next government would be capable of "compensating for the lost time and working as an operations chamber by combining all efforts and making use of all expertise, giving priority to urgent issues on its work agenda." The MP's words came during his patronage of a Christmas fair organized by the Municipality of Haret Hreik earlier today. Alameh pointed to the operations of municipal councils, saying that "their role is not confined to the implementation of works related to infrastructure or specific tasks, but extends to include attention to aspects of ensuring a dignified life for residents in their geographical or real estate district, i.e. serving as mini-governments."

Abi Ramia before French parliamentary delegation in Jbeil: Relationship between Lebanon and France is historic and deeplyrooted, we seek to activate it
Sat 22 Dec 2018/NNA - Member of the "Strong Lebanon" Parliamentary Bloc, MP Simon Abi Ramia, held a luncheon banquet on Saturday in honor of French Parliament "Center Bloc" Head, MP Jean-Christophe La Garde, who is currently visiting Lebanon at the head of a parliamentary delegation. In his word before his French delegation guests, Abi Ramia said: "The relationship between Lebanon and France is historic and deeply-rooted," declaring that he seeks to activate relations between the two countries in various economic, cultural and political fields. Abi Ramia also said that he is seeking with his French counterpart "to create a special economic forum for Lebanon and France, and to activate the relationship between the Lebanese and French Parliament Councils.""Jbeil, as it is historically the crossroads of civilizations, is today the gateway of Lebanon to France and the West," Abi Ramia concluded.
In turn, La Garde indicated that he "arrived in Lebanon with great concern, but I will leave soon with a less black image, after I felt the Lebanese are keen on overcoming the political difficulties in the country.""When they stand by and defend Lebanon, they defend the French Republic," he said.

 What to Watch for as Lebanon Forms a New Government
Hanin Ghaddar/The Washington Institute/December 22/ 2018
The cabinet’s composition is a fait accompli, but foreign officials may still be able to influence key security appointments—or, failing that, up the financial and diplomatic pressure on Hezbollah and its political allies.
After seven months of post-election bickering, Lebanon’s political factions seem poised to form the next government in the next few days. Many observers are hoping that the new leadership will not only advance long-stalled economic reforms, but also deal with the fragile security situation caused by Hezbollah’s recently discovered cross-border tunnels and other provocations. Yet the host of domestic and international initiatives that led to the current agreement on government formation provide three sobering takeaways: Hezbollah will now have a bigger say over government policies, including security decisions; Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri will be weaker this time around; and Lebanon’s economy is unlikely to see any growth.
In the May parliamentary elections, Hezbollah and its allies won more than 70 of the 128 seats, while Hariri lost more than a third of his bloc. Since then, Hariri has faced many obstacles in trying to form a government, the last of which centered on pro-Hezbollah Sunnis. The Shia group repeatedly demanded a cabinet seat for one of these Sunni bedfellows, and after two months of stalemate, President Michel Aoun agreed to include one in his coalition, led by the Free Patriotic Movement.
In all, Hezbollah is expected to gain direct control over the Ministry of Public Health and as many as two other ministries, while its allies will hold most of the sovereign portfolios. Ali Hassan Khalil of the Amal Movement is expected to remain as finance minister, while Free Patriotic Movement leader Gebran Bassil will likely stay on as foreign minister. Elias Bou Saab, also part of Aoun’s bloc, would be the next defense minister.
If anything, this looks like a Hezbollah government, not a “national unity” government as many outlets have taken to characterizing it. All of the group’s demands have been met, meaning that a designated terrorist organization will have direct or indirect access to all the ministries it needs in order to advance its domestic and foreign agenda. The remaining portfolio shifts are just details.
Although much of the delay since May has been pinned on the status of pro-Hezbollah Sunnis, the group’s true focus has been to arrange a government that would allow it to alleviate its own financial challenges. U.S. and international sanctions have clamped down on the group’s budget, affecting its relationship with the Shia domestic support base that receives most of its social welfare aid and other assistance. Hezbollah leaders also wanted to weaken Hariri so that he cannot work against them if further sanctions and other international pressures come to bear in the near term. In addition to ensuring that he lost a large portion of his bloc, they sought to corner him in his own government by elevating other Sunni figures willing to carry out the group’s agenda—and serve the interests of Syria’s Assad regime.
Despite assurances that the next government will address Lebanon’s dire economic problems, current indicators show little prospect of improvement. The ongoing deterioration began well before the post-election vacuum and is rooted in numerous factors unrelated to the current political situation, including a decrease in remittances from expatriates, rising global interest rates, a drop in overland exports to Persian Gulf countries due to the Syria war, and the previous government’s failure to pass key reforms. If Beirut continues to delay reforms, and if the new government is not inclusive enough, it might also be denied access to assistance loans pledged at the French-sponsored CEDRE conference last April.
Even if the CEDRE pledges come through, they will not be enough to ease Lebanon’s crushing public debt without serious structural reforms that address widespread corruption. The country’s deteriorating infrastructure needs immediate attention—especially air transport, electricity, waste management, water, and roads—but such projects cannot be completed effectively when their funding is siphoned off by graft.
Lebanon has the third-highest debt rate in the world, currently estimated at $81 billion, or 152 percent of its GDP. The latest Moody’s report revised the country’s outlook from “stable” to “negative” and kept its credit rating at “B3,” meaning “speculative and a high credit risk”—an assessment based on the government’s weak liquidity position and financial instability. This is unlikely to change now that Beirut is poised to bring back the same old corrupt political leaders who benefit from the status quo.
While the composition of the new government is largely a done deal, officials still have two more steps to take that will affect Lebanon’s diplomatic and security standing. First, they are required to come up with a ministerial statement on their vision for Lebanon. In the past, the most controversial part of this statement has usually been the language pertaining to defense strategy. Hezbollah has long insisted on maintaining the distinction between the “the army, the people, and the resistance,” since this formulation legitimizes its “right” to maintain a massive military arsenal outside the government or national army’s control. Now that the group has gained more power in the government and helped fragment the opposition, such language will probably pass again, perhaps without debate.
The new government will also have to make several key military and security appointments, any of which could spur friction with Washington. The Lebanese Armed Forces have received more than $1.6 billion in U.S. assistance since 2006. Yet some officials have raised concerns about this funding given reports of Hezbollah’s increasingly close relationship with the LAF, including potential access to its intelligence apparatus and sway over its security decisions (though there is little worry about the militia accessing U.S.-provided weapons). While the LAF remains institutionally independent, it engages with Hezbollah via government appointees, so any coordination between the two forces will no doubt increase under the new leadership.
Apart from these two big steps, decisions that affect Hezbollah’s influence on other institutions and policies bear watching. In addition to shaping or directly controlling the decisions and finances of the Health, Finance, Defense, and Foreign Ministries, the group will have a say in how Beirut deals with international sanctions, national defense strategy, and indictments stemming from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. It will also seek to advance its policy of reestablishing official relations between Lebanon and Syria’s Assad regime. This likely includes exerting more pressure on Syrian refugees to return home—a policy that has already spurred multiple international warnings due to humanitarian concerns.
On December 18, an unnamed State Department official expressed hope that Lebanon’s next government will work “with the United States on areas of mutual interest.” Yet the official also noted Washington’s “deep concerns regarding Hezbollah’s growing political power inside Lebanon,” and regarding “the efforts of Hezbollah’s political allies that provide it with top cover and a veneer of legitimacy.”
Given the apparent results of the formation process, the new government is highly unlikely to address these “areas of mutual interest” any better than the caretaker government. On the contrary, it is set to provide stronger cover for Hezbollah military operations, including dangerous escalatory behavior like constructing tunnels into Israel and beefing up its precision missile arsenal. The tour that interim foreign minister Bassil recently provided to foreign ambassadors in the hope of dispelling the missile accusations is indicative of how he will deal with such issues going forward.
Once Hezbollah has formally blurred the line between Beirut’s policies and its own, Lebanon will be even more vulnerable—both to international sanctions and to Iranian-ordered provocations aimed at deflecting international pressure on Tehran. Accordingly, foreign governments should not only place more financial and political pressure on Hezbollah and Iran, but also impose a price on the group’s domestic political allies. Otherwise, these partners will ensure that Hezbollah can use bureaucratic means rather than weapons to enforce its agenda in Lebanon.
*Hanin Ghaddar, a veteran Lebanese journalist and researcher, is the Friedmann Visiting Fellow at The Washington Institute.

Latest LCCC English Miscellaneous Reports & News published on December 22-23/18
Kremlin: No One Will Regret US Troop Pullout from Syria

Moscow - Raed Jabr/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 22 December, 2018/The Kremlin announced Friday that Russia would monitor the moves of US forces and the implementation mechanisms of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull his troops from Syria. “Let’s wait and see together whether the Americans will really leave the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic," Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a local channel. He said Moscow wanted more information about the planned withdrawal of US troops from Syria, announced unexpectedly by Trump last Wednesday. “We need to understand how the forces would pull out and where they are planning to head,” he said. Peskov said he would rather disagree with the statement that some of the participants of this process regret the withdrawal of the US military from Syria. The spokesman explained that Russia did not understand what Washington's next steps in Syria would be, and that chaotic and unpredictable decision-making was creating discomfort in international affairs. Peskov reiterated that the US presence in Syria was in violation of international law, adding that in some areas under the US control, there was a humanitarian catastrophe and terrorists were being equipped with weapons. “The US military presence and combat operations of US planes on the Syrian territory do not correspond to the international law," he explained. Peskov added that the presence of US forces does not help reach a political and diplomatic settlement in Syria. Last Wednesday, Trump announced plans to pull 2,000 US troops out of northern Syria, where they have been backing Kurdish rebels in the US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). He also ordered the Pentagon to draw up a plan for the withdrawal of about 7,000 US troops from Afghanistan.

Kurdish Rallies Demand Anti-ISIS Coalition to Condemn Turkish Threats
 Kamal Sheikho/Asharq Al-Awsat/December 22/18
Thousands of Kurds staged a demonstration in the Syrian region of Kobane to demand the international coalition that is fighting the ISIS terrorist group to take stance from recent Turkish threats against them. Kurdish journalist Seireddine Youssef said that over 5,000 people took part in the rally that converged in front of the coalition base in the town Jalbiya. “Everyone was asking why their loved ones were killed. Wasn’t it for defending themselves and world peace?” he said. “The protesters also demanded a response to the American withdrawal that has abandoned them to confront Turkish threats without support of protection.” President Donald Trump announced Wednesday the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, raising questions over the fate of American support to Kurdish fighters in their battle against ISIS and their confrontation against Turkish threats of an offensive against them in Syria.
Everyone is afraid of the Turkish threats and Syrian factions that are allied to Ankara. They are concerned that an operation similar to the one that had taken place in Afrin would take place in regions east of the Euphrates River, said Youssef. Senior Kurdish politician Ilham Ahmed warned Friday that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) may stop their fight against ISIS if they were forced to redeploy to confront a potential Turkish attack. "We fear things will get out control and we would no longer be able to contain ISIS in the area, and this would open the door to their renewed spread and movement toward the Turkish border and from there to the rest of the world," she warned. Head of the Syrian Democratic Union Party Shahoz Hasan noted that Ankara’s threats coincide with the economic crisis in Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has resorted to threatening the region to cover for this crisis, he remarked. Riad Darar, co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council, questioned the US decision to withdraw from Syria, saying it comes at an “unstable time amid increasing Turkish threats.”“The necessary protection of the people of the region must be ensured” should the US withdrawal take place, he continued. He warned that the American move will “complicate the Syrian crisis and open the door for bloodier wars. It will also present an opportunity for ISIS to regroup and renew its threats to international peace and security.”Erdogan welcomed Trump's decision to withdraw from Syria, but said he remained "cautious" because of "past negative experiences", referring to Ankara's continued disappointment over US support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that act as the military backbone of the SDF. The SDF, with US support, had managed to expel ISIS in vast regions of northern and eastern Syria. Since September, the SDF has been waging fierce battles against the last remaining ISIS pockets east of the Euphrates. Turkey conducted an operation against ISIS in 2016 which also aimed to block the YPG from joining up the territory it held in northern Syria and staged an offensive against the group in its northwestern enclave of Afrin in January this year.

US Aircraft Carrier Arrives in Arabian Gulf
Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 22 December, 2018/A US aircraft carrier arrived in the Arabian Gulf Friday for the first time since Washington withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in May. The arrival of the USS John C. Stennis comes as Iranian officials have returned to repeatedly threatening to close off the Strait of Hormuz, which a third of all oil traded by sea passes. Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels shadowed the Stennis and its strike group, at one point launching rockets away from it and flying a drone nearby, reported The Associated Press. The long absence of a carrier, however, could become a standard practice here as now-outgoing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought to shake up naval operations and American air bases spanning the region can scramble fighter jets and drones. "We are trying to be more operationally unpredictable," said Lt. Chloe Morgan, a spokeswoman for US' Bahrain-based 5th Fleet. "Now we're switching it up because our adversaries are watching closely. We want to be operationally unpredictable to our enemies, but strategically predictable to our partners." Tensions have been high since President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal, which saw sanctions lifted for Tehran limiting its uranium enrichment. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has repeatedly warned any attempt to stop Iran's export of crude oil could see it close off the Hormuz Strait.

Iran: Businessman Dubbed 'Sultan of Bitumen' Executed Over Fraud Charges
London- Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 22 December, 2018/Iran executed on Saturday a trader known as the "Sultan of Bitumen" over charges of fraud, bribery, and embezzlement, the judiciary's news agency Mizan online reported. Hamidreza Bagheri Dermani is the third businessman to be executed since an anti-corruption drive was launched over the summer. He was convicted of "corruption on earth", Iran's most serious capital offense, after swindling over 10 trillion rials (around $100 million at the current rate) through "fraud, forgery, and bribery", Mizan reported. Dermani, first arrested in August 2014, reportedly forged dozens of documents of fake real estate to acquire loans from state banks. He then used front companies to procure more than 300,000 tons of bitumen -- an oil-based substance used in asphalt and other products and one of Iran's most profitable businesses -- Mizan said. Dermani was also accused of ties to business magnate Babak Morteza Zanjani, who is awaiting execution after being convicted in 2016 of embezzling $2.7 billion while helping the government circumvent international sanctions. The Supreme Court in November upheld his October death sentence and conviction on a charge of spreading corruption on Earth. He was also ordered to pay a more than $100 million cash fine. Dermani went on trial in August after being charged with forming a network of dummy companies to receive a large number of loans and buying government companies on a privatization list. In August, Iran established special courts to deal with crimes involving suspected financial corruption. Iran executed two traders for economic crimes in November in an effort to stem financial misconduct in the face of an economic crisis and US sanctions, reimposed after President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 international accord over Iran’s nuclear program. The special courts have jailed dozens of businessmen and traders for up to 20 years. The rial currency’s weakness earlier this year disrupted foreign trade and helped boost annual inflation fourfold to nearly 40 percent in November. The weak currency has sparked sporadic street protests since late last year. Iranian economists said the campaign against economic crime combined with an order from Ayatollah Khamenei this month to strengthen the rial have made many traders more wary of bidding the currency lower.

Iran Says US Troop Presence in Syria 'Wrong' from Start
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 22/18/Iran said Saturday the US presence in Syria had been "wrong and illogical" from the start, in its first official reaction to President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw troops. "The presence of American forces was from the very start, in principle, a wrong and illogical move and a primary cause of instability and insecurity in the region," said foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi on his Telegram channel. Trump vowed Thursday that the United States would no longer be the "policeman of the Middle East" as he ordered troops back from Syria. Iran's Revolutionary Guards have a contingent of commanders and advisers deployed in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad, and have ferried weapons and thousands of militia fighters to the frontlines from various countries. The United States currently has around 2,000 forces deployed in Syria in two areas along the Iraqi border that was partly aimed at keeping Iranian forces in check.

Moscow Calls for Returning to ‘Joint Formulas’ for Middle East Settlement
Moscow - Raed Jaber/Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 22 December, 2018/Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed the need to return to “joint formulas” to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Following talks on Friday in Moscow with his Palestinian counterpart, Riyad al-Maliki, he ruled out the possibility of reaching an agreement without the “important role of the United States.”Lavrov underlined, however, that Washington “will not succeed alone” in resolving the crisis. The Russian minister appeared to be “commenting on Palestinian calls for a new initiative to bring the situation in the Middle East out of the current stalemate because of recent US decisions and Israeli belligerency,” according to Arab diplomatic sources in Moscow. The sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Palestinian side hoped that Russia would employ the momentum it gathered during the recent period by strengthening its presence in the region to present new ideas or initiatives to advance a political solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The diplomat said that Moscow “does not want to rush to put forward ideas before clarifying the essence of the American vision,” referring to what has become known as the “deal of the century”. The Russians repeatedly said they have not been informed of the content or the preparations by Washington in this regard. During a news conference with Maliki, Lavrov said: “We raised the issue of the US’ stance, which has long wanted to show the result of its sole intermediary mission to the global community in the form of some deal of the century.”“No one has seen this deal yet,” he stressed, adding: “It is clear that an agreement cannot be reached without the United States, but the US will not reach an agreement unilaterally either.”“So, it is necessary to return to collective formats and the quartet of international intermediaries [Russia, the US, the UN and the European Union] in close coordination with the League of Arab States,” the Russian foreign minister affirmed. Maliki, for his part, emphasized that the Palestinians rejected “any monopolized role by the United States in the political process because of its full bias towards Israel,” pointing to the importance of “the formation of a multilateral framework to activate the peace process.”He said that his talks with Lavrov dealt with the issue of restoring the unity of the Palestinian ranks and welcomed all Russian efforts “to convince Hamas to abide by the October 2017 agreement and to implement it in order to end the internal Palestinian division and prepare for the presidential and legislative elections.”

Iraq: Fayadh’s Candidacy Taken to Parliament after Impasse between Binaa, Islah Blocs
Baghdad - Hamza Mustafa//Asharq Al Awsat/December 22/18/Negotiations between the Iraqi Islah and al-Binaa blocs, led by populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Hadi al-Ameri, failed on Friday to reach an understanding over the candidacy of Falih al-Fayadh for the interior ministry post. A leading official from the Binaa bloc told Asharq Al-Awsat that it has no other option but to vote for Fayadh’s candidacy at a parliament session, expected to be held on Saturday. “We failed to reach any deal with the Islah bloc,” the official said on conditions of anonymity. He added that the decision was not related to Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s stance. “We know that until this moment, Abdul-Mahdi is still committed to Fayadh’s candidacy,” the official said. Spokesman for Sadr’s Sairoun bloc, Hamdallah al-Rikabi told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The issue for us is not about individuals, but about principles and Iraq’s stability.” “Iraq will remain more important than any figure and we presented principles and values that should be adhered to in nominating ministers,” he went on to say. “Security ministries and positions are very important for the country’s stability and we must be wise in choosing a candidate,” he stressed. “We had previously stated that those with experience in security agencies are most qualified in managing these ministries.”On Tuesday, parliament approved three out of five ministers put forward by Abdul-Mahdi, bringing him one step closer to completing his cabinet. Meanwhile, the supreme religious reference in Najaf called on Iraqi political forces to place national interests above their personal ambitions. During the Friday prayers in Karbala, Sheikh Abdul Mahdi Karbalai, the representative of Iraq's top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called on politicians to “consider the overall interests of the Iraqi people over personal ones related to tribal or sectarian affiliations.”

Abdul Mahdi, Pompeo Discuss US Withdrawal From Syria
Baghdad- Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 22 December, 2018/US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi that the US is still committed to fighting ISIS in Iraq and other areas despite its planned troop withdrawal from Syria, Abdul Mahdi’s office said on Saturday. President Donald Trump has begun what will be a total withdrawal of US troops from Syria, declaring on Wednesday they had succeeded in their mission to defeat ISIS and were no longer needed. The plan has drawn criticism from allies such as Britain and France who say the militants are not fully beaten. “Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi received a phone call from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who explained the details of the upcoming withdrawal from Syria and affirmed the United State’s is still committed to fighting ISIS and terrorism in Iraq and other areas,” Abdul Mahdi’s office said in a statement. Abdul Mahdi and Pompeo also discussed Washington’s decision to extend for 90 days a waiver granted to Iraq from sanctions against Iran that would allow Baghdad to keep importing Iranian gas that is critical for Iraqi power production. The Trump administration reimposed sanctions on Iran’s energy exports in November, citing its nuclear program and meddling in the Middle East, but has granted waivers to several buyers to meet consumer energy needs. Washington gave Iraq a 45-day waiver for imports of gas from Iran when it reimposed sanctions on Iran’s oil sector on Nov. 5. Iraqi officials have said they need around two years to find an alternative source. Iraq relies heavily on Iranian gas to feed its power stations, importing roughly 1.5 billion standard cubic feet per day via pipelines in the south and east.

Head of UN Monitors on Hodeidah Arrives in Aden
Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 22 December, 2018/A United Nations team, led by Patrick Cammaert, tasked with monitoring a ceasefire in the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah arrived in Aden on Saturday. The team made its first stop in Aden where the legitimate government is based. While in the city, Cammaert, a retired Dutch general, is due to meet with leaders from the legitimacy, before heading to Hodeidah. The team's arrival comes a day after the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the deployment of observers to Hodeidah. The UN team is due to secure the functioning of the port as well as supervise the withdrawal of fighters from the city. The resolution submitted by Britain also endorses the outcome of UN-brokered peace negotiations in Sweden last week, where the warring parties agreed to the Hodeidah truce which came into force on Tuesday despite violations by Houthi militias. The text approved by the Security Council "insists on the full respect by all parties of the ceasefire agreed" for Hodeidah. It authorizes the United Nations to "establish and deploy, for an initial period of 30 days from the adoption of this resolution, an advance team to begin monitoring" the ceasefire, under Cammaert's leadership.

Yemeni Rebels Say UN Resolution 'Important Step'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 22/18/Yemeni rebels have welcomed a UN Security Council resolution authorising the deployment of ceasefire monitors to the flashpoint port city of Hodeida, calling it an "important step". Yemen's Saudi-backed government meanwhile renewed its commitment to respect a hard-won truce accord reached at peace talks in Sweden earlier this month. The UN resolution, approved unanimously on Friday, endorsed the results of those negotiations which included an agreement to withdraw fighters in Hodeida, a major gateway for aid and food imports. It authorises the United Nations to "establish and deploy, for an initial period of 30 days from the adoption of this resolution, an advance team to begin monitoring" the ceasefire, under the leadership of retired Dutch general Patrick Cammaert. The resolution "insists on the full respect by all parties of the ceasefire agreed" for Hodeida which took effect on Tuesday but remains fragile. "This is an important step towards stopping the aggression and lifting the blockade," rebel negotiator Mohammed Abdelsalam said late Friday. He was referring to a military campaign launched in 2015 by a Saudi-led coalition fighting on the side of the government and a blockade of Yemen's sea and air ports. Quoted by the rebel-run Al-Masirah TV, Abdelsalam criticised the resolution for not condemning the "crimes of the aggressors". Yemen's four-year-old war escalated in 2015, when the coalition intervened after the Huthis drove President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's government from Sanaa. The conflict has killed around 10,000 people since then, according to the World Health Organization, although human rights groups say the real death toll could be five times as high. Hadi's government reaffirmed its "commitment (to respect) the agreement" struck in Sweden and endorsed by the UN resolution, in a statement released late Friday. It pledged to work "in a positive spirit" with UN envoy Martin Griffiths towards a lasting political agreement to end a conflict that has unleashed a major humanitarian crisis. Cammaert -- who served multiple times as a UN peacekeeper -- arrived in Aden in southern Yemen where the government is based on Saturday with a team of monitors, an AFP journalist said. Later he was expected to head to the rebel-held capital Sanaa and Hodeida.

Palestinian Shot by Israeli Forces Dies, Gaza Ministry Says
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 22/18/An 18-year-old Palestinian shot by Israeli forces died of his wounds Saturday, the fourth fatality in clashes along the Gaza border a day earlier, health officials in the Hamas-run enclave said. Ayman Shehr was shot in the stomach in Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza, health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP. Three other Palestinians, including a 16-year-old, were killed on Friday by Israeli fire during protests and clashes along the Gaza border, according to the ministry. The Israeli army said around 8,000 Palestinians had gathered at spots along the frontier, burning tyres and launching an incendiary device at soldiers that did not reach the troops. Israel's military said it had opened fire "according to operational procedures" in place. More than 40 Palestinians -- including two journalists and four first aid responders -- were wounded, Qudra said. At least 239 Palestinians have been killed since the protests by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip began on March 30, mostly by Israeli fire during border clashes but also by air and tank strikes. Two Israeli soldiers have been killed over the same period, one by a Palestinian sniper and another during an aborted special forces operation inside Gaza.
Protesters are calling for Palestinian refugees to be allowed to return to their former homes now inside Israel.

Israeli Fire Kills Four Palestinians, Including Two Teenagers
Gaza- Asharq Al-Awsat/Saturday, 22 December, 2018/Israeli forces shot and killed three Palestinians, including a teenager, in the Gaza Strip during the latest of weekly protests on Friday, Palestinian health officials said. Late on Thursday, Israeli troops had killed another teenager in the occupied West Bank. Ayman Shehr, 18, was shot by Israeli forces died of his wounds Saturday. He was shot in the stomach in Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza, health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP. Three other Palestinians, including a 16-year-old, were killed on Friday by Israeli fire during protests and clashes along the Gaza border, according to the ministry. The Israeli army said around 8,000 Palestinians had gathered at spots along the frontier, burning tires and launching an incendiary device at soldiers that did not reach the troops. Israel's military said it had opened fire "according to operational procedures" in place.
More than 40 Palestinians -- including two journalists and four first aid responders -- were wounded, Qudra said. At least 239 Palestinians have been killed since the protests by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip began on March 30, mostly by Israeli fire during border clashes but also by air and tank strikes.
Two Israeli soldiers have been killed over the same period, one by a Palestinian sniper and another during an aborted special forces operation inside Gaza. Protesters are calling for Palestinian refugees to be allowed to return to their former homes now inside lands occupied by Israel. Meanwhile, the Israeli army said it opened fire on a car after it broke through a West Bank checkpoint. The military said it was on high alert in the area after shots were fired from a Palestinian village late Thursday. It said soldiers fired warning shots in the air when the driver ignored orders to halt but the car sped up instead. The army said it responded with live fire, killing one passenger. The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the dead passenger as Qasim Abbasi, 17, from occupied East Jerusalem. His cousin, Mohammad Abbasi, told the Associated Press that he, Qasim, and a friend were driving out of the Palestinian city of Ramallah when an Israeli soldier told them the road was closed. Abbasi said when they tried to make a U-turn, a soldier fired at their car, shattering the rear window and striking Qasim in the back. Abbasi said he and his friend, who was driving, were not injured. He said they were released after being interrogated by police. The West Bank saw a spike in violence last week after a pair of deadly shootings targeting Israeli soldiers and settlers. The army has arrested scores of Hamas activists as it ratchets up its manhunt for a Palestinian assailant. The West Bank is illegally occupied by Israel, according to UN Security Council resolutions. But since 1967, Israel has built settlements and seized Palestinian land, and built a separation wall and highways that connect settlements without passing through Palestinian villages.

Libya Reunites 12 Egyptian Children with their Families
Cairo - Jamal Jawhar//Asharq Al Awsat/December 22/18/Libyan authorities have repatriated 12 Egyptian minors, whose fathers were killed in heavy fighting between the army and ISIS militants in the city of Sirte, once the stronghold of the terrorist group. The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday that in coordination with the authorities in Libya and Egypt, and through the support of Libyan and Egyptian Red Crescent Societies and the Malta Red Cross, the ICRC has facilitated the repatriation of twelve unaccompanied Egyptian minors to Cairo. These children were among several ones found following the fighting in Sirte, east of Misrata, about two years ago. They have since been cared for by the Libyan Red Crescent (LRC) in a facility in Misrata, the ICRC said. But it did not want to disclose further details, requesting the respect of the privacy of these children and their families. It is not clear how many Egyptian militants have fought alongside ISIS in Libya. Libyan authorities have put the children of the dead militants in rehabilitation programs since finding them in 2016.

US Govt Partially Shuts as Congress, Trump Fail to Reach Deal

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/December 22/18/The US government began a Christmas shutdown early Saturday, after Congress adjourned without passing a federal spending bill or addressing President Donald Trump's demand for money to build a border wall. Operations for several key agencies ceased at 12:01 am Saturday (0501 GMT), despite last-ditch talks that continued on Capitol Hill between White House officials and congressional leaders in both parties. While most critical security functions remain operational, the effects of the budget wrangling and uncertainty have cast an air of chaos over the capital, which is also reeling from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis's resignation announcement on Thursday. The uncertainty pushed Wall Street into a third straight rout on Friday, to end its worst week since late 2008 at the start of the global financial crisis. "President Trump threw a temper tantrum and convinced House Republicans to push our nation into a destructive Trump Shutdown," Chuck Schumer, the top opposition Democrat in the Senate, and his House counterpart, fellow Democrat Nancy Pelosi, said in a joint statement. Trump has dug in on his demand for $5 billion for construction of a wall to curb illegal immigration on the US border with Mexico. Democrats are staunchly opposed, and the absence of an elusive deal means federal funds for dozens of agencies lapsed at midnight Friday.
The House of Representatives and the Senate are due back in session at noon on Saturday but it remains unclear how long the shutdown -- the third this year -- will last. Trump expressed hope late Friday night that it "will not last long," after earlier saying he was ready for just that. His own Republican party still controls both the House and Senate, but that will change in January when the House comes under Democratic control. For now, 800,000 federal employees will be either furloughed or forced to work without pay in the run-up to the Christmas holiday. "The failure to fund the government's operation is shameful, unacceptable, and a completely avoidable waste of taxpayer dollars," David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a statement."This is a dereliction of duty by Congress and the president."
But the prospect of a large portion of government workers going without paychecks was not enough to spur lawmakers or the president to action. The House of Representatives adjourned just before 7:00 pm Friday, with no moves taken to avert a shutdown, and the Senate closed up shop an hour later. About three-quarters of the government, including the military and the Department of Health and Human Services, is fully funded until the end of September 2019, leaving 25 percent unfunded as of Saturday. Most NASA employees will be sent home, as will Commerce Department workers and many at the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Agriculture and State. National parks will remain open, but most park staff will stay home while Washington is unable to accomplish one of its most basic tasks -- keeping the government up and running.
'Prepared' for shutdown
"It's up to the Democrats whether or not we have a shutdown tonight," Trump said earlier Friday, blaming his political opponents for the crisis. "I hope we don't," the president added, but "we're totally prepared for a very long shutdown." Senators told reporters that congressional leaders from both parties were negotiating behind the scenes with White House officials including Vice President Mike Pence, Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, and incoming chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. The power trio shuttled from one side of the Capitol to the other, seeking a breakthrough with Republicans and Democrats. It did not come on Friday. Should they eventually strike a deal, it could swiftly clear Congress and reach the president's desk, said Senate Republican Bob Corker. One focus of discussion was the $1.6 billion in border security funding that was a part of pending Senate legislation, number two Senate Republican John Cornyn told AFP. But conservatives in the House would likely balk at that figure. "There's no agreement," congressman Mark Meadows, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus of ultra-conservatives, told reporters as he left a closed-door meeting on the Capitol's Senate side. "There's a whole lot of numbers being thrown around," but a maximum $1.6 billion for border security "is not acceptable."
Trump reversed course Thursday and rejected a measure that had unanimously passed the Senate and was under House consideration. It would have extended government funding until February 8, but contained no money for a border wall, a pet project Trump has fought for since his presidential campaign. Democrats painted Trump as the Grinch who stole the year-end deal. With lawmakers like Meadows and prominent conservative commentators demanding that the president stick to his campaign promises, Trump would not budge on his wall. The House swiftly passed a bill that fulfilled the president's demands. It included $5.7 billion in wall funding, and $7.8 billion in disaster relief. But it stalled at the first hurdle in the Senate. Trump was scheduled to fly to Florida Friday for his Christmas break, but he postponed the trip.

Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 22-23/18
The EU’s Misguided Policy on Iran

David Ibsen/Asharq Al Awsat/December 22/18
Many EU policymakers are deeply resentful of President Trump’s decision to leave the Iran nuclear deal. This resentment has fueled several shortsighted proposals that will only harm EU businesses and institutions.
This approach to Iran, championed by High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Frederica Mogherini, is increasingly discordant with the direction taken by national governments in Europe. Foreign ministers in the Council have said that they will examine imposing sanctions on the Iranian regime, while the Danish government has called for stronger action.
Furthermore, the implementation of these misguided schemes has been stifled by unenthusiastic European business leaders, whose consent and cooperation are necessary to put most of the plans into motion. Apparently, European business leaders believe they know what’s best when it comes to matters of European business. For example, despite efforts by EU politicians to keep trade flowing to Tehran, countless European entities – including Renault, Volkswagen, Total, Siemens, and even long-time holdouts like Volvo – have all announced plans to vacate their Iran business and trade relationships.
In a more recent example, the Brussels-based financial messaging service SWIFT last month announced it was disconnecting Iranian banks from its system, greatly inhibiting Iran’s ability to do business. Like other European businesses, SWIFT resisted short-sighted demands of EU policymakers and relied on its own judgment and risk evaluation to decide how to proceed.
By contrast, EU politicians – led by Mogherini in Brussels and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Berlin – have pushed myopic schemes that effectively force European entities to engage in Iran activities that they simply do not want.
In a speech in late August, Maas proposed that the EU establish payment channels independent of the US, and a European monetary fund, with the express goal of circumventing US sanctions on Iran.
Not to be upstaged, Mogherini engineered the passage of a blocking mechanism prohibiting EU companies from complying with US sanctions and a €50 million package, charged to the European taxpayer, to compensate the Iranian regime for lost trade revenue. What Mogherini and Maas refuse to acknowledge is that irrespective of US sanctions, EU business leaders are independently arriving at the conclusion that the challenges and risks of operating in Iran far outweigh any benefit or financial gain.
The basic logic underpinning the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the Iran nuclear deal is formally known, was that Iran would receive relief from sanctions in exchange for placing restrictions on its nuclear program. But European entities and taxpayers should not be forced to pay-up to sustain this crumbling construct, especially given that Iran uses the very profits gleaned from European trade and business activity to fund terrorism on European soil.
While EU politicians such Mogherini are working hard to increase business links, national governments in Europe are beginning to take a stand. On Monday 19 November, foreign ministers in the Council agreed to examine possible sanctions on the regime in response to the overt aggression displayed in Denmark and France. Mogherini’s own plan to circumvent US sanctions has also run into roadblocks in the form of EU member state governments. The success of her blocking mechanism depends on a European country being willing to host the vehicle delivering it. This, however, has proved impossible so far: no country has accepted Mogherini’s albatross, presumably because they know just how negatively it will impact their relationship with the US. This fact, combined with the onset of re-imposed US sanctions and Iran’s record of support for terrorism in Europe and worldwide, should compel remaining European businesses to leave Iran. There is no justification for Europeans to provide goods or services that help the Iranian regime fund terror attacks in Europe. A clear-eyed evaluation should lead any responsible actor to steer clear of Iran – the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and the bankroller of slaughter and misery in Syria. European political resentment over the failure of the JCPOA will eventually fade – but the costs and the stigma for businesses and commercial entities working with the brutal Iranian regime may not.

Germany: New Law Banning Child Marriage Declared Unconstitutional
سورين كارين: قانون ألماني جديد يعتبر منع زواج الأطفال غير دستوري

Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/December 22/18
The ruling, which effectively opens the door to legalizing Sharia-based child marriages in Germany, is one of a growing number of instances in which German courts are — wittingly or unwittingly — promoting the establishment of a parallel Islamic legal system in the country.
"Germany cannot, on the one hand, be against child marriages internationally, and on the other hand, be for such marriages in our own country. The best interests of the child cannot be compromised in this case. (...) This is about the constitutionally established protection of children and minors!" — Winfried Bausback, Bavarian lawmaker who helped draft the law against child marriage.
"We should consider one more thing: judgments are made 'in the name of the people.' This people has clearly expressed through its representatives in the Bundestag that it no longer wants to recognize child marriage." — Commentator Andreas von Delhaes-Guenther.
The Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof), Germany's highest court, has ruled that a new law that bans child marriage is unconstitutional because all marriages, including Sharia-based child marriages, are protected by Germany's Basic Law. Pictured: The Bundesgerichtshof building in Karlsruhe, Germany. (Image source: Andreas Praefcke/Wikimedia Commons)
The Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof, BGH), Germany's highest court of civil and criminal jurisdiction, has ruled that a new law that bans child marriage is unconstitutional because all marriages, including Sharia-based child marriages, are protected by Germany's Basic Law (Grundgesetz).
The ruling, which effectively opens the door to legalizing Sharia-based child marriages in Germany, is one of a growing number of instances in which German courts are — wittingly or unwittingly — promoting the establishment of a parallel Islamic legal system in the country.
The case involves a Syrian couple — a 14-year-old Syrian girl married to her 21-year-old cousin — who arrived in Germany at the height of the migrant crisis in August 2015. The Youth Welfare Office (Jugendamt) refused to recognize their marriage and separated the girl from her husband. When the husband filed a lawsuit, a family court in Aschaffenburg ruled in favor of the Youth Welfare Office, which claimed to be the girl's legal guardian.
In May 2016, an appeals court in Bamberg overturned the decision. The court ruled that the marriage was valid because it was contracted in Syria, where, according to Sharia law, child marriages are allowed. The ruling effectively legalized Sharia child marriages in Germany.
The ruling — described as a "crash course in Syrian Islamic marriage law" — ignited a firestorm of criticism. Some accused the Bamberg court of applying Sharia law over German law to legalize a practice banned in Germany.
"Religious or cultural justifications obscure the simple fact that older, perverse men are abusing young girls," said Rainer Wendt, head of the German police union.
Monika Michell of Terre des Femmes, a women's rights group that campaigns against child marriage, added: "A husband cannot be the legal guardian of a child bride because he is involved in a sexual relationship with her — a very obvious conflict of interest."
The Justice Minister of Hesse, Eva Kühne-Hörmann, asked: "If underage persons — quite rightly — are not allowed to buy a beer, why should the lawmakers allow children to make such profound decisions related to marriage?"
Others said the ruling would open the floodgates of cultural conflict in Germany, as Muslims would view it as a precedent to push for the legalization of other Islamic practices, including polygamy, in the country.
In September 2016, the German Interior Ministry, responding to a Freedom of Information Act request, revealed that 1,475 married children — including 361 children under the age of 14 — were known to be living in Germany as of July 31, 2016.
In a bid to protect girls who were married abroad but sought asylum in Germany, the German parliament on June 1, 2017 had passed legislation banning child marriages. The so-called Law to Fight Child Marriage (Gesetz zur Bekämpfung von Kinderehen) set the minimum age of consent for marriage in Germany at 18 years and nullified all existing marriages, including those contracted abroad, where a participant was under the age of 16 at the time of the ceremony.
Germany's Federal Court of Justice, in its ruling, published on December 14, 2018, stated that the new law was unconstitutional because it violated Articles 1 (human dignity), 2 (free development of personality), 3 (equal protection) and 6 (protection of marriage and family) of the Basic Law, which serves as the German constitution.
The court also ruled that the new law cannot be applied retroactively, and therefore cannot apply to the Syrian couple, who were married in February 2015.
Finally, the Federal Court of Justice asked the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) to examine the legality of Germany's blanket-ban on child marriage and to determine whether German authorities should heretofore assess the validity of child marriages on a case-by-case basis.
The ruling ignores Article 6 of the Introductory Act to the German Civil Code (Einführungsgesetz zum Bürgerlichen Gesetzbuche, EGBGB), which states:
"A legal standard of another State shall not be applied where its application results in an outcome which is manifestly incompatible with the essential principles of German law. In particular, it is not applicable if the application is incompatible with fundamental rights."
By shielding the Syrian couple from German law, the court has not only legitimized the use of Sharia law to determine the outcome of legal cases in Germany, it has also established a precedent that will almost certainly be used in the future by defenders of child marriage and other foreign laws.
Moreover, by insisting that the legitimacy of child marriages be examined on a case-by-case basis, the court has opened the door to so-called cultural exceptions, namely those enshrined in Sharia law, which does not set any age limit to marriage.
Winfried Bausback, a Bavarian lawmaker who helped draft the law against child marriage, was outraged by the court's decision:
"Because of our Constitution and for the benefit of the child, in the present case, there should be only one answer: This marriage must be null and void right from the beginning.
"Germany cannot on the one hand be against child marriages internationally, and on the other hand be for such marriages in our own country. The best interests of the child cannot be compromised in this case. (...) This is about the constitutionally established protection of children and minors!"
Commentator Andreas von Delhaes-Guenther wrote:
"In the end, it is a question of principle to what extent Germany wants to accept foreign law, which is completely contrary to our law on important issues. It took centuries to remove the Middle Ages from our law; we must not now bring it back for reasons of alleged tolerance or 'individual case consideration.' Rather, we must say that in Germany, German law applies to all, especially in important legal interests such as life, health — or just the welfare of the child, with an immutable age limit for marriages.
"We should consider one more thing: judgments are made 'in the name of the people.' This people has clearly expressed through its representatives in the Bundestag that it no longer wants to recognize child marriage."
German Courts and Sharia Law
German courts are increasingly deferring to Islamic law because either the plaintiffs or the defendants are Muslim. Critics say the cases — especially those in which German law has taken a back seat to Sharia law — reflect a dangerous encroachment of Islamic law into the German legal system.
In November 2016, for instance, a court in Wuppertal ruled that seven Islamists who formed a vigilante patrol to enforce Sharia law on city streets did not break German law and were simply exercising their right to free speech.
The self-appointed "Sharia Police" had sparked public outrage in September 2014, when they distributed yellow leaflets that established a "Sharia-controlled zone" in the Elberfeld district of Wuppertal. The men urged both Muslim and non-Muslim passersby to attend mosques and to refrain from alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, gambling, music, pornography and prostitution.
Wuppertal's public prosecutor, Wolf-Tilman Baumert, argued that the men, who wore orange vests emblazoned with the words "SHARIAH POLICE," had violated a law that bans wearing uniforms at public rallies. The law, which especially prohibits uniforms that express political views, was originally designed to prevent neo-Nazi groups from parading in public. According to Baumert, the vests were illegal because they had a "deliberate, intimidating and militant" effect.
The Wuppertal District Court, however, ruled that the vests technically were not uniforms, and in any event did not pose a threat. The court said that witnesses and passersby could not possibly have felt intimidated by the men, and that prosecuting them would infringe on their freedom of expression. The "politically correct" decision, which was successfully appealed, effectively authorized the Sharia Police to continue enforcing Islamic law in Wuppertal.
On January 11, 2018, however, the Federal Court of Justice overturned the Wuppertal court's decision and ordered the seven individuals to be retried. The Federal Court stated that they had indeed violated the law that bans the wearing of uniforms.
Sharia law has been encroaching into the German justice system virtually unchecked for nearly two decades. Some examples include:
In August 2000, a court in Kassel ordered a widow to split her late Moroccan husband's pension with another woman to whom the man was simultaneously married. Although polygamy is illegal in Germany, the judge ruled that the two wives must share the pension, in accordance with Moroccan law.
In March 2004, a court in Koblenz granted the second wife of an Iraqi living in Germany the right to remain permanently in the country. The court ruled that after five years in a polygamous marriage in Germany, it would be unfair to expect her to return to Iraq.
In March 2007, a judge in Frankfurt cited the Koran in a divorce case involving a German-Moroccan woman who had been repeatedly beaten by her Moroccan husband. Although police ordered the man to stay away from his estranged wife, he continued to abuse her and at one point threatened to kill her. Judge Christa Datz-Winter refused to grant the divorce. She quoted Sura 4, Verse 34 of the Koran, which justifies "both the husband's right to use corporal punishment against a disobedient wife and the establishment of the husband's superiority over the wife." The judge was eventually removed from the case.
In December 2008, a court in Düsseldorf ordered a Turkish man to pay a €30,000 ($32,000) dower to his former daughter-in-law, in accordance with Sharia law.
In October 2010, a court in Cologne ruled that an Iranian man must pay his ex-wife a dower of €162,000 euros ($171,000), the current equivalent value of 600 gold coins, in accordance with the original Sharia marriage contract.
In December 2010, a court in Munich ruled that a German widow was entitled to only one-quarter of the estate left by her late husband, who was born in Iran. The court awarded the other three-quarters of the inheritance to the man's relatives in Tehran in accordance with Sharia law.
In November 2011, a court in Siegburg allowed an Iranian couple to be divorced twice, first by a German judge according to German law, and then by an Iranian cleric according to Sharia law. The director of the Siegburg District Court, Birgit Niepmann, said the Sharia ceremony "was a service of the court."
In July 2012, a court in Hamm ordered an Iranian man to pay his estranged wife a dower as part of a divorce settlement. The case involved a couple who married according to Sharia law in Iran, migrated to Germany and later separated. As part of the original marriage agreement, the husband promised to pay his wife a dower of 800 gold coins payable upon demand. The court ordered the husband to pay the woman €213,000 ($225,000), the current equivalent value of the coins.
In June 2013, a court in Hamm ruled that anyone who contracts marriage according to Islamic law in a Muslim country and later seeks a divorce in Germany must abide by the original terms established by Sharia law. The landmark ruling effectively legalized the Sharia practice of "triple-talaq," obtaining a divorce by reciting the phrase "I divorce you" three times.
In July 2016, a court in Hamm ordered a Lebanese man to pay his estranged wife a dower as part of a divorce settlement. The case involved a couple who married according to Sharia law in Lebanon, migrated to Germany and later separated. As part of the original marriage agreement, the husband promised to pay his wife a dower of $15,000. The German court ordered him to pay her the equivalent amount in euros.
In an interview with Spiegel Online, Islam expert Mathias Rohe defended the existence of parallel legal structures in Germany as an "expression of globalization." He added: "We apply Islamic law just as we do French law."
*Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Egyptian novel explores Christians under controlling church
Associated Press/Ynetnews/December 22/18
Ways of the Lord, written by Shady Lewis Botros, tries to break away from the stereotypes held by the country's Muslim majority, where over the past two years Islamic militants killed more than 100 Christians.
Shady Lewis Botros says his recently published novel—“Ways of the Lord”—can be broadly viewed as an attempt to answer one question: What it’s like to be a Christian in Egypt?
The answer, given in stories narrated by the book’s chief character, is complex and often disheartening. It’s giving your children neutral names that don’t identify them as Christians in hopes they’ll have a sporting chance of progress in the mainly Muslim nation. It means facing baseless but dangerous charges of spying for Israel at time of war. It means turning off the lights at home and gathering the family in one room to escape the attention of a Muslim mob on the street.
Beyond entrenched discrimination, the Arabic-language novel explores what the author says is the victimization of Egypt’s Christians by a “politically engineered harmony” between the state and their own church, seeking to control their lives.
“Ways of the Lord” is a rare example of an Egyptian work of fiction whose primary characters are Christian. The result breaks stereotypes that many of the country’s Muslims hold about their minority compatriots. But it also turns the look inward, dispelling the secrecy surrounding the ancient Coptic Orthodox Church—the predominant denomination in Egypt—and addressing its controlling practices and its rivalries with smaller churches.
“Most Coptic literature is about the discrimination or oppression Christians endure with a dose of rights advocacy. That’s understandable but that is also about as far as it goes,” Botros told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from London, his home of 13 years. “This work introduces Egyptians to the reality of Copts as a people who are not always praying, singing hymns and waiting on every word from the church. The novel opens the world of Copts to both Copts and Muslims.”
The novel, the author’s first, takes on added relevance because the Coptic Church leadership has adhered closer than ever to the government. It’s an alliance that gives the community a measure of protection but has raised questions over its independence and has drawn the wrath of Islamic militants, who have over the past two years killed more than a 100 Christians in attacks.
The church’s unity is also being tested, partially over calls for it to modernize some of its rigid rules, like those governing marriage and divorce. The killing in July of the abbot of a monastery, for which two monks are on trial, has led to soul searching about the practices of monasticism, traditionally a cornerstone of the church’s identity.
The novel tells the story of a young Christian man in Cairo, Sherif, who has abandoned the church. He’s in a relationship with a German woman, but to marry her he must first get a church document. So he goes to his neighborhood priest each week for interviews that turn into confessionals.
Sherif relates a series of tales to explain to the priest why he never comes to church. He tells of his family’s past rebellions, like a grandfather who left the Coptic Church because the priest would not baptize his newborn child before her death.
As a young man, he says, he hopped from one Christian denomination to another to explore his identity. His father is cynical about his spiritual search, telling his son, “Generally, they are all con artists.”The confession sessions with the priest are one of two plot tracks running through the novel. The other follows Sherif’s political activism, which lands him in trouble with the police. His one hope to escape jail time is to marry his girlfriend and go to Germany, but in the end, the girlfriend returns home. He spends a year in jail for a white-collar crime he did not commit.
“Sherif was painted as a character in crisis and that’s not just on account of being a member of a minority, but rather as someone facing an existential crisis over his problems with the church and the state,” said literary critic Ahmed Shawqy Ali.
The novel ends with Sherif surrendering to the powers that crush his rebellion. Jobless after losing his government engineering job, he survives on a small income from doing little jobs for the church, while telling his stories to whoever will listen. “The ways of the Lord are strange and tough to understand,” Sheriff says of his return to the church’s embrace.
Botros said the book’s “fatalistic” ending “shows that, in a place like Egypt, religious minorities like Christians don’t have many choices.”
The church presents itself as the protector of Egypt’s Copts, and many in the community adhere to it fervently.
“The church is a peacemaker that is in harmony with everyone, from the ruling government and civil society groups to al-Azhar,” said a church spokesman, Boulis Halim, referring to the top Muslim institution in Egypt. “We cannot deny that there are shortcomings in some respects, especially the social field, but that will evolve going forward.”
But critics say the interests of individual Christians get lost under the church’s communal leadership.
Kamal Zakher, a Christian who is one of Egypt’s top experts on the Coptic Church, said the church has become a “hostage” to the government for safety, particularly since the rise of Islamic hard-liners starting in the 1970s.
It and the government leadership deal with each other directly, but “they have all forgotten that ordinary Christians deal on daily basis with bureaucrats who, like everyone else, have been influenced by that Islamic revival,” Zakher said.
Karoline Kamel, a researcher on church affairs from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said the novel’s main character is not typical of Coptic youth, who in large part associate closely with the church. But she said the novel gets the theme of control right. “The church’s protection is focused on itself as an institution, as walls and buildings regardless of what happens to Christians,” she said.

The US will still “maintain a presence” after troop pullout from NE Syria
موقع دبكا: الولايات المتحدة ستبقي موجودة في شمال سوريا بعد انسحابها منه

DEBKAfile/December 22/18
Following the backlash from President Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from NE Syria, senior administration officials Friday night, Dec. 21 offered Mid East leaders clarifications for allaying their concerns. DEBKAfile’s sources reveal those messages’ high points:
1-US troops will leave eastern and northern Syria, but America is not deserting this part of the country, said the officials, without revealing the nature of its continuing presence.
2-The Trump administration has not abandoned the Kurds or “stabbed them in the back” as widely reported, “and the Kurds know this,” it was authoritatively said. And, indeed, despite their loud cries of dismay, not a single Syrian Kurdish militiaman has deserted the lines they hold against ISIS in eastern Syria.
3-Regarding President Tayyip Erdogan declaration that the Turkish army was about to march on East Euphrates and reach the Kurdish capital of Qamishli, amid fears of a massacre, the US officials advised distinguishing between talk and deeds. They referred to a phone conversation between Presidents Trump and Erdogan on Dec. 14, in which the latter promised his army would not cross the Euphrates. In a speech welcoming the US pullout from Syria on Friday, Erdogan allowed that Turkey would “wait a little longer before launching the operation” and counted on US “logistic support.”
4-Trump said subsequently that the troop pullout would be phased out within 40-60 days. According to the US officials, a more realistic timeline would be 4 to 6 months. “During that time, Syria is bound to see many developments that may require Washington to revise its plans.”
5-The US and Iraq are in advanced negotiations for the deployment to
the Iraqi-Syria border of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) – the “Golden Division” – which drove ISIS out of Mosul. It will stand in the path of Iranian and Iraqi Shiite militias crossings into Syria.
6-Part of the ISOF’s deployment will include the western Iraqi province of Anbar. In this regard, the US officials referred to a disclosure by Mohammad al-Dilemi, one of the chiefs of Anbar’s Arab tribes. On Dec. 12, he said that the US army was building a new base on the line dividing Anbar from the next-door province of Nineveh. It would position US troops 30km north of the Euphrates River and near the Syrian border. This new base will provide the Iraqi division with American backup.
07The officials from Washington refused to confirm or deny that the Russians were involved in the forthcoming US plans for Syria; nor would they refer to a possible US-Turkish-Russian deal on the subject. They did take note of the strides taken in recent weeks toward repairing Russian-Israeli relations. The US officials pointed out that the transfer of a Russian S-300 air defense missile battalion to Deir ez-Zour in eastern Syria brought the Israeli Golan and Galilee Panhandle within their range, but not the Israel Air Force bases in north

Pope Gives Rome Homeless the Christmas Gift of a New Clinic in the Vatican

The Daily Mail/December 22/18
Pope Francis has commissioned a new clinic in St Peters Square which offers free medical help in his latest move to help Rome's destitute. The Rome Catholic charity Caritas estimated last year that there are more than 16,000 homeless in Rome and their number congregating near the Vatican has grown in recent years, especially at night when they cluster under arcades to sleep. The new clinic with three visiting rooms will be open three days a week and will be staffed by volunteer doctors from the Vatican medical services and Rome hospitals. Charities say homeless people suffer particularly from foot ailments because they rarely remove their socks and shoes, and also wear ill-fitting shoes. These conditions mean that they can often suffer from ailments such as fungal infections, blisters and calluses. A foot doctor will be on site once a week. The new clinic replaces an older temporary one nearby, also set up by Pope Francis, who has also opened facilities where the homeless can bathe and get haircuts.
When it is not serving the homeless, the new clinic, built on the premises of the old Vatican post office, will serve as a first aid station for pilgrims and tourists. This comes after Pope Francis vowed the Catholic Church will never again ignore allegations of sexual abuse and called on guilty priests to turn themselves in and face justice. A litany of child sexual abuse scandals has rocked the Church for decades, with the pope as recently as Wednesday accepting the resignation of a US bishop over 'misconduct' with a minor. 'To those who abuse minors I would say this: convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice,' the pope said in his annual address to the Church's governing Curia at the Vatican on Friday. He also added that he is determined to bring all guilty priests to justice. 'The Church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case,' he said. 'Let it be clear that before these abominations the Church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes'.
The pope continued: 'It is undeniable that some in the past, out of irresponsibility, disbelief, lack of training, inexperience, or spiritual and human short-sightedness, treated many cases without the seriousness and promptness that was due.'He said emphatically: 'That must never happen again. This is the choice and the decision of the whole Church.'Francis has struggled to resolve the problem as the steady drip of scandal corrodes the church's authority but fresh cases surface regularly against a background of sharp divisions in Rome over the issue. The pope last week removed two prominent cardinals from his inner circle months after they were tainted by paedophile scandals and ahead of a Church-wide meeting on the 'protection of minors' next year. Australian Cardinal George Pell and Chilean Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz were both removed from the so-called C9 Council of Cardinals, an international advice body set up by Francis himself, the Vatican said on December 12. The last time the C9 met in September, Errazuriz, who is accused of ignoring reports of abuse in Chile, and Pell, who faces charges in Australia related to historical child sexual offences, were both absent, and the council said it was considering restructuring.
Despite being removed from the C9, Pell, 77, remains in charge of Vatican finances, the third most powerful position in the Roman Catholic Church. The Church has been hit by a series of child abuse scandals in recent years, with widespread allegations of cover-ups, including against the pope himself. The pope told the Curia on Friday that there were still 'consecrated men... who abuse the vulnerable, taking advantage of their position and their power of persuasion.' 'They perform abominable acts yet continue to exercise their ministry as if nothing had happened. They have no fear of God or his judgement, but only of being found out and unmasked.' 'Often behind their boundless amiability, impeccable activity and angelic faces, they shamelessly conceal a vicious wolf ready to devour innocent souls.'

As Washington Prepares to Withdraw from Syria, Turkey Is Set to Invade
Dana Stroul and Soner Cagaptay/The Washington Institute/December 22/2018
The combination of premature steps would further damage U.S. credibility while giving Iranian proxies and Islamic State remnants free rein in east Syria.
On December 19, multiple media sources reported that Washington is preparing for an imminent withdrawal of all U.S. forces in east Syria. The reports followed statements two days earlier by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who noted the White House’s “positive response” to Turkey’s planned cross-border military campaign in the area. First announced on December 12, the operation aims “to clear the east of the Euphrates from separatist terrorists in a few days”—Erdogan’s epithet for the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian Kurdish group whose troops serve as the core of the U.S.-supported forces fighting the Islamic State (IS). During their December 14 phone call, Trump and Erdogan “agreed to continue coordinating to achieve our respective security objectives in Syria,” even as various U.S. officials reportedly scrambled to head off the Turkish incursion.
Meanwhile, news of the planned U.S. departure has raised alarm bells across Washington, the Middle East, and Europe. Given the numerous strategic problems that would be raised by an accelerated withdrawal and the fact that the U.S. mission remains incomplete, the White House should rethink its decision and continue working toward its own previously stated objectives in Syria.
The PYD is an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a designated terrorist group that has been fighting the Turkish government for decades. Ankara’s announcement of imminent operations against the PYD’s militia, the People’s Defense Units (YPG), followed recent comments by Joint Staff chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, who stated on December 6 that the United States would be pursuing two major initiatives: training 40,000 local fighters to take over security in areas cleared of IS units, and constructing U.S. military observation posts along the Syria-Turkey frontier. Both developments were received poorly in Ankara, which saw them as evidence that Washington is not responsive to Turkey’s security concerns.Yet America’s interests in continuing to back these local forces are considerable. Since IS took over half of Syria in 2014, the U.S. approach to degrading the group has centered on launching targeted airstrikes from the sky while the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) take care of fighting on the ground. YPG fighters make up the majority of the SDF and are the most capable U.S. military partners available in Syria. The U.S. decision to support, train, and equip the YPG has long incensed Turkey, especially once the group began to establish its own belt of control in border areas liberated from IS. When the PKK renewed its attacks in Turkey in 2015, Ankara invaded parts of Syria to break up YPG-controlled areas and block the perceived PKK safe haven there.
To protect its priority of fully defeating IS while assuaging Turkish security concerns, the United States has promoted the “Manbij model” in recent months. The model envisions transferring governance of YPG-ruled areas west of the Euphrates to other locals (mainly Arabs and non-YPG-aligned Kurds) while instituting joint U.S.-Turkish military patrols in the area. U.S. officials hoped that this approach would serve as a confidence-building mechanism to prevent Turkish operations east of the Euphrates, which would threaten U.S. troops, the SDF, and the momentum of the incomplete campaign against IS terrorist remnants. Thus far, however, the mechanism has failed to placate Ankara, spurring its latest warning of direct intervention in the east.
An accelerated U.S. withdrawal from Syria would be a mistake: IS has not been sustainably defeated, Iran and its proxies remain active in Syria, and a political process to end the war has not yet taken root. If the administration truly aims to fulfill its stated objectives there, it should immediately implement an alternative course of action. Otherwise, it risks not only jeopardizing the near-term U.S. interest of stabilizing a key part of the Middle East, but also damaging America’s reputation for the long term. More specifically, the potential exit or entrance of U.S. and Turkish forces in east Syria affects the following key interests:
Protecting U.S. forces. If Turkey begins its operation before the proposed American withdrawal, the 2,000 U.S. troops in the area would be directly in the line of fire—especially those embedded with the SDF or manning the handful of existing U.S. border observation posts. Ankara has signaled that it wants to coordinate its operations with Washington, but the risk would remain serious given the realities of combat. Pentagon officials have already warned that unilateral Turkish action would pose “unacceptable” risk to U.S. forces.
Defeating ISIS. As the president and other administration officials have repeatedly stated, IS remains the foremost U.S. priority in Syria, but the mission is incomplete and could fail altogether if the newly announced plans are carried out. A Turkish incursion would force many YPG fighters to shift their efforts away from fighting IS, risking a reversal of recent progress. And if U.S. forces are not present to keep the SDF focused on finishing the fight, counterterrorism in east Syria would effectively be outsourced to Turkey and its local partners, or even to the Assad regime and its backers. The Assad option would ensure renewed Sunni Arab support for violent extremist groups, likely leading to “IS 2.0.” Yet continued YPG control in the east is not sustainable either, since the group’s leftist ideological antecedents and Kurdish nationalist identity are unacceptable to the conservative Sunni Arabs who comprise the majority population in the east. Hence, expanding the Manbij model of local control and U.S.-Turkish patrols may be the only means of navigating between these two bad options.
Ending the war. As Syria envoy James F. Jeffrey emphasized on December 17, the parties currently have a small window of opportunity to move forward with a political process that ends the war, breaks the Assad-Iran alliance, and halts the regime’s brutality against the Syrian people. The constitutional reform process endorsed by Jeffrey and the UN requires all outside stakeholders to focus on a singular diplomatic effort, but a Turkish incursion would derail movement toward the negotiating table and give Assad, Russia, and Iran excuses to reject talks intended to end Assad’s authoritarian grasp over time.
Mending the U.S.-Turkey relationship. Turkey’s October release of Pastor Andrew Brunson gave the Trump administration another chance to ease tensions in the often-fraught bilateral relationship. Recent flashpoints include Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 antiaircraft systems, which if finalized would trigger U.S. sanctions and threaten the country’s position in the F-35 program and perhaps even NATO. Turkey’s ongoing detention of American and Turkish embassy staff has caused major friction as well. Potential Turkish operations in east Syria would likely exacerbate these tensions.
Rather than risk fratricide between NATO allies, Washington appears to be preparing for a full-scale, immediate withdrawal. In this scenario, the primary U.S. mission of rolling back IS would be undermined, as would the secondary benefit of blocking the movement of Iran and its proxies in east Syria.
In other words, the White House should understand that a key element of its Iran policy is at stake here: namely, the effort to keep Tehran from entrenching itself in Syria, establishing a land bridge to Lebanon, and directly threatening Israel. On the margins of the UN General Assembly meeting this September, National Security Advisor John Bolton stated that U.S. forces will remain in Syria until Iran and its proxies depart. Withdrawing now would directly contradict that pledge.
U.S. officials should urgently implement a new plan of action for east Syria, avoiding a hasty withdrawal while using all elements of the national security toolbox to convince Turkey that there are other options besides unilateral invasion:
Keep supporting the Manbij model. The U.S. military should speed up the transfer of responsibility in Manbij from the YPG to local inhabitants, then start joint planning with Turkey for implementing this same mechanism east of the Euphrates, taking into account lessons learned from joint patrols in west Syria. Such planning would slow the momentum toward unilateral Turkish action and rapid U.S. withdrawal. Turkish officials would likely welcome this approach, since Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party faces stiff competition in nationwide local elections to be held March 31. The party is running in a de facto coalition with a hardline Turkish nationalist faction, so making visible near-term progress on the Kurdish issue is paramount. Even if exporting the Manbij model to the east does not result in immediate YPG withdrawals, it would likely be enough for Erdogan to spin the development as a victory against the PKK’s Syrian ally, boosting his coalition’s electoral chances.
Talk to Turkey about the future of the Syrian Kurds. Ambassador Jeffrey has already stated that U.S. policy does not envision partnering with nonstate actors in the long term—a clear signal to Ankara that Washington’s close partnership with the YPG is temporary. Now is the time for U.S. officials to start a structured and substantive dialogue with Turkey about an acceptable end state for Syria’s Kurdish community within the Syrian state.
Buy time for the political process. The Syrian constitutional reform process must be given a chance to succeed. Washington should rapidly coordinate with other governments and organizations committed to ending the war, asking them to lean on Turkey and prevent complete derailment of the political process.
*Dana Stroul is a senior fellow in The Washington Institute’s Geduld Program on Arab Politics. Soner Cagaptay is the Institute's Beyer Family Fellow and director of its Turkish Research Program.

The Islamic State Inside Iraq: Losing Power or Preserving Strength?

Michael Knights/Combating Terrorism Centre/December 2018, Volume 11, Issue 11
Abstract: In addition to losing control of Iraqi cities and oilfields, the Islamic State has clearly lost much of the capability it developed within Iraq from 2011-2014. Quantitative attack metrics paint a picture of an insurgent movement that has been ripped down to its roots, but qualitative and district-level analysis suggests the Islamic State is enthusiastically embracing the challenge of starting over within a more concentrated area of northern Iraq. The Iraqi government is arguably not adapting fast enough to the demands of counterinsurgency, suggesting the need for intensified and accelerated support from the U.S.-led coalition in order to prevent the Islamic State from mounting another successful recovery.
It has been a year since Iraq’s (then) Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over the Islamic State on December 9, 2017.1 Yet the Islamic State did not disappear in Iraq. According to the author’s attack dataset,a in the first 10 months of 2018, the movement mounted 1,271 attacks (of which 762 were explosive events,b including 135 attempted mass-casualty attacksc and 270 effectived roadside bombings). As important, the Islamic State attempted to overrune 120 Iraqi security force checkpoints or outposts and executed 148 precise killings of specifically targeted individualsf such as village mukhtars, tribal heads, district council members, or security force leaders.
In an August 2017 CTC Sentinel review of the Islamic State’s transition to insurgency in Iraq,2 this author noted an almost automatic shift back to insurgent tactics in areas where the movement lost control of terrain in 2014-2017.3 As Hassan Hassan convincingly documented in his December 2017 study for this publication,4 as early as the summer of 2016, the Islamic State had readied “a calculated strategy by the group after the fall of Mosul to conserve manpower and pivot away from holding territory to pursuing an all-out insurgency.”5 In another September 2018 study,6 Hassan reiterated that the Islamic State sums up its strategy using three Arabic phrases: sahraa, or desert; sahwat, or Sunni opponents; and sawlat, or hit-and-run operations.7 Based on the precepts of the Islamic State’s own 2009 lessons-learned analysis—“Strategic Plan to Improve the Political Standing of the Islamic State of Iraq”—the plan is to return to the attritional struggle against the Iraqi state and Sunni communities that was executed so successfully by the Islamic State in 2011-2014.8
Metrics-Based Analysis of Islamic State in Iraq Attacks
So how is the plan working out thus far? This article is an update and an extension of the author’s aforementioned August 2017 metrics analysis of known Islamic State operations in Iraq. The objective of the research is to track how the Islamic State is performing as an insurgent movement in a variety of Iraqi provinces. One output of the research is the benchmarking of current Islamic State operational activity against the metrics of 2017 and the years prior to the movement’s 2014 seizure of territory. In August 2017, the author analyzed Islamic State attack metrics in liberated areas in Diyala, Baghdad’s rural “belts,”g Salah al-Din, and Anbar. This new analysis will return to the above provinces (including a fully liberated Anbar) and also consider the newly liberated provinces of Nineveh and Kirkuk.
To achieve this, the author has updated his dataset of Iraq attack metrics up to the end of October 2018. The dataset includes non-duplicative inputs from open source reporting, diplomatic security data, private security company incident data, Iraqi incident data, and U.S. government inputs. The dataset was scoured manually, including individual consideration of every Significant Action (SIGACT) in the set, with the intention of filtering out incidents that are probably not related to Islamic State activity. This process includes expansive weeding-out of “legacy IED” incidents (caused by explosive remnants of war) and exclusion of likely factional and criminal incidents, including most incidents in Baghdad city. The author adopted the same conservative standard as was used in prior attack metric studies9 to produce comparable results. As a result, readers should note that the presented attack numbers are not only a partial sample of Islamic State attacks (because some incidents are not reported) but are also a conservative underestimate of Islamic State incidents (because some urban criminal activity may, in fact, be Islamic State racketeering).
In the August 2017 CTC analysis of Iraq attack metrics, the author suggestedh that analysts should focus more attention on the qualitative aspects of Islamic State attacks (such as targeted assassinations) to create a richer assessment of the significance of lower-visibility events. In this study, the author takes his own advice and not only breaks down incidents into explosive or non-explosive events, but also created four categories of high-quality attacks (the aforementioned mass-casualty attacks, effective roadside bombings, overrun attacks, and person-specific targeted attacks10). Though still highly subjective, the above filtering and categorizing of SIGACTs results in a more precise sample of Islamic State activity from which to derive trends. Immersion in manually coding the detail of thousands of geospatially mapped SIGACTs creates vital opportunities for pattern recognition and relation of trends to key geographies.
National-Level Indicators of Islamic State Potency
There can be no doubt that the Islamic State remains a highly active and aggressive insurgent movement. By the author’s count, supported by “heat map” style visualization of Islamic State activity and historic operating patterns, the group maintains permanently operating attack cells in at least 27 areasi within Iraq. As a movement, it generated an average of 13.5 attempted mass-casualty attacks per month within Iraq in the first 10 months of 2018, as well as 27.0 effective IEDs per month, 14.8 targeted assassination attempts per month, and 12.0 attempted overruns of Iraqi security force checkpoints or positions per month.11 At the very least, the Islamic State remains active, trains its fighters in real-world operations, and does not allow the security environment to normalize.
All this being said, the Islamic State appears to be currently functioning at its lowest operational tempo (at the national aggregate level) since its nadir in late 2010. In 2018, combined totals of Islamic State attack metrics for six provinces (Anbar, Baghdad belts, Salah al-Din, Diyala, Nineveh, and Kirkuk) averaged 127.1 per month.12 In comparison, during 2017 combined totals of Islamic State attack metrics for just four provinces (Anbar, Baghdad belts, Salah al-Din, and Diyala) averaged 490.6 per month.13 This suggests the Islamic State attacks in 2018 averaged less than a third of their 2017 monthly totals, a huge reduction in operational tempo within Iraq. The 2018 monthly average of 127.1 attacks is also much lower than the six province averages (Anbar, Baghdad belts, Salah al-Din, Diyala, Nineveh, and Kirkuk) from 2013 (518 incidents per month), 2012 (320 incidents per month), and 2011 (317 incidents per month).14 Though SIGACT reporting could have declined somewhat since 2017, there are no indications of a blackout of reporting that would create a two-thirds reduction in reported incidents. To the contrary, ever-improving social media reporting by security force members and SIGACT or martyrdom aggregators has arguably led to a slight improvement in visibility.15
Assuming that greatly reduced attack metrics reflects reality, analysts are faced with a very consequential and tricky exam question: Is the Islamic State unable to mount more attacks in Iraq, or is it marshaling its remaining strength and striking more selectively? If the former, the drop in attack metrics might suggest that Islamic State attempts to hold terrain on multiple fronts in Iraq and Syria resulted in such heavy losses to leadership, personnel, and revenue generation that the Islamic State has emerged more damaged than it was after the Sahwa (Awakening) and the U.S. “Surge.”16
However, this does not satisfyingly explain how a fairly high number of attacks could continue in late 2017, only dropping off from the second quarter of 2018 onwards. (Overall attacks dropped by 19% between the first and third quarters of 2018, with “high-quality attacks” (mass casualty, overruns, effective roadside bombs, and targeted killings) dropping by 48% in the same comparison.)17 One explanation that might be consistent with Hassan’s description of the Islamic State’s “calculated strategy by the group after the fall of Mosul to conserve manpower”18 is that the group is focusing its efforts on a smaller set of geographies and a “quality over quantity” approach to operations. A tour around the six main provinces with a strong Islamic State presence provides a set of case studies to test the explanations of reduced Islamic State operational tempo.
Northeastern Iraq (Rowan Technology)
Weak Insurgencies in Anbar and Salah al-Din
The author’s August 2017 CTC Sentinel article noted that Anbar and Salah al-Din were the scene of weak insurgencies in 2017 that were characterized predominately by low-quality harassment attacks, such as mortar or rocket attacks or victim-operated IEDs not focused on specific targets.19 Attacks metrics from 2018 suggest that the Islamic State is still not generating powerful campaigns of attacks in these provinces and has even weakened in both areas.
In predominately Sunni Anbar, the Islamic State averaged just 9.1 attacks per month in 2018, versus 60.6 attacks per month in 2017 (when Al-Qaim district was excluded from statistics as it was still under the Islamic State) or versus 66.0 attacks per month in 2013 (counting attacks in all of Anbar).20 Forty-nine percent of attacks in 2018 were “high-quality” types, an increase against the 30% of high-quality attacks in 2017.21 Nevertheless, the small scale of the insurgency’s attack activities in Anbar means that better quality attacks were limited to an average each month of one overrun of an outpost plus one targeted killing and a pair of effective IEDs.22 Almost no tribal or local community leaders were killed in Anbar (four in 10 months in 2018), and only three mass-casualty attacks were attempted.23 These are very low figures, both historically and considering that Anbar is Iraq’s largest province, perhaps pointing to a de-prioritization of Anbar by the Islamic State as an attack location at this stage of the war. As in 2017, there is very little evidence of attack activity in Anbar cities like Ramadi and Fallujah.24
Salah al-Din also saw a steep year-on-year reduction in attacks, with a monthly average of 14.2 in 2018 versus 84.0 in 2017.25 (The 2018 average for Salah al-Din is just below the 19.0 and 15.0 per month averages for the province in 2012 and 2011, respectively.26) Sixty percent of attacks in 2018 were ‘high-quality’ types, an increase against the 42% of high-quality attacks in 2017.27 Again, due to the small overall scale of the local insurgency, the raw numbers of quality attacks were low: just six targeted killings in 10 months, an average of 2.1 overrun attacks on outposts each month and 3.6 effective roadside IEDs per month.28 For a province that contains Iraq’s north-south military supply corridor, the scene of an average of 90 roadside bombings per month during the U.S. military presence, current Islamic State attack activities in Salah al-Din stand out as anemic. With the exception of the ruined refinery town of Baiji and the adjacent Sharqat, the Islamic State is only slowly starting to attack Salah al-Din cities like Samarra, Tikrit, Dour, Balad, and Tuz Khurmatu.29
Islamic State inactivity in Anbar could be explained by a number of factors, including the temporary disruptive effect of the full recapture of the province in late 2018, but it is harder to rationalize why Salah al-Din has become even quieter than during 2017. Perhaps the Islamic State invested its resources elsewhere due to overwhelming pressure from ‘outsider’ (mainly Shi`a) Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) working closely with predominately Sunni, locally recruited PMF brigades 51 and 88.30 In 2017, this author assessed that predominately Sunni Anbar and the predominately Sunni parts of Salah al-Din might resist a strong resurgence of the Islamic State if they became a “partnership zone” where Sunnis felt demographically secure and Sunni communities actively partnered with the Iraqi security forces.31 A key question for analysts is whether depressed Islamic State attacks in Salah al-Din mark the success of an unlikely partnership between Shi`a PMF factions and Sunni tribes, and, if so, whether such arrangements are sustainable.
Islamic State Setbacks in the Baghdad Belts
The author’s August 2017 CTC Sentinel article sounded a note of alarm about large numbers of Islamic State IED attacks on markets and shops in Baghdad’s rural belts and outer urban sprawl.32 This trend continued throughout the first quarter of 2018, when there were 65 attempted mass-casualty incidents in the Baghdad belts or projected into Baghdad via the rural districts.33 Thereafter, the bombings dropped off sharply, with just 16 in the second quarter and 15 in the third.34 Overall, attacks in 2018 dropped to an average of 29.3 per month versus 67.3 in 2017 and 60.0 in 2013, dropping to about the 2011 average of 35.0 attacks per month.35 Confirming the anecdotal impression of many Baghdad residents and visitors, in the years since 2003, Baghdad has never witnessed fewer reported salafi jihadi terrorist attacks than it did in 2018.j Total attacks halved from an average of 45.3 per month in the first quarter of 2018 to 20.3 in the third quarter, with quality attacks dropping from 65% of all attacks in the first quarter to 46% of all attacks in the third.36 The monthly average of 3.6 effective roadside IED attacks in 2018 is still remarkably low for an area of Baghdad’s size, with such a concentration of security force patrols.37 (The comparative figure in 2013 was 23.0 effective roadside bombs per month.38) Though some of the 2.3 monthly assassinations in the Baghdad belt include political figures, the area has witnessed almost no reported targeted assassinations of local Sunni leaders in 2018, in stark contrast to other areas like Kirkuk and Nineveh.39
A likely factor in the reduction of Islamic State attacks in Baghdad is the disruptive counterinsurgency operations and perimeter security improvements40 launched by the Baghdad Operations Command, in cooperation with neighboring commands and with intense intelligence support from the coalition.41 These have been focused on the northern and southern belts, which are the most intensely attacked. The northern arc, including hotspots like Tarmiyah, Rashidiyah, and Taji, witnessed 9.7 attacks each month on average in 2018 (i.e., more than Iraq’s largest province, Anbar), including 72% quality attacks.42 The southern belt, centered on the former insurgent stronghold of Jurf as-Sakr and adjacent Latifiyah and Iskandariyah, suffered an average of 8.3 attacks per month in 2018 (almost equaling the whole of Anbar), but a lower proportion (56%) of quality attacks.43 The western and eastern belts witnessed exactly the same average in 2018—5.7 attacks per month, half of which were high quality.44
Deadlock in Diyala
Diyala was the first place where the Islamic State mounted a strong insurgency after it moved to a terrain-holding model in 2014, and in some respects, this is because Diyala was never decisively overrun by the Islamic State in 2014 and thus the local militant cells never ceased being insurgents.45 In the author’s 2016 and 2017 analyses, Diyala and adjacent parts of Salah al-Din were identified as the most fertile ground, at the time, for an Islamic State sanctuary.46 Yet the 2018 attack metrics indicate that either the Islamic State shifted its weight elsewhere (i.e., to nearby rural Kirkuk and southern Nineveh) or the Islamic State has been fought to a standstill and reduced in capability within Diyala, perhaps temporarily.
As in Anbar, Salah al-Din, and the Baghdad belts, the raw numbers of reported Islamic State attacks in Diyala have greatly reduced in 2018, despite no concomitant loss of reporting or social media coverage of operations and casualties. The average number of Islamic State attacks in Diyala in 2018 was 26.2 per month, versus 79.6 per month in 2017 and 50.3 per month in 2013.47 The Islamic State’s war in Diyala is an interesting 50-50% weave of high-quality attacks and broader harassment of civilians. In 2018 in Diyala, there were 31 targeted killings48 of district council members, mukhtars (village headman), tribal leaders, and Sunni PMF commanders. Among the half of attacks in Diyala not categorized as high-quality was a preponderance of terrorization attacks on ‘enemy civilians’ (Shi`a or Sunni), including kidnap-murders, mortar attacks, destruction of rural farming infrastructure, and other efforts to overawe or displace potential civilian opponents.49 k
Diyala province, Iraq (Rowan Technology)
It may be that Islamic State brutality is driving predominately local Sunni tribes into partnership with Shi`a PMF and Iraqi military forces, though such tribes have to cooperate with PMF in order to be allowed to resettle in their towns in any case.50 In Diyala, as in Salah al-Din, there is a case for taking a closer look at whether PMF actors and allied Iraqi Army units are undertaking more effective operations and coordination with local Sunnis than expected, or whether a different causal factor has depressed Islamic States attacks in 2018 down to a third of the levels reported in 2017.51
Focus on Southern Nineveh
Nineveh was not included in the August 2017 CTC Sentinel article because it was only liberated as the analysis went to press. But now—15 months after the liberation of Mosul and 14 months after Tal Afar was recaptured—there is a sufficient dataset to compare to other provinces and to the pre-2014 Islamic State insurgency in Nineveh.
The Islamic State mounted an average of 17.1 attacks per month in Nineveh in the first 10 months of 2018.52 This is minuscule compared to the average of 278 attacks per month in 2013, the 77.0 per month in 2012, or the 60.3 per month in 2011.53 The key reason for the dramatic comparative reduction is the almost complete cessation of Islamic State attacks in Mosul city, which was always the engine room of insurgent attacks in Nineveh.54 At the nadir of Islamic State operations in 2010, the number of Mosul city attacks still averaged 56 per month.55 This increased to 218.5 average monthly attacks in 2013 and 347.0 monthly attacks in the first half of 2014.56 In comparison, Mosul city averaged 3.0 Islamic State attacks per month in 2018, a remarkably low level of activity in the largest Sunni-majority city in Iraq.57 Equally stunning is the manner in which Tal Afar—a long-time Islamic State base—now witnesses practically no visible insurgent activity at all,58 l denying the movement of its second historic hub in Nineveh.
The Islamic State has instead focused on rural insurgency in Nineveh in the year since it lost Mosul. Focus areas include the desert districts south of Mosul such as Qayyarah, Hatra, Ash Shura, the southwestern outer urban sprawl of Mosul city (Atshana, Sahaji, and Tall Zallat), and the desert located between the Baghdad-Mosul highway and the Iraq-Turkey Pipeline—the so-called “Jurn Corridor” (named after two notorious villages in the area).m Though small in scale at this point, the Islamic State rural insurgency is marked by the very high quality of the effort, with 62% of attacks in 2018 coded as quality attacks.59 In particular, 37 targeted assassinations of local leaders60 were undertaken in the first 10 months of 2018 within these various focus zones, which make up a 40 by 40-mile area, including 17 village mukhtars61 and the publicized beheading of a Tribal Resistance Force leader.n Twenty-eight attempted overrun attacks on Iraqi outposts were undertaken in the same area in 2018 as well as 32 effective roadside bombings of security force vehicles.62 At the time of writing in the last quarter of 2018, the Islamic State is beginning to employ heavily armed, technical-mounted raiding groups in southern Nineveh, akin to special forces, capable of out-gunning isolated outposts and making highways and village access roads too dangerous to use.63
Vehicles used for suicide car bombings, made by Islamic State militants, are seen at Federal Police Headquarters after being confiscated in Mosul, Iraq, on July 13, 2017. (Reuters/ Thaier Al-Sudani)
Kirkuk: The Strongest Wilayat
The Islamic State still physically controlled the rural Kirkuk farmbelts when the August 2017 study was written, but now—one year after Iraqi security forces reentered the area—attack data has accumulated to allow an early analysis of the insurgency in Kirkuk. The most obvious trend is that Kirkuk was the Islamic State’s most prolific attack location in Iraq in the first 10 months of 2018. Kirkuk saw an average of 33.0 attacks per month, versus 29.3 in Baghdad, 26.2 in Diyala, 17.1 in Nineveh, 14.2 in Salah al-Din, and 7.3 in Anbar.64 (In comparison, Kirkuk saw an average of 59 monthly attacks in 2013, 44 monthly attacks in 2012, and 26 monthly attacks in 2011.65) With 45 attacks in October 2018 and indications of higher levels in November,66 the Islamic State insurgency in Kirkuk has quickly rebooted to 2013 levels.
The strong insurgency was apparent from the very beginning of the year (first quarter average monthly attacks were 38.0),67 underlining the running start that the Islamic State achieved as soon as Iraqi forces entered Kirkuk. During the first 10 months of 2018, there were 85 effective roadside bomb attacks and 41 overruns on Iraqi outposts68—nearly doubling the numbers in adjacent Nineveh. In one notorious and widely publicized example in February 2018, Islamic State fighters dressed as PMF troops established a fake vehicle checkpoint at Shariah bridge, near Hawijah, and executed 27 PMF volunteers.69
As in Diyala and southern Nineveh, the Islamic State is also trying to make life as miserable and dangerous as possible for ‘enemy civilians’o and pro-government Sunni militias in rural Kirkuk. The Islamic State undertook 35 targeted assassinations of local leaders in the first 10 months of 2018,70 spread across the 80 by 40-mile Kirkuk farmbelts. As important, Islamic State fighters roam at will at night through the farms, killing farmers, burning houses and crops, destroying irrigation systems, and blowing up tractors and electrical towers.71 p The effort appears to be intended to drive pro-government tribal leaders out and to depopulate key areas where the Islamic State wants to increase its operational security and take over farming enterprises.q Christoph Reuter, a rare journalist to visit communities in the Kirkuk farmbelts, painted a vivid picture of the deadly dilemma facing civilians in a Der Spiegel Online report released in March 2018.72
Anecdotal reportingr from Iraqi military contacts, Iraqi civilian contacts, and journalists with local access to the Kirkuk farmbelts suggests that the predominately Shi`a Federal Police garrison of rural Kirkuk is failing to protect civilians. This is in part because the Islamic State is successfully intimidating the security forces to remain within their bases at night and to only operate en masse in large, easily avoided daytime clearance operations.73 Local Sunnis tend not to trust the Federal Police, who are largely recruited from the Shi`a populations in Baghdad, southern Iraq, and southern Salah al-Din.74 When Federal Police come to the aid of attacked villages, they are often too late to help civilians and then arrest or disarm the wrong people.75 Despite these failings, the heavy concentration of Federal Police brigades in Kirkuk may have complicated the operational environment for the Islamic State. In the first quarter of 2018, there were 39 average monthly attacks in Kirkuk (including 21 quality attacks), dropping to 30.6 attacks (including 15.3 quality) per month in the second quarter and 25.3 attacks (including 13.3 quality) per month in the third quarter.76
The question is whether this downturn is sustainable: there were 45 attacks in Kirkuk in October 2018, nearly double the monthly average of the third quarter.77 Similar steep month-on-month increases were also visible in Nineveh, Baghdad, and Anbar in October.78 s As weather and visibility deteriorate in Iraq during the winter months, Islamic State attacks tend to become more numerous and more ambitious, with the militants suffering less from aerial surveillance and airstrikes.79 Attack metrics are likely to rise in the final quarter of 2018, raising annual averages across the board.
Tactical Trends
Out of 1,271 Islamic State attacks in the first 10 months of 2018, 54% were quality attacks (mass casualty, overruns, effective roadside IEDs, or targeted killings), leaving 46% as less lethal or less carefully targeted harassment-type attacks.80 Thus, the movement still spends a good deal of its time mounting ineffective attacks for show, or to keep up momentum, or to practice skills and tactics.
The Islamic State is not running out of explosives yet. Fifty-nine percent of attacks were explosive events, with this 10-month average dropping to 48% in the third quarter.81 High-explosive main charges using military munitions are still widely available and turn up in large numbers in cleared caches.82 Islamic State cells spent considerable time creating and hiding high-explosive caches, yet military explosive use in IEDs has declined and homemade explosive production has increased across the different Islamic State cells in Iraq.83 This may suggest that insurgents cannot readily access their caches or cannot transport munitions, possibly due to patrols and checkpoints, and instead prefer to make new homemade explosives at their hide sites using readily available farming materials.
Suicide vests are found with great regularity,84 but suicide vest attacks are still rare (2.3 per month on average in the first 10 months of 2018 versus 10.3 per month in 2017).85 This suggests either a lack of suicide bombers or a deliberate withholding of the tactic and valuable suicide bombers. The Islamic State appears to make up for the small explosive yield of many attempted mass-casualty attacks by ‘boosting’ them in some manner: detonating at a gas station or in a less-secure crowded area such as a rural market or mechanic’s garage.86
Penetration of hardened facilities such as police stations or military headquarters is very rarely attempted at this stage of the Islamic State insurgency.87 Instead, the Islamic State seems to recognize the vulnerability of linear infrastructure like highways, electricity transmission lines, and pipelines.88 Fake vehicle checkpoints and roadside ambushes allow the Islamic State to be unpredictable and utilize mobility to reduce its casualties. Attacking roads provides a fruitful means of finance for the Islamic State via carjacking and boosting cargoes,89 t and has proved effective in terms of catching and killing what the Islamic State see as high-value targets such as militia commanders and tribal leaders while they are lightly protected.u
The nocturnal assassination of local community leaders has proved another extraordinarily effective tactic, killing one man in order to intimidate thousands. As in 2011-2014, murder remains the Islamic State’s most effective and efficient tactic, and it has focused its murder campaign like a laser on the terrain where it has consolidated its presence.90 In southern Nineveh, rural Kirkuk, and northern Diyala, there were 103 targeted assassinations in the first 10 months of 2018 (75% of all Islamic State assassinations during that period).91 Using a basic calculation of Islamic State attack locations in 2018, the movement concentrated 75% of its assassinations in an area representing 10% of the terrain it routinely operates within.v
The roadside IED is also making a comeback, though not yet in great numbers and rarely involving advanced devices attended by IED triggermen or media teams.92 Most explosive devices encountered thus far in 2018 are built around five-gallon jerry cans or cooking gas cylinders loaded with homemade explosive slurry.93 Most devices are victim-initiated via pressure plate triggers, though command wire is also found in many caches, suggesting the potential for command detonation.94 More advanced explosive designs and initiation methods may not be viewed as necessary due to the paucity of Iraqi route clearance efforts and the use of unarmored pick-ups and buses by many Iraqi forces.95 In every province, the Islamic State seems to retain some residual expertise in roadside bombing tactics. One widely distributed tactic is a ‘come-on’ wherein the militants draw in the security forces with an action (an attack on civilians or security forces, or even the theft of property and livestock), then initiate one or more follow-up roadside IED attacks and ambushes.96 w
Implications for Counterinsurgents
SIGACT metrics are only ever a partial sample, often representing a more complete sample of high-visibility types of attack behavior (like explosive events and high-quality attacks), while often representing a less complete sample of low-visibility attacks such as racketeering, kidnap and shooting, or indirect fire incidents in rural areas. Nevertheless, the basic trends observed in the author’s dataset give a strong indication of Islamic State retrenchment and rationalization of its insurgency in 2018. There were 490.6 Islamic State attacks per month in Iraq in 2017, counting only Anbar, Baghdad, Salah al-Din, and Diyala. In the first 10 months of 2018, now including Nineveh and Kirkuk as well, there were 127.1 attacks per month. The insurgency in 2018 was thus in these combined areas less than a third of the size it was previously in 2017. In certain areas—Anbar, Baghdad, and Salah al-Din—the insurgency seemed to stagnate, significantly deteriorate, or even be abandoned for the present. In Diyala, the Islamic State fought hard to survive. In Nineveh and Kirkuk, the post-liberation insurgency started strongly.
The exam question posed in this paper concerned whether the Islamic State is incapable of raising its operational tempo or has chosen to rationalize its operations, as Hassan’s observations of Islamic State communiques suggests.97 SIGACT metrics seem to support the theory mentioned earlier that the Islamic State is deliberately focusing its efforts on a smaller set of geographies and a “quality over quantity” approach to operations. The Islamic State seems to have denuded or failed to reinforce areas such as Anbar, the Baghdad belts, southern Salah al-Din, and southern Diyala, and has instead concentrated its operations in the best human and physical terrain it can defend: southern Nineveh, rural Kirkuk, and the Hamrin Mountains on the Diyala/Salah al-Din border. As this author noted in August 2017:
“The coalition [has] been clearing outward toward the north and the west, but in the coming year Iraq must turn inward to remove the internal ungoverned spaces in Hawijah, Hamrin, Jallam, Anbar, and eastern Diyala. This will mean learning how to rewire command and control of operations to allow the Iraqi security forces, PMF, Kurds, and [Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve] to work together in a shared battlespace.”98
This inward clearing of Iraq has begun, but with more determination than skill. The clash between Baghdad and the Kurds over the independence referendum and Kirkuk has been a damaging distraction since September 2017.99 Iraqi forces have complicated the Islamic State’s efforts at recovery and some progress has been made to draw Sunni militiamen into the security campaign.100 Now, there are strong arguments for more locally led and locally recruited forces to be developed, and full cooperation restored between all the anti-Islamic State factions.101 There may now be new openness by Diyala’s key Shi`a political bloc Badr toward the involvement of the U.S.-led coalition102 in areas previously off-limits due to the profusion of Iranian-leaning PMF units, including locations such as northern Diyala. Likewise, the counterinsurgency would be aided by the reintegration into the fight of Kurdish intelligence capabilities in Nineveh, Kirkuk, and Diyala.
Iraq also needs to reequip for counterinsurgency. Without increasing force protection capabilities (i.e., fortified bases, mine-resistant vehicles, route clearance, quick reaction forces, and intelligence), the Iraqi counterinsurgency force is far too vulnerable to patrol effectively in rural areas or maintain defensive outposts.x In areas like rural Kirkuk, southern Nineveh, Diyala, and even areas near Baghdad like Tarmiyah, the reality is that the Islamic State still rules the night, meaning that key parts of the country have only really been liberated for portions of each day.103 This places stress on the need for night-fighting capabilities and training. It may only be with these steps that key provinces like Diyala, Nineveh, and Kirkuk can begin to resemble a “partnership zone,”104 where Sunnis can attain command of local police and paramilitary forces, and where U.S.-supported Iraqi forces have the resilience and back-up to disrupt Islamic State insurgents.
Though the Islamic State has gone ‘back to the desert’ (or at least rural strongholds), this is not out of choice but rather because cities such as Mosul, Ramadi, Fallujah, and Tikrit—all ruinously affected by the Islamic State—are currently inhospitable operating locations for the movement. In 2008, Islamic State of Iraq Emir Abu Omar al-Baghdadi succinctly noted, “We now have no place where we could stand for a quarter of an hour.”105 This is true once again in urban areas, but the Islamic State can now stand for much longer than that in rural areas, especially at night, and indeed held four hamlets near Tall Abtah (in south Nineveh) for a whole night on November 19-20, 2018.106 Yet while the Islamic State needs rural sanctuaries, such areas may not satisfy the movement for long. An exclusively rural insurgent movement in Iraq risks fading into irrelevance and losing support. The Islamic State is likely to seek to return to regular high-profile bombings in locations that have international prominence, most obviously Baghdad, quite probably via the relatively unprotected eastern flank of the city and its adjacent Shi`a neighborhoods.
Being out of the cities also means being poor or having to work much harder to make money. As RAND’s 2016 study of Islamic State finances noted,107 rural areas such as Diyala and Kirkuk were among the poorest income generators for the movement, requiring an external cash cow (principally Mosul city) to generate economic surpluses that might be spent in cash-poor wilayat. Today, there is no urban cash cow. This may drive the Islamic State to try to quietly return to Mafiosi-type protection rackets in the cities and towns108 and/or to focus a greater proportion of its operational activity on rural money-making ventures. Identifying the Islamic State’s ’soft reentry’ into cities is a priority intelligence requirement but a difficult challenge. In this vein, it may be worth looking at the metrics for Islamic State attacks on markets and garages with a critical eye, as these may partially represent protection racketeering or might evolve into such schemes, particularly in the Baghdad belts.y Outside the cities, the Islamic State may turn to traditional ventures such as encouraging and taxing trade flows and running trucking ventures, as opposed to the practice seen in 2017 and 2018 of killing truckers on the Baghdad-Kirkuk road109 and thus depressing trade. New money-making ventures may also emerge: commandeering larger agricultural ventures in Diyala and Kirkuk, for instance.
In the longer-term, the Islamic State’s expansion back toward a terrain-holding force may not be the movement’s preference and is restrained by the absence of a number of drivers that aided its rise in 2011-2014 but which are presently lacking. First, the Syrian civil war gave the Islamic State an expanding sanctuary and access to military equipment, high explosives, manpower, and finances.110 Today, the Islamic State is under severe pressure in Syria and has lost most of its territory.111 Second, the Iraqi security forces were decimated by corruption and poor leadership in 2011-2014, while today they are well-led and recovering their capabilities, even factoring in the strain of continuous operations year after year.112 Third, U.S. forces were absent from Iraq from November 2011 to August 2014, whereas today the partner nations of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve continue to pursue the enduring defeat of the Islamic State,113 and the coalition continues to enjoy the consent of the Iraqi government to operate on Iraqi soil. If any of these three factors change, however, the long-term outlook for the Islamic State in Iraq might brighten considerably, making them key strategic signposts to watch. CTC
**Dr. Michael Knights is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He has worked in all of Iraq’s provinces, including periods embedded with the Iraqi security forces. Dr. Knights has briefed U.S. officials and outbound military units on the resurgence of al-Qa`ida in Iraq since 2012 and regularly visits Iraq. He has written on militancy in Iraq for the CTC Sentinel since 2008. Follow @mikeknightsiraq
*Substantive Notes
[a] All incident data is drawn from the author’s geolocated Significant Action (SIGACT) dataset. The dataset brings together declassified coalition SIGACT data plus private security company and open-source SIGACT data used to supplement and extend the dataset as coalition incident collection degraded in 2009-2011 and was absent in 2012-2014. New data since 2014 has been added to the dataset to bring it up to date (as of the end of October 2018).
[b] Explosive events include SIGACT categories such as Improvised Explosive Device (IED), Under-Vehicle IED (UVIED), vehicle-carried or concealed IEDs, all categories of suicide bombing, indirect fire, hand grenade and rocket-propelled grenade attacks, guided missile attacks, plus recoilless rifle and improvised rockets.
[c] Defined in the author’s dataset as IED attacks on static locations that are assessed as being intended to cause multiple civilian or security force casualties.
[d] Defined in the author’s dataset as IED attacks on vehicles that are assessed to have struck the specific type of target preferred by the attacker, and to have initiated effectively.
[e] Defined in the author’s dataset as attacks that successfully seized an Iraqi security force location for a temporary period, or which killed or wounded the majority of the personnel likely to have been present at the site.
[f] Inferred in the author’s dataset by connecting the target type with circumstantial details of the attack to eliminate the likelihood that the individual was not the intended victim of the attack.
[g] The rural districts bordering Baghdad but not within the city limits (amanat) include places like Taji, Mushahada, Tarimiyah, Husseiniyah, Rashidiyah, Nahrawan, Salman Pak, Suwayrah, Arab Jabour, Yusufiyah, Latifiyah, Iskandariyah, and Abu Ghraib.
[h] The author noted that “analysts of insurgency in Iraq should … look beyond quantitative trends to spot qualitative shifts that may be of far greater consequence” such as “high-impact, low-visibility violence.” The author underlined the disproportionate value of “rich on-the-ground data that allows analysts to understand whether a shooting is a criminal drive-by versus a carefully planned intimidation attack on a key sheikh, for example.” See Michael Knights, “Predicting the Shape of Iraq’s Next Sunni Insurgencies,” CTC Sentinel 10:7 (2017), p. 21.
[i] In the author’s view, these are in the following areas: Al-Qaim, Wadi Horan/Rutbah and Lake Tharthar/Hit/Ramadi in Anbar province; the southern Jallam Desert (southern of Samarra), Baiji, Sharqat, Pulkhana (near Tuz), and Mutabijah/Udaim in Salah al-Din province; Tarmiyah, Taji, Rashidiyah, Jurf as-Sakr/Latifiyah/Yusufiyah, Jisr Diyala/Madain, and Radwaniyah/Abu Ghraib in the Baghdad belts; Hawijah, Rashad, Zab, Dibis, Makhmour, and Ghaeda in or near Kirkuk province; Muqdadiyah, Jawlawla/Saadiyah/Qara Tapa, and Mandali in Diyala; and Mosul city, Qayyarah, Hatra, and the Iraq-Turkey Pipeline corridor southwest of Mosul, Badush, and Sinjar/Syrian border in Nineveh.
[j] The 2013 monthly average of 60 Islamic State attacks per month was the lowest recorded aggregate of Baghdad attacks prior to 2018. In 2011, as the insurgency reached its nadir, the monthly average was still 101. In 2006, the worst year of the war, Baghdad attacks regularly topped 1,500 per month. All incident data is drawn from the author’s geolocated Significant Action (SIGACT) dataset.
[k] A close reading of all the 262 Islamic State attacks in Diyala in 2018 paints a vivid picture of no-holds-barred warfare between the Islamic State and all other actors. Even filtering out likely Sunni-on-Sunni and Sunni-Shi`a tribal incidents, there are regular murders of shepherds and farmers on agricultural land, booby-trapping of farm roads and canal crossings, mortar attacks on farms, destruction of irrigation and power lines, plus the assassination of local leaders. All incident data is drawn from the author’s geolocated Significant Action (SIGACT) dataset.
[l] There were 0.3 Islamic State attacks in Tal Afar per month on average in the first 10 months of 2018: two roadside IEDs and one attempted suicide vest attack on a Shi`a procession.
[m] The author worked episodically in Nineveh during 2006-2012, during which time the villages of the Jurn corridor were viewed by U.S. and Iraqi forces as notorious al-Qa`ida in Iraq and Islamic State of Iraq launchpads. The villages—Jurn 1 and 2—are located 15 miles southwest of Mosul city and just five miles west of the highway.
[n] On March 20, 2018, the Islamic State undertook a surge of targeted killings in Mosul city, killing four mukhtars and kidnapping and beheading pro-government Sunni militia leader Udwan Adnan Muhammad in the Rajim al-Hadid area in western Mosul. All incident data is drawn from the author’s geolocated Significant Action (SIGACT) dataset.
[o] The author refers here to tribes that the Islamic State views as enemies, either due to their sector (in the case of Sunnis) or their opposition to the Islamic State.
[p] Attacks on electrical towers have been prolific in 2018, and seemingly largely to discomfort locals as opposed to theft of copper wiring (as most images show lines left in place). For an open-source reference, see Mohammed Ebraheem, “Iraq’s Hawija turns dark as Islamic State continues to target electricity pylons,” Iraqi News, October 1, 2018.
[q] These kinds of incidents are thickly strewn throughout the author’s geolocated Significant Action (SIGACT) dataset. Sunni villages are being evacuated as close as 10 miles from urban Kirkuk due to repeated intimidation attacks. For an open-source reference, see “Residents Of A Village In Hawija Displaced Due To Threats Received From Daesh,” National Iraqi News Agency, August 9, 2018.
[r] The author regularly pre-briefs journalists moving through Iraq, and then debriefs them afterwards. This generates rich detailed reporting that often fails to make it into news coverage of Iraq because it is considered by editors to be too niche for the general reader to appreciate.
[s] In Nineveh, attacks jumped from 21 in September 2018 to 30 in October 2018. Baghdad attacks increased from 20 in September to 35 in October. Anbar saw a month-on-month increase from three attacks in September to 10 in October.
[t] The seizure of trucks and their cargo appears to be a key source of gaining access to money (threat finance). East of Tuz Khurmatu, for instance, truckers were repeatedly stopped, killed, and buried in mass graves before the disappearances were recognized as a trend. For an open-source reference, see “Mass grave containing the remains of 20 truckers discovered,” Baghdad Today, February 7, 2018.
[u] One example of this is Highway 82, which links Diyala’s governorate center at Baquba to the Mandali district on the Iran-Iraq border. Among seven attacks on the road in the first 10 months of 2018, three targeted high-value targets such as tribal leaders and Iraqi MPs. All incident data is drawn from the author’s geolocated Significant Action (SIGACT) dataset.
[v] The author used heat-mapping of SIGACTs and then made a rough square mile calculation: 75% of assassinations happened in a 6,640 square mile area, while all Islamic State attacks were spread out across a 60,636 square mile area in Iraq in 2018.
[w] In all the provinces covered in this study, the Islamic State mounted occasional ‘double tap’ IED attacks (one initial attack, plus a follow-up on first responders and security reinforcements), and in Kirkuk and Nineveh, there were even some ‘triple tap’ attacks with multiple layers of follow-on attacks.
[x] These impressions were formed from a synthesis of the author’s dataset and review of many hundreds of images of ISF, PMF, and Kurdish troops moving and operating.
[y] Kidnap for ransom is a phenomenon that analysts need to monitor and where intelligence collection needs to differentiate pure criminal activity from Islamic State fundraising. However, kidnap for ransom is risky and manpower-intensive. It is useful for small groups in chaotic environments, but it cannot fund major insurgent groups or replace the rent that can be drawn from urban intimidation or road taxation networks.
[1] Margaret Coker and Falih Hassan, “Iraq Prime Minister Declares Victory Over ISIS,” New York Times, December 9, 2017.
[2] See Michael Knights, “Predicting the Shape of Iraq’s Next Sunni Insurgencies,” CTC Sentinel 10:7 (2017).
[3] Ibid. See also Michael Knights and Alexander Mello, “Losing Mosul, Regenerating in Diyala: How the Islamic State Could Exploit Iraq’s Sectarian Tinderbox,” CTC Sentinel 9:10 (2016).
[4] See the excellent piece: Hassan Hassan, “Insurgents Again: The Islamic State’s Calculated Reversion to Attrition in the Syria-Iraq Border Region and Beyond,” CTC Sentinel 10:11 (2017).
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid., p. 1.
[7] Ibid., p. 2.
[8] Ibid., pp. 4-6.
[9] See Knights, “Predicting the Shape of Iraq’s Next Sunni Insurgencies,” and Knights and Mello, “Losing Mosul, Regenerating in Diyala.”
[10] See footnotes c-f.
[11] All incident data is drawn from the author’s geolocated Significant Action (SIGACT) dataset.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] For an example of a very capable SIGACT and martyrdom aggregator, see the Twitter account @TomtheBasedCat
[16] On the Sahwa and “Surge” phenomena, see Stephen Biddle, Jeffrey Friedman, and Jacob Shapiro, “Testing the Surge – Why Did Violence Decline in Iraq in 2007?” International Security 37:1 (2012): pp. 7-40. See also Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, “Assessing the Surge in Iraq,” Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal 15:4 (2011): pp. 1-14, and Ed Judd, “Counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq and the wider causes of pacification,” Australian Defence Force Journal 185 (2011): pp. 5-14.
[17] All incident data is drawn from the author’s geolocated Significant Action (SIGACT) dataset.
[18] Hassan, p. 1.
[19] See Knights, “Predicting the Shape of Iraq’s Next Sunni Insurgencies,” p. 17.
[20] All incident data is drawn from the author’s geolocated Significant Action (SIGACT) dataset.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Ibid.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Ibid.
[29] Ibid.
[30] For a breakdown of Sunni PMF units, see “Iraqi Security Forces and Popular Mobilization Forces: Order of Battle,” Institute for the Study of War, December 2017, p. 46.
[31] See Knights, “Predicting the Shape of Iraq’s Next Sunni Insurgencies,” p. 17.
[32] Ibid., p. 20.
[33] All incident data is drawn from the author’s geolocated Significant Action (SIGACT) dataset.
[34] Ibid.
[35] Ibid.
[36] Ibid.
[37] Ibid.
[38] Ibid.
[39] Ibid.
[40] For a description of Baghdad’s perimeter security requirements, see Sajad Jiyad and Michael Knights, “How to prevent sectarian backlash from Baghdad bombings,” Al Jazeera English, May 26, 2017.
[41] Based on the author’s conversations with U.S. intelligence officers working on Iraq, second and third quarters of 2018. Names and places of interviews withheld at request of interviewees.
[42] All incident data is drawn from the author’s geolocated Significant Action (SIGACT) dataset.
[43] Ibid.
[44] Ibid.
[45] The 2014-2016 history of the insurgency in Diyala is described in detail in Knights and Mello, “Losing Mosul, Regenerating in Diyala.”
[46] See Knights, “Predicting the Shape of Iraq’s Next Sunni Insurgencies,” and Knights and Mello, “Losing Mosul, Regenerating in Diyala.”
[47] All incident data is drawn from the author’s geolocated Significant Action (SIGACT) dataset.
[48] Ibid.
[49] Ibid.
[50] Knights and Mello, “Losing Mosul, Regenerating in Diyala,” p. 6.
[51] All incident data is drawn from the author’s geolocated Significant Action (SIGACT) dataset.
[52] Ibid.
[53] Ibid.
[54] See the author’s urban Mosul SIGACT coding in Michael Knights, “How to Secure Mosul: Lessons from 2008—2014,” Research Note 38 (2016): p. 10.
[55] Ibid.
[56] Ibid.
[57] All incident data is drawn from the author’s geolocated Significant Action (SIGACT) dataset.
[58] Ibid.
[59] Ibid.
[60] Ibid.
[61] Ibid.
[62] Ibid.
[63] Ibid.
[64] Ibid.
[65] Ibid.
[66] Ibid.
[67] Ibid.
[68] Ibid.
[69] For an open-source reference, see “27 Hashd killed after clashes with ISIS in Hawija pocket,” Rudaw, February 19, 2018.
[70] All incident data is drawn from the author’s geolocated Significant Action (SIGACT) dataset.
[71] Ibid.
[72] This report is well worth reading. See Christoph Reuter, “The Ghosts of Islamic State: ‘Liberated’ Areas of Iraq Still Terrorized by Violence,” Der Spiegel Online, March 21, 2018.
[73] Author’s interviews, multiple journalists and Kirkuk residents, first and second questions of 2018. Names and places of interviews withheld at request of interviewees.
[74] Ibid.
[75] Ibid.
[76] All incident data is drawn from the author’s geolocated Significant Action (SIGACT) dataset. The author is indebted to Iraq security expert Alex Mello for cleverly matching the sharp (but temporary) month-on-month declines with the arrival of each tranche of Federal Police reinforcements to rural Kirkuk.
[77] Ibid.
[78] Ibid.
[79] See Peter Schwartzenstein’s excellent report on the Islamic State’s use of weather: “‘ISIS Weather’ Brings Battles and Bloodshed in Iraq,” Outside, October 6, 2016.
[80] All incident data is drawn from the author’s geolocated Significant Action (SIGACT) dataset.
[81] Ibid.
[82] Ibid. The author’s dataset includes large numbers of described cache contents.
[83] Based on the author’s conversations with U.S. intelligence officers working on Iraq, second and third quarters of 2018. Names and places of interviews withheld at request of interviewees. Almost every cache is reported as including one or more suicide vest, suggesting they were provided to most fighters for potential use during operations or to avoid capture.
[84] The author’s dataset includes huge numbers of described cache contents.
[85] All incident data is drawn from the author’s geolocated Significant Action (SIGACT) dataset.
[86] Ibid. Qualitative observations drawn from the dataset.
[87] Ibid. Qualitative observations drawn from the dataset. In Anbar, for instance, there were only two known efforts by suicide vest attackers to penetrate guarded government buildings in the first 10 months of 2018, one of which was a hospital.
[88] Ibid. Qualitative observations drawn from the dataset.
[89] Ibid. Qualitative observations drawn from the dataset.
[90] This is a theme the author has stressed since 2012. See Michael Knights, “Blind in Baghdad,” Foreign Policy, July 5, 2012. See also Knights, “Predicting the Shape of Iraq’s Next Sunni Insurgencies,” p. 21.
[91] All incident data is drawn from the author’s geolocated Significant Action (SIGACT) dataset.
[92] Ibid. Qualitative observations drawn from the dataset. Almost all IED descriptions and finds describe fairly standard pressure-plate initiated devices. No references have been found to radio control arming or firing switches, passive-infrared triggers, or triggermen caught during IED incidents. This suggests to the author that the Islamic State today favors simplified IED tactics, perhaps a result of having moved to a more standardized, less inventive model of mass IED emplacement from 2014-2017.
[93] Based on the author’s conversations with U.S. intelligence officers working on Iraq, second and third quarters of 2018. Names and places of interviews withheld at request of interviewees. Almost every cache is reported as including multiple five-gallon (20-liter) jerry cans, plastic jugs, gas cylinders, or fire extinguishers.
[94] Ibid. Drawn from conversations with U.S. intelligence officers and observation of the dataset. The author wishes to thank Iraq security expert Alex Mello for pointing to the presence of command wire in many caches.
[95] Ibid. Drawn from conversations with U.S. intelligence officers and observation of the dataset.
[96] Ibid. Qualitative observations drawn from the dataset.
[97] Hassan, p. 1.
[98] Knights, “Predicting the Shape of Iraq’s Next Sunni Insurgencies,” p. 20.
[99] For an open-source reference, see Maher Chmaytelli and Raya Jalabi, “Iraqi forces complete Kirkuk province takeover after clashes with Kurds,” Reuters, October 20, 2017.
[100] For a discussion of Sunni PMF units, see “PMF Order of Battle,” Institute for the Study of War, 2018, p. 46.
[101] For very specific recommendations on the evolution of CJTF-OIR security cooperation with Iraq, see Michael Knights, “The ‘End of the Beginning’: The Stabilization of Mosul and Future U.S. Strategic Objectives in Iraq,” Testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, February 28, 2017, and Michael Knights, “The Future of Iraq’s Armed Forces,” Al-Bayan Center for Planning and Studies, March 2016.
[102] Based on the author’s conversations with U.S. intelligence officers working on Iraq, second and third quarters of 2018. Names and places of interviews withheld at request of interviewees. The advise and assist efforts in Kirkuk, Diyala, and Nineveh will receive more focus and more intelligence, aerial, and special forces support in 2019.
[103] Based on the author’s conversations with U.S. intelligence officers working on Iraq, second and third quarters of 2018. Names and places of interviews withheld at request of interviewees. See also citations 72 and 73 (relating to journalist accounts and reporting from the Kirkuk farmbelts).
[104] Knights, “Predicting the Shape of Iraq’s Next Sunni Insurgencies,” pp. 17-18. See the author’s definition of the partnership zone. The piece suggested that the partnership zone set up in Anbar would prevent recurrence of a strong insurgency, foreshadowing the flaccid Islamic State performance in Anbar in 2018, which is described in this current December 2018 piece.
[105] Quoted in Al Naba, Edition 101, “Explosive Devices,” Oct. 12, 2017, pp. 8-9.
[106] All incident data is drawn from the author’s geolocated Significant Action (SIGACT) dataset.
[107] Patrick B. Johnston, Jacob N. Shapiro, Howard J. Shatz, Benjamin Bahney, Danielle F. Jung, Patrick Ryan, and Jonathan Wallace, Foundations of the Islamic State: Management, Money, and Terror in Iraq, 2005–2010 (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016), pp. 20-22.
[108] Ibid., pp. 225-230. For a detailed description of the major Islamic State money-making operations in Mosul in 2011-2014, see Knights, “How to Secure Mosul,” pp. 2, 9, 15.
[109] For example, see “Mass grave containing the remains of 20 truckers discovered,” Baghdad Today, February 7, 2018.
[110] For a background read on the role of the Syrian civil war in the Islamic State’s rise, see Charles Lister, The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).
[111] For a background read on remaining Islamic State territory in Syria, see Rukmini Callimachi, “Fight to Retake Last ISIS Territory Begins,” New York Times, September 11, 2018.
[112] For a review of the rise and recovery of the Iraqi security forces, see Knights, “The Future of Iraq’s Armed Forces.”
[113] See “Readout of the Meeting in Morocco of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS,” U.S. State Department, June 26, 2018.

 What to Watch for as Lebanon Forms a New Government
Hanin Ghaddar/The Washington Institute/December 22/ 2018