‘Interference’: Iraq PM’s office rejects Tillerson’s call for Iran-backed militias to ‘go home’

In a tight-lipped statement, Baghdad rejected a call by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for Iran-backed Shia militias to “go home” after the demise of Islamic State in Iraq.

Earlier on Sunday, Rex Tillerson said at a rare meeting with top Iraqi and Saudi Arabian officials that Iraq’s Shiite militias – also known as Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) – and their Iranian advisers need to leave Iraq as the struggle against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) is nearing an end.

But Baghdad seems reluctant to go along with Washington’s request, judging by a polite but robust remark made on Monday by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s office.

“No party has the right to interfere in Iraqi matters,” the statement posted on Facebook reads. It added that many PMU members were native Iraqis who made “enormous sacrifices to defend their country and the Iraqi people.”

The Iraqi government was surprised by Tillerson’s suggestion, according to the release.

During the Sunday meeting, Tillerson said “Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against… ISIS is coming to a close, those militias need to go home.”

Foreign fighters in Iraq “need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to regain control,” the secretary of state said, amid US efforts to contain Tehran’s growing presence in the region.

Meanwhile, Tillerson also called on other countries to sever business ties with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which the US itself recently designated as a terrorist organization.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis joined militia units in 2014 after Iraqi Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for a national uprising against Islamic State terrorists by issuing a non-sectarian fatwa. Shiite PMU units were often referred to as part of the Iraqi security apparatus.

Though there are no official statistics, at some point PMU units numbered up to 100,000 fighters, according to US military estimates dated last year. The forces’ estimates ranged from 80,000 to 100,000, according to military spokesman Colonel Chris Garver. 

READ MORE: Iran-backed Shiite forces in Iraq now estimated at 100,000 – US military spokesman

Iran has secured major strategic gains in the war against IS in Iraq over recent years, as it funded and trained the PMU which fought alongside the Iraqi Army in the battle of Mosul and other northern Iraqi cities. In contrast, US ally Saudi Arabia, a Sunni kingdom, has been on bad terms with Shiite-majority Iraq for more than two decades, after Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, despite attempts to mend ties in recent years.

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Mysterious Sounds and Scary Illnesses as Political Tools

President Trump has long signaled his desire to reverse President Barack Obama’s normalization of relations with Cuba, so it’s no surprise that his administration has begun to do just that by withdrawing most employees from the United States Embassy in Havana.

But a part of the justification for the move — the reports that embassy employees were victimized by a “sonic attack” that caused a range of physical symptoms — fits a troubling pattern. It’s just the latest example of the way Mr. Trump has attempted to harness vague, unspecified threats to inspire fear and advance his political agenda.

The Associated Press first reported on Aug. 10 that State Department employees had been targeted by these attacks. According to the spokeswoman Heather Nauert, they caused “a variety of physical symptoms.” It was also reported at this time that the State Department had already retaliated for these attacks by expelling two Cuban diplomats from the United States on May 23.

Since then, much of the news coverage of the incident has turned to a discussion of technical questions about sonic weaponry. A few articles quote experts who are skeptical, to put it mildly, but a majority of the coverage has accepted and even reiterated the State Department’s explanation wholesale.

The truth is, the sort of sonic weaponry that might cause the concussions and persistent memory loss that the State Department claimed to have found in its diplomats doesn’t exist, as far as experts in this field know. “Nothing about this story makes any sense to us,” said a marketing director of a firm that manufactures acoustic devices, quoted in Wired. To imagine that such weapons have not only been covertly developed but also were then somehow hidden near the embassy is even more fanciful, for a variety of logistical and technical reasons. The fact-checking site Snopes.com provided a review of scientific data on sound and sonic weapons, concluding that it was false to claim that such weapons could be responsible for what happened to the United States diplomats in Cuba. Yet, this has not stopped the reverberation of sonic-weapon rumors. The press has continued to amplify the story, and the Trump administration has carried on with its narrative, even issuing a Cuba Travel Warning based on the “specific attacks” that it says targeted embassy employees.

The State Department’s explanation — that sound was used to make people sick — is perfectly tailored to frighten us. It plays on the well-established way humans tend to associate sound and illness with hidden, unknowable threats. Mr. Trump as both candidate and president has routinely exploited fears of vaguely defined hidden menaces as a justification for policy and politics.

None of this is to say that no attacks occurred — there may have been chemical exposure, for example. However, not only is the cause unknown (if there is one), but also no evidence of a deliberate attack has been offered.

Sound, despite being a physical material, is often described as intangible, simply because we do not see it. We distrust sound for its invisibility (consider the misery of hearing noisy neighbors but being unsure of what they’re actually doing; consider the meaning of the term “hearsay”), just as we may be drawn to it for its mystery. Even though sound is measurable, we tend to experience it as spectral, as something beyond our rational understanding. It is thus the perfect stand-in for a Cold War-style cunning enemy, who is surely out there, doing something, even though we can never seem to pin him down.

Mr. Trump exploits people’s preconceptions about sound in a manner similar to his exploitation of illness, to signify a hidden, never-quite-graspable threat to the nation. Like the unspecified (and perhaps unverifiable) sonic cause of these health attacks, the reported illnesses are vague and unspecific. Mr. Trump has often turned to illness politics — portraying his opponents as weak, sick and neurotic.

He didn’t invent this political tactic. But he has enthusiastically embraced the approach. Mr. Trump and his campaign encouraged speculation that Hillary Clinton was hiding a secret, degenerative illness (Parkinson’s, traumatic brain injury and epilepsy all circulated as possibilities), which if revealed would make most Americans realize she was not qualified to be president. Of course, these insinuations were most powerful precisely when nothing had been revealed and when speculation could thus fill in the blanks. Media coverage of these charges tended to focus on historical examples of sick presidents or presidential candidates, rather than on how Mr. Trump was deliberately playing upon fears of sickness — that is, engaging in illness politics. In this case, Mr. Trump didn’t invent the story of the attack (it’s relatively clear that something happened at the embassy) but he has latched onto its vague description to raise alarm in a way that’s broad and unsettling enough to provide support for any actions he wants to take in response.

This pattern of suggesting that the United States is under threat from vague and indeterminate dangers — secret illnesses, mysterious sounds — creates a political atmosphere almost miasmic in its effects. There are many facts we do not yet know about the Cuba incident. However, the pattern so far fits Mr. Trump all too well: Raise the volume on a fanciful scary story and tie it to an already desired policy shift in a way that appears to justify that shift. We shouldn’t fall for it.

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Washington: Trump’s mental health

Americans increasingly wonder whether their president is mentally fit to hold the office.

Why? La Jornada newspaper’s renowned analyst David Brooks answered it last Friday.

He headed his article plainly: “Mental health experts warn the world about Trump’s dangerousness”.

Then, he quoted, well-known psychiatrists and psychologists, who consider a mistake to treat him as “if he were a normal person”.

He also refers to a new book that is about to be published in the United States, The dangerous case of Donald Trump.

Its text, written by 27 mental health experts, says that his makes him a clear and present danger.

Because of that, they point out, it is impossible to apply on him rules of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), which ban mental health specialists from publicly revealing their diagnoses of public figures they have't assessed. 

The book was prefaced by Dr. Banda X Lee, of Yale University, and Judith Herman, of Harvard.

They point out: "Collectively, we warn that anyone as mentally unstable as Mr. Trump simply should not be entrusted with the life-and-death powers of the presidency”.

They offer psychological variants to describe the health state of the president, some focused on his “malignant narcissism”. Experts recall such a concept was developed by psychologist Erick Fromm to characterize Hitler and his followers.

Retired Harvard Medical School psychiatry professor Lance Dodes notices that Trump’s sociopathic characteristics pose a danger to democracy in the United States.

Some quote a famous study on its 37 presidents until 1974, which concluded that half of them had mental problems.

And Trump? Combined in a “highly dangerous” toxic mixture.

May God, if he can, protect us.

Translated by Jorge Mesa Benjamin / Cubasi TranslationStaff

 

57 Countries Express Support to Venezuela at UN Human Rights Council in Geneva

Over 50 countries around the world expressed support for the constitutional government of Venezuela against foreign threats.

During the 36th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday, 57 countries signed an expression of support of respect for the sovereignty and independence of Venezuela.

RELATED: Venezuelan Delegation Travels to Dominican Republic for Peace Dialogue

“We condemn any action that disturbs peace, tranquility, and democratic stability... and that threatens sovereignty, including the recent threats of a possible foreign military intervention,” the jointly signed document read, that was read by Cuba's ambassador to the Council, Pedro Luis Pedroso.

The nations, among whom are Cuba, China, Bolivia, Russia, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Libya, Ecuador, Vietnam, South Africa, and Iran, expressed their “support for the constitutional government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, in its commitment to preserve peace and maintain democratic institutions in the country.”

They expressed support for the calls and efforts of President Nicolas Maduro to political dialogue in Venezuela in order to “preserve peace and guarantee the stability of the democratic institutions."

RELATED: 'Latin America Must Be a Region of Peace’: Bolivia’s Morales on Venezuela Dialogue

Also read during the session was a declaration by the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America (ALBA) that echoed the calls for respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity in Venezuela. Presented by the Nicaraguan ambassador, Hernan Estrada, ALBA repudiated the “international media campaign” against Venezuela and condemned the recent threats of the United States President Donald Trump in his address to the United Nations General Assembly.

The Venezuelan representative to the council, Jorge Valero, also spoke, expressing solidarity to those countries who support Venezuela's sovereignty and saying that "peace reigns" in his country due to the democratic National Constituent Assembly.

“Thanks to the National Constituent Assembly, elected through the universal, direct, and secret vote of millions of Venezuelans, peace reigns in Venezuela," he said.

The 36th session of the Human Rights Council is currently taking place in Geneva, Switzerland, from September 11th to the 29th.

The support of ALBA and 57 countries around the world is an affirmation of the international support Venezuela has behind it, in a crucial moment as it has been subject to renewed attacks from the United States and its allied countries in recent weeks.

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Dictatorship? Washington’s Mid East allies are the ones that 'never saw a ballot box' – Iranian FM

Donald Trump believes Iran is a dictatorship, even though Washington’s allies in the region "haven't seen a ballot box in their countries," Iran's foreign minister said, adding that Tehran derives its legitimacy and mandate from the people.

“Maybe President Trump likes to think of Iran as a dictatorship, but it is interesting that all of his allies [in the region] haven’t even seen a ballot box in their countries… Be it as it may,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with the Asia Society, a nonprofit based in New York, answering a question about political processes in Iran and where the country was headed.

Iranian FM: ‘We Derive Our Legitimacy From the Public,’ Not ‘Beautiful American-Made...

What is important is that we derive our legitimacy and our power from our people, unlike our friends in the region,” Zarif told television host Charlie Rose. “We do not derive our legitimacy from the ‘beautiful military equipment’ we get from the United States.”

READ MORE: Tehran could ‘walk away’ from nuclear deal – Iran’s FM

“Our society is not that different, we have the same processes,” Zarif explained. “I don’t have a crystal ball. I know the players, you know the players in the US. But if I ask you who will win the next presidential elections in the US, can you tell me?”

 
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on what is expected to be

Despite an apparent jab at Saudi Arabia – one of the Gulf monarchies Trump has been peddling US weaponry to on his recent tour – Zarif stressed that Tehran was hoping to work together with Riyadh to bolster security in the Middle East.

“We do not have the illusion that we can exclude Saudi Arabia from this region. We believe that Saudi Arabia is an extremely important player in the region whose role needs to be respected,” Zarif said.

“But we expect Saudi Arabia to also recognize that we are an important part of this region and they can never exclude Iran. As we will never try to exclude Saudi Arabia so Saudi Arabia has to abandon this illusion,” he explained.

Turning his attention to Syria, the Iranian foreign minister claimed that Washington has apparently completely shifted its priority from battling the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group to making sure Damascus does not regain control over its border with Iraq.

“Today it seems to me that priorities have changed and for the government of the US it is more important to prevent the Syrian government from taking over the border with Iraq than it is to defeat ISIS,” he said.

Mohammad Javad Zarif on Dealing With U.S.: ‘Don’t Trust — But Verify’

Washington’s plans for Syria remain a mystery, Zarif added, noting that Moscow in the meantime has always been open and clear about its intentions and sincerely wanted to resolve the crisis.

“I talk to President Putin, I know that President Putin wants to find a peaceful solution to Syria because [the conflict] does not serve our interest and it does not serve their interest,” he said. “Whether the US is prepared to do it? Ask somebody who has talked to President [Donald] Trump recently…”

Washington and Tehran have been at odds over the future of the Iran nuclear deal struck under the Barack Obama administration. Known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the July 2015 agreement between Tehran and six leading international powers stipulates only that the Islamic republic limit its nuclear program for fifteen years in exchange for a relaxation of pre-existing sanctions.

 
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. © Stephanie Keith

While Tehran has repeatedly said the existing terms of the JCPOA are non-negotiable, earlier this year, the US Congress introduced legislation that would require Iran to limit other activities, such as missile testing, which are not covered by the agreement.

Under US law, through, and through a Congress-created mechanism, Trump is required to re-assess the JCPOA every 90 days in order to decide whether the nuclear deal is in the best interests of the US. October 15 is the president’s next deadline.

Last week, Trump, who has also been accusing Tehran of being a dictatorship and the main sponsor of terrorism in the region, once again declared the deal with Iran an “embarrassment to the US” and threatened to quit the agreement if the IAEA is not granted full access to all Iranian military sites.

Iran for its part threatened to quit the deal and resume its nuclear program at “greater speed” if the US continues to breach the terms of the agreement.

“Iran has a number of options, which include walking away from the deal and going back with greater speed with this nuclear program,” Zarif told CNN on Sunday. The minister stressed that Iran’s nuclear program “will remain peaceful,” but “will not address and accept the limitations that we voluntarily accepted.”

  • Published in World

‘It is up to US to avert catastrophe of 'declared war' on North Korea’

It is unprecedented at the UN that the president of the US threatened to murder 25 million people in the small country of North Korea; now it is up to the US to prevent a catastrophe, says Korea Peace Network member Dr. Simone Chun.

North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho claimed Donald Trump “declared war on Pyongyang” after making inflammatory comments on Twitter.

“Since the United States declared war on our country, we will have every right to take countermeasures, including the right to shoot down United States strategic bombers even when they are not inside the airspace border of our country,” he told reporters in New York on Monday.

READ MORE: ‘US declared war first’: N. Korea says it has right to shoot down strategic bombers

RT: Do you think North Korea genuinely believes President Trump has declared war on their country or is it some kind of a deliberate overstatement?

 
Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump. © Carlos Barria

Dr. Simone Chun: This is the first time that a president of the US, the most powerful leader in the free world, declared a war and basically threatened to murder 25 million people in a small country such as North Korea. It is unprecedented, especially at the UN… When any leader or country is threatened, they have two options – to surrender or to resist. The North Korean response is standard and understandable: they said they are going to defend their country. There is nothing unusual. But I think the most important thing that we have to remember is that American public opinion, close to 70 percent, both Republicans and Democrats oppose any preemptive strike against North Korea. This is very strong condemnation and criticism of Donald Trump’s persistent threat to North Korea. We should really emphasize this. North Korea [gave] a standard and legitimate response.

RT: North Korea says their largest ever hydrogen bomb could be tested over the Pacific as a response to the US. Do you think that could actually happen?

SC: I don’t think it will happen if the US agreed or accepted the proposal that is on the table; the “double freeze” supported by China and Russia. I think there is still room for diplomatic solutions. I think North Korea will be willing to accept that…The US has been very… resistant to accept the proposal. Donald Trump, when he was running for president said he was willing to implement a new policy, he criticized Obama’s hard-line policy and even proposed “hamburger diplomacy” with North Korea. Tomorrow, if President Trump agrees and supports the proposal that China, Russia, and many other leaders support, I think we could avoid this catastrophic, disastrous outcome. It is up to the US to prevent and avert catastrophic consequences.

‘People try to move money away from risky assets in case of unfortunate escalation’

RT: How serious, do you think, is this latest statement from North Korea?

 
© Yuriko Nakao 
Craig Erlam: It just shows the tensions are escalating. We go a few days without hearing any comments on the issue. We hope that it is starting to fade away; we hope that tensions are starting to de-escalate. But inevitably we just keep getting fresh comments either from North Korea or from Donald Trump himself. We could see from the market’s reaction today that they are still far from immune to this commentary because of what it could potentially lead to. Thankfully, it hasn’t yet gone any further. So far, we have missile tests and military drills from the US and South Korea, for example. But fortunately, it hasn’t escalated any further. The concern today is the use of the rhetoric “declared war” is worrying people a lot. Hopefully, it will start to get defused. The problem is when you look at both sides, who is going to back down first in this war of words and I don’t see either side showing any willingness to do so.

RT: People seem to think this is just rhetoric at the moment. There is always a risk of miscalculation, isn’t there?

CE: Absolutely. And this is one of the things with the market. The markets are always going to respond carefully, but they are also going to respond early because if you got your money in the market, the longer it takes you to respond to the threat, the more money you stand to potentially lose. People do tend toward caution. That is what we’ve seen [hours after the announcement by North Korea]. We saw money moving away from the risky assets or pulling out of equities. Not on a huge level but on a minor level, moving into typically safe haven assets... Again, people are just moving their money toward safety because if anything does unfortunately and surprisingly escalate, then you would expect to see these safer haven assets, such as gold, benefit in the short term.

  • Published in World

Senate committee to interview Trump Jr. behind closed doors

Sept. 7 (UPI) -- Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will privately interview Donald Trump, Jr., Thursday -- and are expected to ask about his meeting with a Russian lawyer in New York City during last year's presidential campaign.

Senators had sought to interview the president's son publicly in July but he instead offered to be privately interviewed and provide documents.

"We look forward to a professional and productive meeting and appreciate the opportunity to assist the committee," Trump, Jr.'s attorney, Alan S. Futerfas, said in a statement.

Last week, Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California issued a joint statement confirming the interview with the president's eldest son was imminent.

Trump, Jr., has acknowledged he met with a Russian lawyer -- who he said had damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton that could help his father's presidential campaign. He released emails this summer that showed it was "part of Russia and its government's support for [President Donald] Trump."

Also attending the meeting were Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, now a senior adviser to the president, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Kushner and Manafort have already been interviewed by the Senate Committee on Intelligence.

The Senate and House intelligence committees are investigating Russian election meddling and any ties to Trump's campaign, but the judiciary panel wants to investigate whether any federal criminal statutes that ban solicitation from foreign nationals were violated.

Feinstein told reporters Wednesday the committee staff will conduct the interview, and a public hearing will be conducted later. Feinstein said she doesn't plan to attend the interview.

Other committee members, including Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, said they plan to attend.

"There are penalties if he lies, and he presumably is aware that he is testifying with very severe penalties if he fails to tell the truth, so we presume he will," Blumenthal told reporters.

  • Published in World

Moscow has become ‘very convenient scarecrow’ for US – Russia’s UN envoy

Russia has turned into a convenient bogeyman used in the internal battles raging in the US political landscape, the Russian envoy to the UN says.

Although tensions are simmering, too much hinges on the bilateral relations, with the UN Security Council remaining one of the few cooperative platforms.

“We, unfortunately, became a very convenient scarecrow, including in the domestic political battles that are raging [in the US],” Vasily Nebenzya said in an interview with RT’s Sophie Shevardnadze.

 

The entrance to the building of the Consulate General of Russia is shown in San Francisco © Stephen Lam

No thaw happened in the US-Russian relations with President Donald Trump coming into office due to “the domestic dimension and the political situation within the United States,” Nebenzya believes.

Relations have sunk to a new low after a series of diplomatic tit-for-tat measures, which started with the Obama administration expelling 35 Russian diplomats and denying access to the Maryland and New York compounds late last year. In August, Moscow responded by demanding a reduction in the number of US embassy and consulate staff, to which Washington retaliated and ordered three Russian diplomatic properties on its soil shuttered.

However, “too much depends on our bilateral relations, and it's not appropriate that they are so low these days and they should be improved, and that will be for the best – for the better of the world and not just our two countries,” he said.

“I will not make peace and security hostage to our bilateral relations,” Nebenzya added.

“The Security Council maybe is one of the few platforms left for us and the US to cooperate,” he said. “Hopefully, that platform that is the Security Council will help us in many things, including improving Russian-American relations.”

 

Anatoly Antonov © Maxim Blinov

As to how work gets done in the Security Council despite the diplomatic standoff between the US and Russia, Nebenzya assures he has “no problem in communicating personally on good terms with any American colleague, not only Nikki Haley,” calling it “a professional camaraderie.”

With rhetoric occasionally flaring up at Security Council meetings, Nebenzya says he hadn’t engaged in a heated exchange with his colleagues.

“I think that the United Nations, and the Security Council in particular, should not be a place for futile rhetoric and a spotlight to master their rhetorical skills,” he says, adding the UN should serve its main purpose: “to maintain the international peace and security.”

“I never, never imagine that the Russian and the American people have anything like hostility towards each other. It's the political situation that is to blame, but on a personal level we are all humans, first of all, and secondly, we feel sympathy towards Americans and I feel that Americans feel sympathy towards Russians,” Nebenzya says.

You can watch the full interview with the Russian envoy to the UN Friday on RT’s SophieCo.

  • Published in World
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