Saturday, June 11, 2016

FINALLY......THE ARABS ARE FIRST AT SOMETHING!! World's largest cemetery receives '100 bodies a day' from fighting in Iraq

MEE speaks with gravedigger at Al-Salam Valley cemetery, where Shia dead are delivered from fighting in Fallujah and across Iraq


NAJAF, Iraq -  As far as the eye can see, gravestones, tombs and Shia icons stretch out amid the baking summer heat. This is the Al-Salam Valley cemetery, the largest in the world, in Iraq's Najaf province.
As casualties increase in the fight to retake the Islamic State (IS) bastion of Fallujah, 200km to the south, gravedigger Hamid al-Wad says he has been busy interring the dead from the battlefield. 
“In my office, I've had an increase of 13 or 14 bodies a day, but the cemetery as a whole receives more than 100 fighters daily,” al-Wad told Middle East Eye.
He is one of a group of gravediggers at the cemetery, founded 1,400 years ago and said to contain the remains of about five million people buried across six square kilometres.
The fighting between IS and the Iraqi army and its allies has led to a rising death toll across the country.
Al-Salam Valley graveyard in Najaf (MEE/Alex MacDonald)
Al-Wad said the bodies of recently slain fighters come from not only Fallujah but also from “Saqlawiyah, Jurf al-Sakhar and Ramadi".
The Iraqi government does not release figures of those killed in the fighting, but a member of the security forces posted outside the cemetery told AFP that as of 1 June, more than 70 “martyrs” from the Fallujah operation had been buried.
Joel Wing, editor of the Musings on Iraq blog, said the government had an official policy of not releasing such figures in order to "keep up morale".
Fighting around Fallujah has been intense since the Iraq army, allied Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs) and the US-led anti-IS coalition, launched their assault on the city a fortnight ago, and the death toll has been mounting.
A visit to any of the shrines that are dotted around Iraq will often coincide with mass mourning for new "martyrs". Draped in the Iraqi flag, men say prayers for the dead only metres away from the tombs of ancient fallen heroes of Shia tradition including Ali, Hussein and Abbas.
Mourners in Imam Ali shrine stand over coffin of fallen soldier or volunteer (MEE/Alex MacDonald)
The vast fields of markers, gravestones, tombs and icons of the Al-Salam Valley are testament to the sacrifices made by Shia Iraqis to protect their country and their religious beliefs, which they fear are threatened by IS's intolerant Sunni fundamentalism.
As it is located near the shrine of Imam Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and second-most revered figure in Shia Islam, many want to be buried in the cemetery.
Among the most-visited graves are those of Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, killed in an ambush in 1999, whose son Moqtada al-Sadr would in 2004 seize the Imam Ali shrine in defiance of the US occupation authorities.
Despite the huge expanse of the graveyard, there are now signs that plots - particularly in the most prized spots closer to the Imam Ali shrine - are beginning to run out.
The price of plots in the graveyard has risen from about $1,500 for 500 square feet in 1991 to more than $10,000.
Burial plot featuring the deceased with popular picture of Imam Hussein (MEE/Alex MacDonald)
Though the Iraqi government has been keen to portray the fight against IS as a struggle against religious intolerance - and highlight the multi-faith nature of the army and militias - for many of those fighting, the war has a distinctly religious and messianic edge.
Ahmed Hassan Khaled Salah, a former biology student and now a fighter with the Abbas Battalion PMU, told MEE that the defeat of IS would coincide with the return of the Shia saviour known as the Mahdi.
"One year, that is enough, and we are waiting on one person," he said. "His name is the Mahdi. We are waiting on him and when he comes we will start fighting with him, God willing."
"We are defending our religion, but we prioritise defending our nation," he added.
The names of the numerous militias suggest a distinctly Shia Islamic flavour to the conflict.
The Abbas Battalion was founded by the Abbas shrine in Karbala after a call to arms by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani for units to form and fight against IS. The likes of Kataeb Hezbollah (Party of God Battalions), the Ali Akbar Brigades, Liwa Abu al-Fadhal al-Abbas, the Mahdi Army and others all denote the leanings of those involved in the fighting.
US helicopter fires upon the cemetary in 2004 while fighting with Sadrists (Wikicommons)
The development of Shia identity, which accelerated after the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, has fed growing concerns that Islam's largest minority group - which makes up as much as 13 percent of the world's Muslims - is under concerted attack from the Sunni majority in the region.
"The truth is always targeted," said Ahmed Hassan, the former biology student. "No one wants the truth to prevail."
The millions of bodies that reside in Al-Salam Valley testify to the fervour with which Iraqi's Shia espouse their faith and their desire to be buried near their religious forebears.
Its continuing expansion is also a memorial to the hundreds of thousands who have died since 2003 at the hands of the US occupations forces, former Baathists, inter-sectarian warfare and IS.
The graveyard is not likely to lose its appeal as the burial site of choice for Shia, but many may hope that when the war against IS is finally over, the influx of bodies might slow for the first time in years.

حديث الثورة-تجدد المظاهرات بجنوب العراق

Friday, June 10, 2016

US had extensive contact with Ayatollah Khomeini before Iran revolution

Documents seen by BBC suggest Carter administration paved way for Khomeini to return to Iran by holding the army back from launching a military coup
A billboard shows the founder of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.


The Guardian


Iranian leaders have reacted with fury to reports that newly declassified US diplomatic cables revealed extensive contacts between Ayatollah Khomeini and the Carter administration just weeks ahead of Iran’s Islamic revolution.
It was previously known that Ruhollah Khomeini, the charismatic leader of the Iranian revolution, had exchanged some messages with the US through an intermediary while living in exile in Paris. But new documents seen by the BBC’s Persian service show he went to a great lengths to ensure the Americans would not jeopardise his plans to return to Iran – and even personally wrote to US officials.
The BBC’s reporting suggests that the Carter administration took heed of Khomeini’s pledges, and in effect paved the way for his return by holding the Iranian army back from launching a military coup.
The BBC Persian service obtained a draft message Washington had prepared as a response to Khomeini, which welcomed the ayatollah’s direct communications, but was never sent.
The corporation also published a previously released but unnoticed declassified 1980 CIA analysis titled Islam in Iran, which shows Khomeini’s initial attempts to reach out to the US dated back to 1963, 16 years before the revolution. 
The BBC’s reports have created a huge row in Iran: if true they would undermine the myth that Khomenei staunchly resisted any direct links with the US, which remained taboo for three decades until the recent nuclear negotiations.
Earlier this month, Khomeini’s successor, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, denied the report, saying it was based on “fabricated” documents. 
Other Iranian politicians have also questioned the BBC’s revelations, including Ebrahim Yazdi, Khomeini’s spokesman and adviser at the time of the revolution, and Saeed Hajjarian, a reformist figure.
A declassified 1980 CIA analysis titled Islam in Iran, published by the BBC, says Ayatollah Khomeini had reached out to the US in 1963.
 A declassified 1980 CIA analysis titled Islam in Iran, published by the BBC, says Ayatollah Khomeini had reached out to the US in 1963. Photograph: US Government
Two former White House advisers to Jimmy Carter, speaking to the Guardian, did not question the authenticity of the documents but denied that the US had abandoned the shah. 
In contrast to his later tirades against the “Great Satan”, Khomeini’s messages to US officials just weeks before his return to Tehran appear to have been strikingly conciliatory.
“It is advisable that you recommend to the army not to follow [Shah’s prime minister Shapour] Bakhtiar,” Khomeini said in one message, according to the BBC. “You will see we are not in any particular animosity with the Americans.
In another message sent via a US emissary written in the same month, he attempted to assuage American fears that their economic interests would be affected by a change of power in Iran: “There should be no fear about oil. It is not true that we wouldn’t sell to the US.
Khomeini returned to Tehran on 1 February 1979, two weeks after the shah had fled Iran. The Iranian military, which was under US influence, soon surrendered, and within months Khomenei was declared the supreme leader of a new Islamic republic.
Relations with the US were wary from the start, because America was closely identified with the shah’s regime, and links with Washington broke down completely in November 1979 when a group of students stormed the US embassy and took 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days.
But despite confrontational rhetoric on both sides, the revolution did not mark an end to direct talks between Iran and the US. The current president, Hassan Rouhani, is believed to have been involved in covert negotiations in which the US agreed to covertly ship arms to Tehran to secure the release of American hostages.
The 1980 CIA study says “in November 1963 Ayatollah Khomeini sent a message to the United States Government through [Tehran University professor] Haj Mirza Khalil Kamarei”, in which he explained “that he was not opposed to American interests in Iran” and that “on the contrary, he thought the American presence was necessary as a counterbalance to Soviet and possibly British influence”. Iranian leaders have vehemently denied that Khomeini ever sent such a message. 
The Guardian did not have access to the newly declassified documents and was not able to independently verify them. The BBC published the CIA document, but has not published further documents. Most of them appear to be diplomatic cables from Paris and Tehran embassies containing Khomeini’s first-person messages, which the corporation said were in the public domain. 
BBC Persian has not explained its decision not to publish those documents, which has not helped the scepticism among Iranian critics, but the reporter who broke the story, Kambiz Fattahi, answered questions by email.
“The documents clearly show that Khomeini was less heroic, and far craftier, behind the scenes,” Fattahi said. “He quietly courted the US government, making all kinds of promises about the future of core US interests in Iran.”
A declassified 1980 CIA analysis titled Islam in Iran, published by the BBC, says Ayatollah Khomeini had reached out to the US in 1963.
 A declassified 1980 CIA analysis titled Islam in Iran, published by the BBC, says Ayatollah Khomeini had reached out to the US in 1963. Photograph: US Government
“The documents are significant because they show Khomeini’s legacy is complicated, as it involves the ayatollah courting two US presidents behind the scenes. They illustrate a pattern of behaviour – that Khomeini at critical moments during his long struggle for an Islamic republic, secretly engaged what he would call ‘the Great Satan’.”
Gary Sick, a member of the National Security Council staff during the period of the Iranian revolution, said “the documents are genuine” but to the best of his knowledge he never saw the CIA study about the 1963 contact, and had no knowledge of the alleged communication. 
“As far as I can tell, assuming the report is accurate, the message from Khomeini to the US government had no effect on actual policy – either in the Kennedy administration or later. So I regard this as an anomaly,” he told the Guardian. 
Sick said the US wanted to preserve the Iranian military as an institution and ensure that the transition would be orderly and not collapse into bloodshed and civil war, but said the talks with an American emissary in 1979 had little significance.
“The Khomeini forces were concerned that the Iranian military would launch a coup, which they definitely wanted to avoid at all costs. The US side tried to preserve the threat of a coup as a bargaining lever.”
Stuart Eizenstat, a former chief White House domestic policy adviser to Carter, said talks of the US abandoning the shah was “not historically accurate”. He said: “We did everything we could to keep the shah in power. There was no notion that we were trying to facilitate the Ayatollah coming into power.”
He also commented: “Ebrahim Yadzi, the first foreign minister under Khomeini, was making regular public statements on behalf of Ayatollah Khomeini saying this will be a tolerant democracy, nothing about an Islamic revolution. I believe that Yadzi believed that.”
Mark Toner, deputy spokesperson at the state department, was asked about Khomeini making contact with the Carter administration. “I apologise. I’m not – I’m not aware of that and I don’t have any updates to offer,” he said. 
The Guardian also approached Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to Carter from 1977 to 1981. He declined an interview on the subject, but said “there were a lot of maneuvers by people at that time and I do not have any special information particularly on the Ayatollah and his role in it. Probably in some fashion there was some involvement but nothing specific that I can recall.”

Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising by Gilbert Achcar

Progressive forces failed to deal with twin threats from dictatorial regimes and reactionary Islamists, argues a bleak new assessment of regional mayhem

By Ian Black


Image result for gilbert achcar Gilbert Achcar

Ramadan is again being overshadowed by violence across the Arab world. From Iraq to Libya, through Syria and Yemen, armed conflict, proxy wars, sectarian tensions, misery and suffering are rife. In a previous book on the region, Gilbert Achcar warned of the risk of a plunge into barbarism; his latest work is an update on the bleak winter that followed the Arab spring - with some ideas about the future.
Expectations of rapid change on the East European model were always exaggerated, argues the Lebanese-born academic. Arab regimes were never likely to collapse – and Libya was the only one that actually did – because their leaders, cronies, co-opted clients and ubiquitous Mukhabarat thugs had nowhere to transition to.
Eschewing Islamophobia and arguments about “Arab exceptionalism”, Achcar underlines the key fact that the only viable opposition movements in the region were Islamist – “a reactionary alternative to the reactionary order.” And he also brackets Iran, patron of militant Shia movements in Iraq and Lebanon, along with the more usual Sunni suspects - Saudi Arabia and Qatar - as a promoter of sectarianism.

In Syria, Achchar concludes, the rebels misread the lesson of Libya, believing wrongly that Bashar al-Assad would stand down rather than risk the fate of Muammar Gaddafi. But others made fatal errors too: Barack Obama’s failure to back the anti-Assad forces was born, he says, “of deep human indifference to the fate of the population of an oil-poor Arab country” - a sin of omission in his view as bad as George Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq a decade earlier.
US and western failure adequately to back the Syrian opposition created a vacuum that allowed al-Qaida to thrive and Isis to emerge. And Assad promoted extremism too, releasing jailed jihadis (who he had previously sent to fight the Americans in Iraq) and even providing them with weapons. His strategy was to frighten the West and the country’s minorities and present himself as the only alternative – anything but “risk the contagious potential of democracy,” in Achcar’s words. And Assad’s “preferred enemy” were the “preferred friends” of Turkey and the Gulf monarchies.
This independent Arab scholar of the left, who teaches at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, is no fan of American hegemony in the Middle East. But he is openly contemptuous of “knee-jerk condemnation” of the US by an anti-imperialist left, in Britain and beyond, which never objects to the far more substantial Russian and Iranian backing for Assad.
In Egypt in 2011, the small leftist opposition faced what Achcar defines unhesitatingly as two rival counter-revolutionary forces - the army and the Muslim Brotherhood. Even after the fall of Hosni Mubarak the military remained “the ultimate kingmaker” and eventually overthrew the democratically-elected Mohamed Morsi, the inept face of political Islam that succumbed to the temptation of power. Millions of Egyptians backed the coup by Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi, who now rules the largest Arab state with a mandate to confront “terrorism” - every authoritarian’s easiest excuse.
The inability of progressives to chart an independent course against both wings of the counter-revolution and not to help (either) get (back) in the saddle while trying to unsaddle the other, proved catastrophic,” he writes. The result has been massacres, mass trials and death sentences, with Pharaonic mega-projects taking centre stage in a frenzy of neoliberal economic policies.
Achcar, in prescriptive mode, does not rule out tactical alliances with “unlikely bedfellows” but insists that although progressives and reactionaries can “strike together” they must “march separately.” The key is “resolute independence.”
His title is borrowed from Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist who observed the prevalence of “morbid symptoms” in the interregnum between the dying of an old order and the birth of a new one. That’s a useful prism for viewing a grim period - though it’s worth remembering that an interregnum can last for quite a while. Gramsci also wrote famously of the “pessimism of the intellect” and the “optimism of the will” – a distinction that can boost flagging spirits and generate hope for better times.
 ( Cartoon by Ali Farzat)

Fallujah is the resistance city that cannot be destroyed

By Haifa Zangana

Image result for haifa zangana

It is said that the siege of the city of Fallujah, which is situated nearly 60 kilometres from Baghdad, has been ongoing for the past two years. We are also being told that those who enter the city are allowed to do so for good reason as part of the effort to save it from the terrorist organisation known as Daesh. There is also the argument that bombing the city, and its destruction, as well as the expulsion of its women and children, is all meant to liberate the residents from the siege, hunger and illness.
These lies deserve to be buried alongside the others that are being created by Iraqi politicians and fed to us through the media. Such rhetoric resembles that employed by Zionists who claim that by taking over Palestinian lands they hope to create institutions from which Palestinians can benefit.
The truth is that Fallujah has been and always will be a thorn in the side of the Iraqi government. The siege is not the result of today’s events or those of the past two years, and the “news” of its “liberation” has been witnessed time and time again. In fact, Fallujah’s residents have been dedicated to liberating the city from worthless politicians, who have not been able to deceive the local people.
The narrative of the latest invaders — US mercenaries and Iranian militias — is that they are fighting the so-called Islamic State and that its stronghold is Fallujah. They also claim that they are there to ensure the stability of the city, which negates the claim that the people of Fallujah have the right to remain in their homes; after all, they are considered to be terrorists by those on the outside who give the invaders a mandate to destroy them. This takes us back to the narrative of the British occupiers in the 1940s and the Americans after them who claimed to have come to Iraq as liberators and not occupiers. The use of this type of rhetoric shows us that the term “occupation” now means that the occupiers no longer necessarily come from the outside.
It is also true that the invaders and their leaders are afraid of Fallujah because it is, quite simply, the city of resistance that refused to bow down when the biggest military force in the world invaded and tried to destroy it. The people of Fallujah refused to bow their heads down as many others did when faced with the US occupation. Fallujah is the resistance city that invaders have tried to destroy with depleted uranium and white phosphorous; the city that former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki bombed with explosive barrels.
Fallujah is not besieged and bombed because it is a Daesh stronghold; was Daesh there in the 1940s when the people of Fallujah rose against the British occupier? Did Daesh have a role when the Americans tried to impose their will on the city? The people paid the price with their lives for resisting the invasion, not only for their own dignity but for the dignity of the whole of Iraq.
The misinformation campaigns that were both created and broadcast by successive occupation governments, beginning with that of secular Iyad Allawi to Nouri Al-Maliki and Haider Al-Abadi (both from the Islamic Dawa Party), have shown that there is a government programme to obliterate Fallujah and wipe its people from the face of the earth. This belief holds true, from the sectarian commentary to the honest calls for the obliteration of the citizens of Fallujah, who are often described as “cancerous” and must be removed through siege, starvation and bombardment. All of the details point to a fear that the city of resistance will continue to stand against the national policies of the Iraqi government, or because it is standing up against Iran and America among other factors.
Although the Iranians claim that Major General Qassem Soleimani of the Iranian Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution is in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government, Iran’s interference and clear role in trapping and terrorising the people of Fallujah has not hindered their resistance. In any case, isn’t such a claim also made by US forces? Aren’t the claims that foreign forces are there “at the request of the host government” also made in other Arab countries?
Today, the people of Fallujah are threatened by famine and those who remain in the city risk being killed by the militias. The films that are being broadcast by Iran’s troops and militias show evidence of the crimes that the Iranians are proud of, as they behead people or drag naked bodies along the ground. The earlier US and British occupiers undoubtedly paved the way for such criminal activities.
The humanitarian situation for civilians is dire, reported Mustafa Trabouli, a spokesperson for the besieged city. “We are currently exposed to artillery shelling, mortars and military aircraft,” he said in a recorded message. “A few days ago we were struck by 2,000 rockets and this led to the destruction of many homes while the inhabitants were still inside them. We are no longer able to remove the bodies of the dead from under the rubble. We are unable to get the wounded to the hospitals. Doctors in Fallujah are conducting surgical operations without any anaesthesia. We are suffering from a lack of medication and food supplies. There is no water and no electricity. When a few supplies were sent to us the army took control of them.” Trabouli begged the world to stop the tragedy in Fallujah, to deliver aid to the civilians and end the barbaric bombing. Too many people are still in need of food, fresh water and medicine.
Ever since sectarianism took control of the government in Baghdad, the politicians have attempted to erase the Iraqi national identity in multiple ways. Their efforts include changing street and city names as they want to erase the collective history and memory of Iraqi society. Not content with that, right now in Fallujah there are 50,000 civilians held under siege by the sectarian regime, which knows no language except destruction and corruption. The regime is blind to the fact that the people cannot be obliterated and cities that are alive cannot be destroyed.
After the Romans had held Carthage under siege for three years, they entered the city and destroyed it completely. They killed most of the city’s inhabitants and burnt all that was left. They destroyed the city walls and spread salt on the ground so that nothing would ever grow again and no one would be able to live there. However, like Hiroshima, which the Americans tried to destroy, Carthage was reborn.
Translated from Al Quds Al Arabi, 31 May, 2016.