Alarming claims and revelations in killing of Saudi journalist

Claims and revelations over the apparent killing of a Saudi dissident in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey are quite alarming.

New York Times: Turkish Officials Say Khashoggi Was Killed on Order of Saudi Leadership

Top Turkish security officials have concluded that the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on orders from the highest levels of the royal court, a senior official said Tuesday.

The official described a quick and complex operation in which Mr. Khashoggi was killed within two hours of his arrival at the consulateby a team of Saudi agents, who dismembered his body with a bone saw they brought for the purpose.

Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have denied the allegations, insisting that Mr. Khashoggi left the consulate freely shortly after he arrived. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has demanded that the Saudis provide evidence proving their claim.

The security establishment concluded that Mr. Khashoggi’s killing was directed from the top because only the most senior Saudi leaders could order an operation of such scale and complexity, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to disclose confidential briefings.

Fifteen Saudi agents had arrived on two charter flights last Tuesday, the day Mr. Khashoggi disappeared, the official said.

All 15 left just a few hours later, and Turkey has now identified the roles that most or all of them held in the Saudi government or security services, the official said. One was an autopsy expert, presumably there to help dismember the body, the official said.

A publication with close ties to Mr. Erdogan’s government, the newspaper Sabah, reported Tuesday that unnamed officials had said the police were examining the possibility that Mr. Khashoggi had been abducted and not killed, possibly with the help of another country’s intelligence officers.

The official who spoke about Mr. Khashoggi’s killing said that report and other similar ones were incorrect and were probably the result of the limited information shared among different agencies within the Turkish government.

Another person briefed on the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity to disclose confidential details, told The Times on Saturday that Turkish intelligence had obtained a video of the killing, made by the Saudis to prove that it had occurred.

A commentator close to Mr. Erdogan’s government said so publicly on Tuesday.

“There is a video of the moment of him being killed,” Kemal Ozturk, a columnist in a pro-government newspaper and the former head of a semiofficial news agency, said in an interview on a pro-government television network, citing unnamed security officials.

So alarming multiple claims, some disputed.

Fox News: US intercepted Saudi plans to capture missing journalist, report says

U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly intercepted Saudi officials discussing a plan to capture Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist who disappeared after visiting the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

The Washington Post is reporting that before the journalist disappeared on Oct. 2, Saudi officials discussed a plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia.

It remains unclear if the Saudi government intended to arrest or kill the journalist known for his writings criticizing the Saudi leadership, or whether the U.S. government informed Khashoggi that he was the target of the Saudi government, the report said.

Questions about what the US did, and if they knew whether they did anything to try to prevent what seemed about to happen.

The journalist’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, wrote an op-ed on Tuesday expressing hope her man is still alive. “Although my hope slowly fades away each passing day, I remain confident that Jamal is still alive,” she wrote. “Perhaps I’m simply trying to hide from the thought that I have lost a great man whose love I had earned.”

Cengiz urged President Trump and his wife Melania Trump to help shed a light on the journalist’s disappearance. “At this time, I implore President Trump and first lady Melania Trump to help shed light on Jamal’s disappearance,” she wrote.

Washington Post: Trump wants answers about missing Saudi writer

President Donald Trump says the U.S. is “demanding” answers from Saudi Arabia about missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and wants to bring his fiancée to the White House.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday that he has a call in to his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz.

Trump says nobody knows exactly what happened and expressed hope that Khashoggi is not dead.

He says he’s spoken with the Saudis about what he called a “bad situation,” but he did not disclose details of his conversations.

It certainly looks like a bad situation. And a tricky one for the US – they supply a lot of weaponry to Saudi Arabia: U.S. sells 6,700 missiles to Saudi Arabia as part of $1 billion deal:

“This proposed sale will support U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives by improving the security of a friendly country which has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic growth in the Middle East,” the State Department said, adding that the deal “will not alter the basic military balance in the region.”

The murder (or abduction) of Khashoggi puts the US in a difficult position.

Haaretz: Trump’s Saudi Policy Lets MBS Think He Can Get Away With Murder, ex-U.S. Officials Say

As fears grow about fate of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, whom Turkish authorities believe was killed in Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week, experts warn that White House silence is part of the problem

 Former U.S. officials believe the Trump administration’s friendly policy toward Saudi Arabia has caused its leaders to believe they face no consequences for their actions. The fears were raised following the mysterious disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey last week, amid reports that he was murdered while visiting Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul.

The Trump administration has made a noticeable effort to improve America’s relations with Saudi Arabia, which became tense during President Barack Obama’s time in office. Donald Trump chose Saudi Arabia as his first foreign visit as president, in May 2017, and the Saudi leadership vocally supported his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

A close relationship has also developed between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

A former Middle East adviser to both Republican and Democratic administrations:

Miller’s “just about anything” statement refers to a series of steps previously taken by the crown prince to oppress opposition to his rule. Over the past year, he has had hundreds of Saudi businessmen and former officials arrested without due process. His government has also jailed women’s rights and anti-corruption activists, accusing them of a conspiracy to overthrow the government.

Crown Prince Mohammed has also intensified Saudi Arabia’s war against Iran and its proxies in Yemen – a war that has turned into a full-blown humanitarian disaster. The Saudis also detained Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri last November, reportedly holding him against his will and forcing him to resign as Lebanese premier (Hariri walked back that decision when back in Beirut).

As far as is known, the Trump administration didn’t criticize or warn Saudi Arabia about any of these policies. In fact, it actively supported and encouraged some of them. When the Saudi leadership rounded up hundreds of political rivals and held them at a Riyadh hotel-cum-interim prison, Trump tweeted:

That message was well received in Riyadh. “The Trump administration made it clear from early on that it had little interest in protecting human rights, except when it comes to the rights of Christian minorities,” Tamara Cofman Wittes, a former State Department official who is currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told Haaretz.

Trump, she added, “said very explicitly that he is not interested in telling other countries how to run [their] government. Could this be seen as a green light for oppressive actions? Certainly when compared to the previous policies of every American president since the end of World War II.”

So the actions of Saudi Arabia in relation to Khashoggi are in the spotlight, but what Trump and his administration has done and does now is also very important.

Trump adds Turkey to his trade wars

Donald Trump is widening his use of tariff threats and imposition of ad hoc tariffs. now targeting Turkey.

Given Trump’s record of withdrawing from or attempting to renegotiate trade agreements, and his spraying around of tariff threats and the ad hoc imposition of tariffs, it will be difficult for the world of trade to have any certainty in what the US may do in the future.

Businesses tend to hate this sort of uncertainty.

Trump is not just using trade weapons to try to drive more favourable deals for the US, he is using them as a punishment.

Washington Post: Trump takes aim at Turkey, announcing doubling of steel and aluminum tariffs in effort to punish country

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Friday against those who try to “bully” his country, as an announcement by President Trump imposing new tariffs on Turkey sent its currency into free fall.

“The language of threats and blackmail cannot be used against this nation,” Erdogan said in apparent response to Trump’s early-morning tweet saying he was doubling existing U.S. import levies on Turkish steel and aluminum. “Those who assume they can bring us to our knees through economic manipulations don’t know our nation at all,” he said, without directly mentioning Trump or the tariffs.

But the U.S. announcement quickly sent the value of the Turkish lira, already under severe strain, to a record low against the U.S. dollar. The currency crisis has fueled growing concerns in the international financial community and among investors about the health of the Turkish economy.

Trump’s willingness to ratchet up the financial pain on Turkey followed an unsuccessful effort this week to resolve the ongoing dispute between the two countries over Andrew Brunson, an American pastor held on charges that include espionage and trying to overthrow the government.

This seems to be just how trump does things. For Trump, sanctions substitute for foreign policy

For all the talk of “fire and fury” we once heard from President Trump, his administration’s most-frequently used weapons have been not have been explosive — they’ve been financial.

Since entering office, Trump has often used economic sanctions (and, concurrently, tariffs) in an attempt to bend other countries to his will. The administration feels, with some justification, that tough sanctions brought North Korea to the negotiating table.

Now Trump hopes that reinstating sanctions on Iran will also force that country to bargain with the United States and craft a new nuclear deal.

But the evidence that these sanctions are working as a foreign-policy tool isn’t convincing. And there is considerable concern that the Trump administration is overusing them while neglecting other important facets of foreign policy, like simple negotiations or coordination with allies.

The Washington Post’s Carol Morello recently outlined just how prevalent sanctions have become in the Trump era in a recent article. She found that during just one month — February 2018 — the United States had imposed sanctions not only on North Korea, but also groups or individuals in Colombia, Libya, Congo, Pakistan, Somalia, the Philippines, Lebanon and more.

Though their use may be increasing, sanctions are not a new idea — they date back hundreds of years, if not further. Yet academic research has found that they often don’t work as intended. One study looked at 200 sanctions from between 1914 and 2008 and found only 13 that were clearly instrumental in achieving their creators’ aims.

The problem isn’t necessarily that they can’t inflict financial damage on a foe (given the power the United States holds over the global economy, that much is now a given). Instead, the issue is that this damage doesn’t always contribute to any logical foreign policy goal.

Using tariffs and sanctions is a heavy handed way of trying to get what Trump wants – there may be some successes in the short term, but damaging the finances of countries can have much wider effects (like for international investors and those who trade with the targeted country).

And Trump risks burning a lot of diplomatic bridges. Establishing a record of mistrust and unreliability may end up biting the United States on the bum.

 

Turkish-Kurdish tensions rise in Syria

There has always been tension between Kurds in northern Syria and Turkey in the complex Syrian civil war (albeit with a number of other countries directly involved including Russia and the USA).

Reuters reports that there could be yet another open conflict in the mix, with the ead of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia saying that Turkish military deployments near Kurdish-held areas amounted to a “declaration of war”.

Kurdish YPG militia expects conflict with Turkey in northern Syria

The head of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia said on Wednesday that Turkish military deployments near Kurdish-held areas of northwestern Syria amounted to a “declaration of war” which could trigger clashes within days.

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus retorted that his country was not declaring war but that its forces would respond to any hostile move by the YPG, which he described as a small-scale army formed by the United States.

The mounting tensions between two U.S. allies in northwestern Syria risk opening yet another front in the multi-sided conflict, in which outside powers are playing ever greater roles.

Asked by Reuters whether he expected a conflict with Turkey in northern Syria, where the two sides have exchanged artillery fire in recent days, YPG Commander Sipan Hemo accused Turkey of preparing for a major military campaign in the Aleppo and Afrin area.

“These (Turkish) preparations have reached level of a declaration of war and could lead to the outbreak of actual clashes in the coming days,” he said in emailed comments. “We will not stand idly by against this potential aggression.”

Turkey’s policy in northern Syria has been focused on containing the growing sway of Kurdish groups that have established autonomous regions since Syria’s war began in 2011.

Ankara says the YPG represents a security threat, seeing it as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been fighting an insurgency against the Turkish state for decades.

The Kurds were left without their own state when the United Kingdom broke a promise and prevented Kurdish autonomy after the Ottoman Empire was broken up and borders imposed by the UK and France, leaving the Kurds as large minorities in both Syria and Iraq as well as in southern Turkey. See  Treaty of Sèvres and Treaty of Lausanne.

The USA has been supporting and arming the Kurds in the current conflict, but Turkey has been unhappy with this.

BBC: Syria war: Turkey will never accept US alliance with Kurds – Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has indicated after talks in Washington that he will never accept a US alliance with Kurdish forces fighting in Syria.

“There is no place for terrorist organisations in the future of our region,” he said at a joint news conference with President Donald Trump.

He was referring to the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, following a US decision earlier this month to arm the group.

“It is absolutely unacceptable to take the YPG-PYD into consideration as partners in the region, and it’s going against a global agreement we reached,” Mr Erdogan said on Tuesday.

Peace in Syria looks a difficult prospect, as does peace in the Middle East.

An escalation of the Kurdish-Turkish tensions won’t help, especially if it results in yet another sub-war.

13 point ultimatum for Qatar

Qatar has been issued with a 13 point ultimatum and has been given 10 days to comply as Saudi Arabia and their allies pile the pressure on top of the blockade.

Guardian:  Qatar given 10 days to meet 13 sweeping demands by Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia and its allies have issued a threatening 13-point ultimatum to Qatar as the price for lifting a two-week trade and diplomatic embargo of the country, in a marked escalation of the Gulf’s worst diplomatic dispute in decades.

The onerous list of demands includes stipulations that Doha close the broadcaster al-Jazeera, drastically scale back cooperation with Iran, remove Turkish troops from Qatar’s soil, end contact with groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and submit to monthly external compliance checks. Qatar has been given 10 days to comply with the demands or face unspecified consequences.

Saudi Arabia and the other nations leading the blockade – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt – launched an economic and diplomatic blockade on the energy-rich country a fortnight ago, initially claiming the Qatari royal family had licensed the funding of terrorism across the Middle East for decades. Since then, the allies appear to be pushing for the isolation of Iran and the suppression of dissenting media in the region.

Ordering a shut down of Al Jazeera on it’s own should be of concern to Gezza, and anyone who values free press.

Qatar has become reliant on Turkey and Iran for food imports since the embargo was imposed on 5 June and insists with its huge wealth it can survive the embargo for an indefinite period.

Qatar is the richest country in the world per head of population.

In a sign that the UK does not regard the demands as reasonable, foreign secretary Boris Johnson said on Friday: “Gulf unity can only be restored when all countries involved are willing to discuss terms that are measured and realistic.

“The UK calls upon the Gulf states to find a way of de-escalating the situation and lifting the current embargo and restrictions which are having an impact on the everyday lives of people in the region.”

Sounds sensible but ineffective.

US policy towards Qatar so far has been marked by confusion. President Donald Trump has appeared to take credit for the Saudi embargo and described Qatar as a haven for terrorism.

By contrast, the State Department under Rex Tillerson has twice upbraided Saudi Arabia’s approach to Qatar and questioned its true motives in sparking the diplomatic crisis.

In recent days the State Department has been pressing Saudi to specify the actions Qatar must take to see the embargo lifted, but warned that those demands need to be “reasonable and actionable”.

The US has a large military base in Qatar. It also has an unpredictable president.

The demands:

  1. Curb diplomatic ties with Iran and close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with US and international sanctions will be permitted.
  2. Sever all ties to “terrorist organisations”, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities as terrorist groups.
  3. Shut down al-Jazeera and its affiliate stations.
  4. Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.
  5. Immediately terminate the Turkish military presence in Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside Qatar.
  6. Stop all means of funding for individuals, groups or organisations that have been designated as terrorists by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, the US and other countries.
  7. Hand over “terrorist figures” and wanted individuals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to their countries of origin. Freeze their assets, and provide any desired information about their residency, movements and finances.
  8. End interference in sovereign countries’ internal affairs. Stop granting citizenship to wanted nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Revoke Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries’ laws.
  9. Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Hand over all files detailing Qatar’s prior contacts with and support for those opposition groups.
  10.  Pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other, financial losses caused by Qatar’s policies in recent years. The sum will be determined in coordination with Qatar.
  11.  Consent to monthly audits for the first year after agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.
  12.  Align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically, as well as on economic matters, in line with an agreement reached with Saudi Arabia in 2014.
  13.  Agree to all the demands within 10 days of it being submitted to Qatar, or the list becomes invalid.

I really don’t know much about how things work in the Middle East but that list seems highly hypocritical, and must be designed to be impossible to comply with because some of those demands are not just ridiculous, they would amount to Qatar being controlled by foreign dictat.

Bizarre Qatar situation

Turkey has sided with Qatar in the Middle East split:

Bloomberg:  Turkey Lines Up Behind Qatar as Gulf Crisis Fault Lines Deepen

Turkey criticized Saudi-led efforts to isolate ally Qatar, deepening the fault lines in a crisis that has engulfed one of the world’s most strategically important regions.

In defending Qatar, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan joined a growing list of Middle East nations resisting Saudi Arabia’s push for a united regional front against the gas-rich emirate, whose maverick policies have vexed the kingdom for years. On Wednesday, the head of NATO’s second-largest army offered to try to mend the rift, which has created havoc at airports and seaports, and added new tinder to the already combustible Middle East by challenging the authority of Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

“I’d like to say that we don’t find sanctions against Qatar right,” Erdogan said at a gathering in the Turkish capital, Ankara, late Tuesday. “The most appropriate way for the Gulf Cooperation Council countries to solve their internal issues is through dialogue.”

“We are ready to do everything to resolve other countries’ problems with Qatar,” he added.

Turkey and Qatar have close ties, and Erdogan has sided with the emirate against Saudi Arabia in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. Qatar is a major investor in Turkey’s $857 billion economy, with interests in media, financial and defense companies, and Turkey is building a base in the emirate.

Surprise surprise, money is involved.

Interesting that Turkey is building a base in Qatar. The US already has a large base there.

Saudi Arabia and three other U.S. allies in the region — the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain — escalated tensions that followed President Donald Trump’s Iran-bashing visit to the kingdom last month by severing ties with Qatar on Monday.

Trump gave the Saudis crucial backing on Tuesday, calling the squeeze on Qatar just punishment for the country’s financial support for Islamic extremists.

“During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology,” Trump said on Twitter. “Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!” In two additional tweets he said the action proved that his meeting with Persian Gulf Arab leaders last month was “already paying off.”

But the US is supposed to be selling $21.1 billion (US) worth of F-15s to Qatar.

Fox News:  Qatar’s $21B deal to buy F-15s moving forward amid diplomatic battle

A plan to sell $21.1 billion worth of Boeing (BA)-made F-15 fighter jets to Qatar appears to be moving forward, despite several countries cutting diplomatic ties with the Middle Eastern nation this week.

A State Department official said the diplomatic battle and President Donald Trump’s criticism of Qatar, which is under fire for allegedly supporting terrorist groups, has not affected the pending deal to deliver 72 F-15QA multirole fighters, according to Fox News.

In a statement, Boeing said it’s “closely following recent developments.”

“We have been working closely with the U.S. and Qatari governments on this proposed sale. We continue to expect that an agreement will be signed,” Boeing added.

What a convoluted mess it is.

I think it’s likely that Trump has no idea how complex things are there. It seems as long as there’s business in it he will back it, but the military complications are bizarre.

US independent investigation and Flynn issues

The appointment of a widely respected Independent Investigator to handle the alleged collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russia should stem leaks and give the White House some respite, but new allegations against ex national security adviser Michael Flynn may stoke this week’s furore in Washington.

Fox News: Erick Erickson: Mueller returns and Republicans should rejoice

The Department of Justice has asked former FBI Director Robert Mueller to come out of retirement and run an independent investigation of Russia’s efforts in our 2016 election.  Republicans should rejoice.  Mueller is a consummate professional who has a great reputation on both sides of the aisle.  But there are other reasons the GOP should be thankful.

First, that the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, Rod Rosenstein, asked Mueller to come back suggests the Department of Justice and White House are paying attention to growing concerns.

Second, it shows the Department of Justice is willing and able to act independently of the White House to affect justice.

Most importantly, however, it allows some breathing room between scandals.  Now, the White House can say they cannot discuss the matter because of the Mueller investigation.  Likewise, they can claim that any leaks must be false because Mueller would never leak.  They can dismiss a large part of the story out of hand.

All that makes the appointment of Robert Mueller a no brainer, but there is something more important going on as well.  The odds are that the Department of Justice would not launch this sort of investigation if they did not already have an inkling of there being no real issues with the president.  If they were really concerned about the president, they would keep this in house where they could exercise greater damage control.

I’m not sure about Erickson’s speculation that the appointment of Mueller suggests “no real issues”, but at least with an independent investigator in charge any outcome should be difficult for either side to argue against or complain about.

But more problems emerged yesterday. Fox News: Flynn reportedly told Trump team he was under investigation before inauguration

Weeks before President Trump’s inauguration, Michael Flynn told the transition team he was under federal investigation for working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, the New York Times reported late Wednesday.

The disclosure by Flynn on Jan. 4 was first made to then-Trump transition team lawyer Donald F. McGahn II, who is now the White House counsel, two people familiar with the case told the newspaper.

Flynn’s conversation with the transition team came a month after the Justice Department notified Flynn he was under investigation, according to the Times.

The Justice Department investigation was not seen as disqualifying Flynn from the national security adviser position, people close to the retired Army lieutenant general told Fox News.

It should have raised some concerns.

Flynn was fired as national security adviser by Trump on Feb. 13 after the White House said he misled Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials about his communications with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

Perhaps the most serious allegation so far:

McClatchy:  Flynn stopped military plan Turkey opposed – after being paid as its agent

One of the Trump administration’s first decisions about the fight against the Islamic State was made by Michael Flynn weeks before he was fired – and it conformed to the wishes of Turkey, whose interests, unbeknownst to anyone in Washington, he’d been paid more than $500,000 to represent.

The decision came 10 days before Donald Trump had been sworn in as president, in a conversation with President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, who had explained the Pentagon’s plan to retake the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa with Syrian Kurdish forces whom the Pentagon considered the U.S.’s most effective military partners. Obama’s national security team had decided to ask for Trump’s sign-off, since the plan would all but certainly be executed after Trump had become president.

Flynn didn’t hesitate. According to timelines distributed by members of Congress in the weeks since, Flynn told Rice to hold off, a move that would delay the military operation for months.

If Flynn explained his answer, that’s not recorded, and it’s not known whether he consulted anyone else on the transition team before rendering his verdict. But his position was consistent with the wishes of Turkey, which had long opposed the United States partnering with the Kurdish forces – and which was his undeclared client.

Trump eventually would approve the Raqqa plan, but not until weeks after Flynn had been fired.

That Flynn was paid half a million dollars to act for Turkey, while at the same time working for the Trump campaign, doesn’t look great.

But the perception that the advocacy and the payment may have influenced a decision on the Syrian conflict in Turkey’s favour is troubling.

With word that the president may have asked FBI Director James Comey to drop any criminal probe of Flynn – failure to register as a foreign agent is a federal crime – there is renewed focus on getting to the bottom of what Flynn did, and what Trump knew.

Despite the Trump administration’s attempts to downplay the red flags, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the administration was repeatedly warned about Flynn’s foreign involvement.

It’s a mess that will take some time to sort out, and will be a burden on trump and the White House even if they now have an excuse for not talking about it – in fact that may create more problems if Trump can’t resist reacting to media reports.

The US – Trump, the White House, the Senate, Congress, the Department of Justice and the FBI – has a lot of work to do to appear as if they are competent.

ISIS ‘caliphate’ crumbling?

The Guardian reports that as military pressure continues against ISIS in Syria foreign fighters are trying to get out of the caliphate.

Isis faces exodus of foreign fighters as its ‘caliphate’ crumbles

Large numbers of foreign fighters and sympathisers are abandoning Islamic Stateand trying to enter Turkey, with at least two British nationals and a US citizen joining an exodus that is depleting the ranks of the terror group.

Sources within Isis have confirmed that the group’s ranks in its last redoubt in Syria have rapidly shrunk as a ground offensive has edged towards Raqqa and Tabqa in the country’s north-east, where foreign fighters had been extensively deployed over the past four years.

Officials in Turkey and Europe say an increasing number of Isis operatives who have joined the group since 2013 have contacted their embassies looking to return. Other, more ideologically committed members are thought to be intent on using the exodus to infiltrate Turkey and then travel onwards to Europe to seek vengeance for the crumbling caliphate, raising renewed fears of strikes on the continent.

Among them, western intelligence agencies believe, are prominent members of the group’s external operations arm, who joined Isis from numerous European countries including Britain, France and Belgium, as well as Australia. At least 250 ideologically driven foreigners are thought to have been smuggled to Europe from late 2014 until mid-2016, with nearly all travelling through Turkey after crossing a now rigidly enforced border.

So good news perhaps for Syria, but potentially bad news for Europe and elsewhere.

Masrour Barzani, chancellor of security for the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq, said: “The nature of the fight against Isis will change into an intelligence war. Defeating Isis militarily deprives them of territory and prevents them attracting and recruiting foreign fighters. This in turn discourages foreign fighters from staying in the so-called Islamic State and they will eventually try to escape or surrender.

“However, the threat foreign fighters can still pose upon returning to their countries should not be underestimated.”

That’s likely to be difficult to deal with.

Up to 30,000 foreign fighters are thought to have crossed into Syria to fight with Isis. The US government estimates that as many as 25,000 of them have since been killed. Around 850 British fighters have joined Isis or other jihadi groups such al-Nusra Front and in some cases the war against the regime of the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad. It is believed around half of these fighters have returned to the UK and around 200 have died.

Maher said a military defeat of Isis would cripple the group’s recruitment ability. “Islamic State has projected a narrative of momentum and success,” he said. “Their slogan has been ‘remaining and expanding’, and a lot of young people bought into that. As the caliphate begins to crumble, that same appeal simply isn’t there any more. It’s potency and relevance has been diminished.

“What you will now see is the most hardened and committed members of the group retreat to the desert as Islamic State prepares for its next phase, as an aggressive insurgency in Syria and Iraq. However, a significant proportion of its recruits from Europe and the west will lose confidence in the group and defect or surrender.”

So they are losing a lot of soldiers and their support looks like crumbling, but it doesn’t take many to cause problems if they spread out around the world.

Legitimacy of Turkish vote questioned

It’s not surprising to see doubts raised over the legitimacy of the Turkish vote that will give the Turkish president far greater powers in  a major change to the Turkish constitution. But given the actions of the President since the coup attempt I doubt the vote referendum will hold him back from taking power,

Newshub (Reuters): Legitimacy of Turkish vote questioned by European observers

The Turkish referendum that gives President Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers fell short of European standards, international observers say.

Turks on Sunday voted by a narrow 51.4 percent margin to change their constitution and grant Mr Erdogan extended powers. The main opposition party has demanded the result be nullified, saying the voting was marred by irregularities.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Monday that the people’s message was clear after a referendum and the vote had ended all arguments.

A narrow majority is not a clear message. It’s unusual to see a Prime Minister sounding so enthusiastic about a vote that strips his powers and hands them over to someone else.

The office of the Prime Minister will be abolished and replaced by an executive presidency

Restrictions on media outlets, arrests of journalists, inadequate legal framework and late changes in ballot counting were cited by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that monitored the vote.

Turkey’s High Electoral Board made a last-minute decision on Sunday to count ballots that had not been stamped by officials.

“Generally speaking the referendum fell short of CoE standards … it did not provide for a truly democratic process,” Cezar Florin Preda said.

It would be difficult to get close to ‘a truly democratic process’ given how many people have been arrested and how many media outlets have been shut down.

But the Turkish Government is defending the process.

Turkey’s foreign ministry meanwhile denounced election observers’ criticism that the referendum fell below international standards, saying their remarks lacked objectivity and impartiality.

“Saying the referendum fell below international standards is unacceptable,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that previous “politically charged” comments from OSCE monitors showed the team arrived in Turkey with prejudice and disregarded principles of objectivity and impartiality.

Both sides accuse each other of similar things. I doubt whether international criticism will hold President Erdogan back from taking more power.

The US State Department says it has taken note of the concerns and looks forward to a final report, suggesting it will withhold comment until a full assessment is completed.

I wonder what the State Department is doing about the mess the US democracy is in.

More details about the history, the changes and the process: Turkish constitutional referendum, 2017

 

 

 

Constitutional referendum in Turkey

In addition to Gezza’s Al Jazeera info on the referendum in Turkey:

Turks decide whether to back president’s plan for constitutional changes that are arguably the republic’s biggest since 1923

Erdoğan says the Yes vote is clear

The state-run Anadolu agency is reporting that President Erdoğan has called allied political leaders to congratulate them over the yes win, with the words: “May this result be fortunate for our nation.”

Reuters are reporting that Erdoğan told the prime minister and the leader of nationalist party that the results were “clear”, according to presidential sources.

Sources in Erdogan’s office said he told Prime Minister Binali Yildirim he was grateful to the nation for showing its will at the polls.

State-run Anadolu agency is reporting that 51.31% of Turks have voted Yes, with 98.2% of the ballot boxes opened.

But:

Turkish main opposition to demand recount of up to 60% of votes

The CHP, Turkey’s main opposition party, have announced they will be contesting the validity of 60% of the ballots, after unconfirmed reports of large numbers of votes without official stamps.

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