Arthur Rothstein Oregon or Bust, family fleeing South Dakota drought Jul 1936
Hilarious to see how Britain drops the ball on democracy.
Labour’s leadership election has been an extraordinary demonstration of grassroots democracy and public participation, which has turned the conventional wisdom about politics on its head. We have drawn in hundreds of thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds from across the country, far beyond the ranks of longstanding activists and campaigners. Who can now seriously claim that young people aren’t interested in politics or that there is no appetite for a new kind of politics? Above all, it has shown that millions of people want a real alternative, not business as usual, either inside or outside the Labour party. The hope of change and bringing big ideas in is now back at the centre of politics: ending austerity, tackling inequality, working for peace and social justice at home and abroad.
That’s why the Labour party was founded more than a century ago. This election has given that founding purpose a new force for the 21st century: a Labour party that gives voice to the 99%. The scale of Saturday’s vote is an unequivocal mandate for change from a democratic upsurge that has already become a social movement. I am honoured and humbled by the confidence that has been shown in me by our members and supporters and I will give everything I have to repay that confidence. We fought and won on the basis of policies, not personalities, without abuse or rancour. For the absolute avoidance of doubt, my leadership will be about unity, drawing on all the talents – with women representing half of the shadow cabinet – and working together at every level of the party.
Our aim is to bring into the heart of the party the hundreds of thousands who have taken part in the leadership, deputy leadership and London mayoral elections. We will succeed by making Labour a movement once more. It’s also about putting democracy in command. This is not going to be about the leader issuing edicts from on high. My leadership will be about bringing together ideas from all levels of the party and Labour movement, from the backbench as well as the front bench, drawing inspiration from a hugely expanded party in the communities and using everyone’s talents to develop policy, resist this government’s attacks on communities and build support for political change.
Admittedly clueless: “.. if the new approach does not work at first, Mr. Potter said in a recent speech, then his team of monetary mechanics “stands ready to innovate” until it does.” As long as the banks are fine.
It’s easy to take for granted the Federal Reserve’s ability to raise interest rates. Even among the legions who doubt that Fed officials will pick the ideal moment to start increasing rates for the first time since 2008, few question the Fed’s technical competence. The central bank has a long history. The engine is known to work. So it may come as a surprise to learn that the old engine is broken. When the Fed decides that it’s time to “lift off” — perhaps this week, but more likely later this year — it will be relying on a new system, assembled from spare parts, to make interest rates rise. There is a general agreement among economists and market analysts that the Fed’s plans make sense in theory.
A team led by Simon Potter, a former academic who now heads the Fed’s market desk in New York, has been testing and fine-tuning the details by moving billions of dollars around the financial system. But markets have a long history of scrambling the best-laid plans. “If something is going to go wrong, I haven’t been able to figure out what, but there’s a lot of reason for caution,” said Stephen G. Cecchetti, the former chief economist at the Bank for International Settlements. “We’ve never done this before.” The Federal Reserve has held short-term interest rates near zero for almost seven years. Officials are now debating whether the economy is strong enough to start raising rates. When the Fed does move, the cost of borrowing and the return on savings are likely to start climbing too.
The stakes are huge. The Fed is in charge of keeping economic growth on an even keel: minimal unemployment, moderate inflation. It tends to operate conservatively and to change very slowly because when it errs, the nation suffers. Yet the Fed has found itself forced to experiment. The immense stimulus campaign that it started in response to the 2008 financial crisis changed its relationship with the financial markets. It has pumped so many dollars into the system that it cannot easily drain enough money to discourage lending, its traditional approach. Instead, the Fed plans to throw more money at the problem, paying lenders not to make loans.
The Fed, embedded in the banking system, has also concluded that working through the banks is no longer sufficient to influence the broader economy. It plans to strengthen its hold by working directly with an expanded range of lenders. Fed officials have repeatedly expressed confidence that the plan will work. “The committee is confident that it has the tools it needs to raise short-term interest rates when it becomes appropriate to do so,” Janet L. Yellen, the Fed’s chairwoman, told Congress earlier this year, referring to its policy-making body, the Federal Open Market Committee. And if the new approach does not work at first, Mr. Potter said in a recent speech, then his team of monetary mechanics “stands ready to innovate” until it does.
“..central bank-type institutions..?!” Does Goldman fit the bill?
China plans to allow foreign central banks into its interbank currency market, the country’s No. 2 leader said Thursday, in a new move to expand use of the tightly controlled Chinese yuan. Speaking at a business conference, Premier Li Keqiang gave no time frame for the change or details of what foreign institutions would be allowed to do. The move follows Beijing’s decision in March to allow some foreign investors into the market in which its state-owned banks trade bonds. “In our next step, we will open the interbank foreign exchange market to non-mainland central bank-type institutions,” said Li at the World Economic Forum in the eastern city of Dalian. Beijing controls the yuan’s exchange rate and limits movement of money into and out of China but has been encouraging use of its yuan abroad, mostly for trade.
The central bank said its surprise Aug. 11 devaluation of the yuan, which rattled global financial markets, was part of efforts to make the exchange rate more market-oriented. Wider use of the yuan would reduce costs for China’s traders and encourage sales of Chinese goods abroad, economists say. The interbank foreign exchange market is used for setting the exchange rate of the yuan, but buying and selling takes place in a separate market, according to Tan Yaling, director of the China Forex Investment Research Institute. Until now, participants were mostly Chinese banks and a handful of foreign entities, said Tan, a former Chinese central bank analyst. She said expanding the pool of institutions that submit information will more accurately reflect supply and demand. “Including the central bank-type institutions will improve the rationality of the exchange rate,” said Tan.
It’s been sputtering for a long time.
Growth in China’s investment and factory output missed forecasts in August, pointing to a further cooling in the world’s second-largest economy that will likely prompt the government to roll out more support measures. The downbeat data came on the heels of weak trade and inflation readings, raising the chances that third-quarter economic growth may dip below 7% for the first time since the global crisis. Fears of a China-led global economic slowdown have roiled global markets in recent weeks, prompting speculation that the U.S. central bank may hold off on raising interest rates later this week. “The pace of slowdown in fixed-asset investment is relatively fast – dragged by the property sector, while the factory sector remains sluggish,” said Zhou Hao at Commerzbank in Singapore.
“Overall, the economy is very weak and the central bank may have to continue cutting interest rates and banks’ reserve requirement,” Zhou said, adding he expected growth was very likely to dip below 7% in the July-September quarter. Some economists believe current growth is already much weaker than official data suggest. August power output, for example, was up just 1% year-on-year. Growth in China’s fixed-asset investment, one of the crucial drivers of the economy, slowed to 10.9% in the first eight months of 2015 from the same period a year earlier, compared with 11.2% in January-July, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed on Sunday. Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast an 11.1% rise.
Factory output also was weaker than expected, rising 6.1% in August from a year earlier. Markets had expected a 6.4% increase, compared with July’s 6.0%. Retail sales were the lone positive surprise, growing 10.8% in August from a year earlier, above forecasts of 10.5%, the same as July. But the increase did not appear to jibe with recent reports from local and foreign firms in China of slowing sales.
And that’s before forced refugee quotas.
Once upon a time, it looked likely that Poland would eventually join the 19-country euro zone.Yet over a decade after the Eastern European country joined the European Union in 2004, Poland is doing just fine. Arguably, the country is doing better than if it had joined the the single currency—something Poland’s top finance official hastened to point out on Saturday as a reason to stay on the sidelines. “The balance of risks and benefits (of joining the euro) has changed,” Poland’s finance minister Mateusz Szczurek told CNBC Saturday. Speaking from the meeting of European finance ministers in Luxembourg, the official said that his country may “need to calculate more on what needs to be done before Poland considers joining the euro zone.”
Indeed, Poland is one of Europe’s fastest growing economies, expanding at a rate of 3.4% in 2014. This year, the European Commission forecasts Poland’s GDP to grow 3.3%, while it expects the euro zone to see 1.5% GDP growth. Such statistics, coupled with crises affecting euro zone countries like Greece, have made joining the single currency not as attractive as it once seemed for the Poles. It has also made membership an increasingly tough sell to make to the country’s population. A June poll in by research firm TNS Poland showed that half of Poles have a negative opinion of the euro and suggested a growing number of euro skeptics.
The same renegotiation Tsipras promises Greece.
Eurozone officials were calm on Saturday about the potential outcome of the general elections in Greece but made it clear that the next Greek government should not expect to be in a position to renegotiate parts of its bailout agreement. For the first time in around seven months, the Eurogroup meeting that took place in Brussels was not mostly focused on Greece. In fact, the official statement at the end of the talks made only a small reference to the Greek program. “[The Eurogroup] is confident that the new government, which will be formed after the general elections later this month, will work constructively with its euro-area partners and the institutions to implement Greece’s new economic adjustment program, agreed in August,” it said.
Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem underlined the need for preparations to continue while Greece waits for a new government to be elected so there will be no significant delay in the review process. “I think that it’s important that in Greece the preparations continue while the political situation is of course unclear at the moment,” said Dijsselbloem, who is also Dutch finance minister. “The work needs to continue as much as possible and the same would go for the institutions,” he said. He was adamant that renegotiation of the deal sealed last month is “not possible.”
Kick it down the road.
Political agreement is close on a tax on financial transactions after talks on Saturday between finance ministers of the 11 European Union countries willing to introduce the levy, EU Economics Commissioner Pierre Moscovici told reporters. “Today we made important, if not decisive, progress … This deal is within reach,” Moscovici said after the meeting in Luxembourg, adding the target is to seal an agreement before the end of the year. Germany and France proposed the financial transaction tax (FTT) in 2012 in the midst of the euro zone debt crisis. As much a political symbol as an effort to correct the excesses blamed for the worst financial turmoil in decades, it has been debated ever since.
Only 11 of the 28 countries of the European Union accepted in principle the introduction of the FTT, which would complement similar levies already in force in some European countries, such as Germany. “We made important steps ahead,” Italy’s finance minister Pier Carlo Padoan told reporters after Saturday’s meeting. Ministers from Germany and France echoed his view, although a further meeting will be necessary in October to find common ground on how to levy the tax, on which financial products, and its rate. Finance ministers from Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Greece, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain have met several times to strike a deal, so far to no avail.
The introduction of the tax was initially foreseen in 2014, but the start date was postponed to January 2016 before a new target was set to reach a political deal by December, and to have the tax in place by 2017. “After the (political) decision, it takes time for the FTT to function, something like nine months to a year,” Moscovici told reporters.
“..the human train that has started moving out of Syria and the neighbourhood will continue to be running for many months to come..”
Another million Syrians will flee before the end of the year if war continues to ravage the country, a senior UN official has said. Yacoub el-Hillo, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Syria, said that unless urgent action was taken to resolve the escalating conflict, refugees would continue to flow out of the region. He said that more than 1 million people had already been displaced from their homes already in 2015. Hillo called for greater international aid efforts to help Syrians survive the winter in their own country. “Unless something big is done to resolve this conflict through political means, the human train that has started moving out of Syria and the neighbourhood will continue to be running for many months to come,” he said.
He warned that because neighbouring countries, which had absorbed the bulk of the refugees, were now at crisis point, “Europe will be faced with a refugee situation similar to the one that led to the creation of UNHCR in 1950”. “The World Food Programme has zero dollars to provide food to 5 million people inside Syria come November.” The absolute minimum amount needed to provide food for Syrians for the rest of the year was $738m, he said. “We still have the opportunity to invest and help many Syrians stay in Syria. Otherwise this human train will continue running in all directions, including Europe,” Hillo said. Since the conflict began in 2011, 250,000 people have been killed and half of all Syrians have been forced from their homes, leaving 7.6 million people displaced within the country and creating 4 million refugees who had fled the country altogether.
And what will it do when things get out of hand?
Despite the heart-warming scenes at Munich railway station, where refugees have been met with applause, there are growing doubts about Germany’s capacity to deal with this influx. The numbers are extraordinary. In August, 160,000 refugees came to Germany. The figure for September stands at 60,000. This weekend 40,000 are due to arrive in Munich from Austria. By the end of 2015, Germany expects at least 800,000 asylum applications. The figure, Berlin admits, could reach 1 million. For the moment, the priority is managing this endless human tide. With Bavaria unable to cope on its own, refugees are being shared out among Germany’s 16 regions. A computer system, Easy, calculates how many people each region should take. It uses a “Königsberg formula”, which weighs population and relative wealth.
Special trains from Munich then dispatch refugees to towns and cities. Under this formula, Berlin is obliged to take 5% of all new arrivals. The city government has been scrambling to find accommodation. Two weeks ago it turned over a police barracks in Berlin Spandau. Two sports halls, including Rudolf Harbig, have been commandeered. The government is now discussing using Tempelhof airport, which shut down in 2008 and was the scene of the 1948-49 Berlin airlift. Other venues under consideration include a velodrome in the Prenzlauer Berg district and empty hangars in the defunct trade fair building. In Frankfurt an der Oder, in neighbouring Brandenburg, refugees are staying in a hotel. In nearby Eisenhüttenstadt they are living in converted barracks in the middle of a pine forest.
So does Hungary’s handling of it.
When religious persecution around 1700 drove the Huguenots to Prussia’s Berlin and Brandenburg, they added more than 1% to the native population and brought skills, knowledge and technology, with lasting positive effects on Germany’s productivity. 300 years later, religious persecution, war and poverty are driving hundreds of thousands to Germany again. Germany’s authorities expect up to 800000 asylum seekers in 2015, an estimate that may be too high but would represent about 1% of Germany’s population. Immigrants other than asylum seekers would increase that number to far more than 1 million. In 2014, more than 600000 asylum seekers reached the EU. How quickly these immigrants are integrated (or not) will be decisive for Germany’s economy and Europe’s monetary union.
Immigrants are significantly younger than the domestic population. Given Germany’s major demographic challenges , this is welcome news. As Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, has pointed out, the immediate costs of handling refugees and immigrants are manageable. Long-term benefits to public finance and the sustainability of pensions can be substantial. Research has documented that foreigners currently living in Germany pay more to the state than they receive in social benefits. But the long-term benefits depend on whether and how immigrants are integrated into the German labour market. Many immigrants bring specific skills and the ability and willingness to work. German industry has discovered this opportunity and has called for legal changes to facilitate the integration of qualified workers in the German labour market.
Industry groups are calling for immigrants to be granted the right to apply for apprenticeship positions in Germany, in order to adapt and upgrade their skills. In the last few years, the integration of migrants in the German labour market has been made easier, but significant obstacles remain, and Germany still has a reputation of being restrictive on immigration. Opening the German labour market quickly and comprehensively to migrants would provide a boost to the German economy. The substantial increase in the labour supply should contribute to increased German output. More workers would mean more investments, increasing growth further. Immigrants would also need housing, benefiting the construction sector. The additional investments in the economy and immigrants’ lower saving rates would boost German demand. The demand boost should also benefit Germany’s neighbours and could help bring down Germany’s current account surplus.
Refugees don’t want to go there anyway. Also, how do you think they’ll be welcomed?
Even though the former Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe have been asked to accept just a tiny fraction of the refugees that Germany and other nations are taking, their fierce resistance now stands as the main impediment to a unified European response to the crisis. Poland’s new president, Andrzej Duda, has complained about “dictates” from the European Union to accept migrants flowing onto the Continent from the Middle East and Africa. Slovakia’s prime minister, Robert Fico, says his country will accept only Christian refugees as it would be “false solidarity” to force Muslims to settle in a country without a single mosque. Viktor Orban, Hungary’s hard-line prime minister, calls the influx a “rebellion by illegal migrants” and pledges a new crackdown this week.
The discord has further unsettled a union already shaky from struggles over the euro and the Greek financial crisis and now facing a historic influx of people attracted by Europe’s relative peace and prosperity. When representatives of the European Union nations meet on Monday to take up a proposal for allocating refugees among them, Central and Eastern European nations are likely to be the most vocal opponents. Their stance — reflecting a mix of powerful far-right movements, nationalism, racial and religious prejudices as well as economic arguments that they are less able to afford to take in outsiders than their wealthier neighbors — is the latest evidence of the stubborn cultural and political divides that persist between East and West.
But the reality is that the former Communist states have proved sluggish in actually absorbing many of these values and practicing them. Oligarchs, cronyism and endemic corruption remain a part of daily life in many of the countries, freedom of the press is in decline while rising nationalism and populist political movements have stirred anti-immigrant tensions. “People must remember that Poland has been transitioning from communism for only 25 years,” Lech Walesa, who led that country’s independence movement, said in an interview. “Our salaries and houses are still smaller than those in the West. Many people here don’t believe that they have anything to share with migrants. Especially that they see that migrants are often well-dressed, sometimes better than many Poles.”
What 60% youth unemployment couldn’t do.
The European Union is considering allowing states to exceed budget-deficit rules if the costs of the refugee crisis stretch government finances beyond currently agreed limits. Finance ministers meeting in Luxembourg asked the bloc’s executive arm, the European Commission, to study the impact of relocating as many as 160,000 arrivals from war-torn countries in northern Africa and the Middle East within the EU. In doing so, officials floated the possibility that a clause in the coalition’s budgetary-discipline pact invoking exceptional circumstances could be used. The EU will “take into consideration every relevant factor including eventual particular or exceptional circumstances,” Pierre Moscovici, Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, said on Saturday.
“We are ready to make all the analysis asked by member states as well as on the economic effects of this crisis.” On Monday, interior ministers are set to sign off on an existing proposal to take in 40,000 asylum seekers and broadly assent to 120,000 more, as governments respond to an influx that has tested the EU’s principle of open borders. Yet with many governments already running deficits amid an anemic economic recovery, officials are concerned that acting to ease refugees’ plight could bring them into conflict with the budget rules. Germany pushed back against easing of budget rules, with Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble pointing out his nation aims to deal with its influx of refugees without taking on new debt if possible.
“Others are getting the idea that this would be a good opportunity to turn their backs on the deficit rules – one doesn’t need the refugee question to make such proposals, ” Schaeuble told reporters. The Stability and Growth Pact, which in theory binds states to keep debt and deficits within strict limits, has some flexibility. Countries may be allowed to break the rule that deficits be kept to within 3% of gross domestic product in the case of “an unusual event outside the control of the member state concerned,” or in a period of severe economic downturn for the region as a whole.
“..many of those millions would be alive and the refugees would for the most part be in their homes if it had not been for the catastrophic interventionist policies pursued by both Democratic and Republican administrations in the United States.”
Since folks inside the beltway are particularly given to making judgements based on numerical data they might be interested in the toll exacted through America’s global war on terror. By one not unreasonable estimate, as many as four million Muslims have died or been killed as a result of the ongoing conflicts that Washington has either initiated or been party to since 2001. There are, in addition, millions of displaced persons who have lost their homes and livelihoods, many of whom are among the human wave currently engulfing Europe. There are currently an estimated 2,590,000 refugees who have fled their homes from Afghanistan, 370,000 from Iraq, 3,880,000 million from Syria, and 1,100,000 from Somalia.
The United Nations Refugee Agency is expecting at least 130,000 refugees from Yemen as fighting in that country accelerates. Between 600,000 and one million Libyans are living precariously in neighboring Tunisia. The number of internally displaced within each country is roughly double the number of those who have actually fled and are seeking to resettle outside their homelands. Many of the latter have wound up in temporary camps run by the United Nations while others are paying criminals to transport them into Europe. Significantly, the countries that have generated most of the refugees are all places where the United States has invaded, overthrown governments, supported insurgencies, or intervened in a civil war.
The invasion of Iraq created a power vacuum that has empowered terrorism in the Arab heartland. Supporting rebels in Syria has piled Pelion on Ossa. Afghanistan continues to bleed 14 years after the United States arrived and decided to create a democracy. Libya, which was relatively stable when the U.S. and its allies intervened, is now in chaos, with its disorder spilling over into sub-Saharan Africa. Everywhere people are fleeing the violence, which, among other benefits, has virtually obliterated the ancient Christian presence in the Middle East. Though I recognize that the refugee problem cannot be completely blamed on only one party, many of those millions would be alive and the refugees would for the most part be in their homes if it had not been for the catastrophic interventionist policies pursued by both Democratic and Republican administrations in the United States.
Scrutiny of the US/UK role in the disaster increases. Bring it on.
Images of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s body washing up on the Mediterranean shores after his family tried escaping war-ravaged Syria sparked international outrage, and brought attention back to a bloody, four-year-long conflict that has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions. An online feature is taking the lens off sectarian divide as the cause of the Syrian conflict, and focused on some overlooked factors: foreign intervention and a competition for oil resources, pointing a strong finger right at the United States. Leaked US State Department cables dated as far back as 2006 suggest that Israel ordered the United States to overthrow the Syrian government by “instigating civil strife and sectarianism through partnership with nations like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and even Egypt” in order to weaken Tel Aviv’s enemy Iran—Syria’s ally—and the terrorist group Hezbolla.
At the time tensions were rising between the U.S., the European Union and Russia amid concerns that Europe’s gas market would be dominated by Russian gas giant Gazprom. Turkey is Gazprom’s second largest customer. According to Mnar Muhawesh, editor of MintPress News, Turkey was “harboring Ottoman-like ambitions of becoming a strategic crossroads for the export of Russian, Caspian-Central Asian, Iraqi and Iranian oil and even gas to Europe.” The Guardian reported that in 2009, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “refused to sign a proposed agreement with Qatar that would run a pipeline from the latter’s North field, contiguous with Iran’s South Pars field, through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey, with a view to supply European markets — albeit crucially bypassing Russia.”
Syria chose to not move against its ally Russia—Europe’s largest supplier of gas. Instead, Assad in 2010 agreed to an Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline that would allow Iran to supply Europe with gas from its vast South Pars field shared with Qatar. After Assad refused to sign the deal, Turkey tried persuading him to reform the Iranian pipeline and to reconsider the proposed Qatar-Turkey pipeline, which Mintpress suggests “would ultimately satisfy Turkey and the Gulf Arab nations’ quest for dominance over gas supplies.” Muhawesh argues that Assad’s refusal to comply with these demands led Turkey and her allies to “engineer” the Syrian civil war, which launched in 2011 when Syrian citizens began holding mass demonstrations calling for reform, Democracy and the removal of President Assad.
Straight-faced: “That is not the U.S. goal, he said, but it’s looking increasingly likely.”
Iraq and Syria may have been permanently torn asunder by war and sectarian tensions, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency said Thursday in a frank assessment that is at odds with Obama administration policy. “I’m having a tough time seeing it come back together,” Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart told an industry conference, speaking of Iraq and Syria, both of which have seen large chunks territory seized by the Islamic State. On Iraq, Stewart said he is “wrestling with the idea that the Kurds will come back to a central government of Iraq,” suggesting he believed it was unlikely. On Syria, he added: “I can see a time in the future where Syria is fractured into two or three parts.” That is not the U.S. goal, he said, but it’s looking increasingly likely.
CIA Director John Brennan, speaking on the same panel at an industry conference, noted that the countries’ borders remain in place, but the governments have lost control of them. A self-declared caliphate by the Islamic State straddles the border between both countries. Iraqis and Syrians now more often identify themselves by tribe or religious sect, rather than by their nationality, he said. “I think the Middle East is going to be seeing change over the coming decade or two that is going to make it look unlike it did,” Brennan said. Iraq and Syria were artificial creations of British and French diplomats when the Ottoman Empire disintegrated on the eve of World War I. Each contains communities of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.
Iraq is run by a Shiite-dominated government with ties to Iran, while the Bashar Assad government in Syria is dominated by Alawites, a Shiite sect. The Islamic State is a fundamentalist Sunni group. The Obama administration’s official policy is that Iraq and Syria remain internationally recognized nation states. Administration officials, for example, have resisted calls to send arms directly to the Kurds, who have carved out a measure of autonomy in northern Iraq and have been America’s most loyal ally in the region. The administration has insisted that arms for the Kurds be routed through the government in Baghdad.
In 2006, then Sen. Joe Biden argued for splitting Iraq into three autonomous ethnic zones with a limited role for a central government. The George W. Bush administration sought to keep Iraq unified, but Sunnis eventually became disaffected with a Shiite government in Baghdad that excluded them. Kurds have been in continual disputes over budgets and oil with Bagdad, and they have seized control of the strategic northern city of Kirkuk. In Syria, the Assad government is hanging on with increasing support from Russia, leaving the country divided among government, rebel-held, and Islamic State territory.
More of the same.
Iraq and Syria may have been permanently torn asunder by war and sectarian tensions, the head of the United States Defence Intelligence Agency said yesterday in a frank assessment that is at odds with Obama Administration policy. “I’m having a tough time seeing it come back together,” Lieutenant- General Vincent Stewart told an industry conference, speaking of Iraq and Syria, both of which have had large chunks of their territory seized by Isis (Islamic State). On Iraq, Stewart said he was “wrestling with the idea that the Kurds will come back to a central government of Iraq”, suggesting he believed it was unlikely. On Syria, he said: “I can see a time where Syria is fractured into two or three parts.” That is not the US goal, he said, but it was looking increasingly likely.
CIA director John Brennan, speaking on the same panel, noted that the countries’ borders remain in place, but the governments had lost control of them. A self-declared Isis caliphate straddles the border between the two countries. Iraqis and Syrians now more often identified themselves by tribe or religious sect, rather than by their nationality, he said. “I think the Middle East is going to be seeing change over the coming decade or two that is going to make it look unlike it did,” Brennan said. Iraq and Syria were artificial creations of British and French diplomats when the Ottoman Empire disintegrated on the eve of World War I. Each contains communities of Sunnis, Shia and Kurds. Iraq is run by a Shia-dominated Government with ties to Iran, while the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria is dominated by Alawites, also a Shia sect.