University of Duhok to Investigate Anfal and Sinjar Massacres

ERBIL – President of University of Duhok in Kurdistan Region Mosleh Duhoky said that Bashikchi center on Thursday has set a couple of panels to investigate the Anfal genocide and Sinjar massacre.

“Several experts and researchers will discuss the Anfal genocide and Sinjar massacre in the panels including assessing a number of documents related to the Sinjar issue,” Mosleh Duhoky told BasNews.

He additionally pointed out that the experts and researchers try to get the international community to acknowledge the Anfal and Sinjar massacres as crimes against humanity and recognize them as genocide.

Weighing trees with lasers

The latest laser scanning technology reveals new insights into the lives of trees both in the UK and overseas

Ever glanced up at an enormous tree and pondered at the numbers behind such a vast organism? How heavy it is, or how long all those branches are? Developments in laser scanning technology emerging from University College London’s Department of Geography – in collaboration with Oxford UniversitySonoma State University in California, Ghent University in Belgium, and Wageningen University in the Netherlands – is helping answer these questions.

Previously, the best estimates for the full weight of selected trees required either actually cutting them down, or getting tied up in knots while undertaking various crude methods of diameter measurements. Rooted in hard science, this new terrestrial scanning approach instead uses laser equipment costing between £75,000 and £150,000, firing hundreds of thousands of pulses per second in order to pinpoint branches to an accuracy within millimetres from a range of nearly one kilometre. This then generates accurate 3D models.

One key aim of the research is to branch out into measuring how much carbon particular trees will consume during their full lifecycle, which is immensely informative in understanding the impact their presence (or otherwise) has in limiting the worst impacts of climate change. Many tropical trees around the world have been measured in this way, including in Brazil and Borneo, as well as giant sequoias in California. A 45m tall Moabi tree in Gabon was estimated to weigh around 100 tons, making it the largest tropical tree yet measured.

California sequoias (Image: Shutterstock)California sequoias (Image: Shutterstock)

The technology was also demonstrated last year during the BBC One show Judi Dench: My Passion for Trees, where detailed scans revealed the 200-year-old oak in Dench’s garden to weigh around 25 tons and contain over 260,000 leaves – equivalent to the surface area of three tennis courts.

Amnesty report: World leaders like Trump and Duterte ‘encouraging society to hate’

Amnesty International has criticised a whole host of world leaders for fuelling “a rising politics of demonisation”.

 

The “poisonous rhetoric” of world leaders including Donald Trump has normalised the discrimination of minorities like the Rohingya in Myanmar, according to a damning Amnesty International report.

In its annual assessment of human rights in 159 countries around the world, the group said the massacre of the Rohingya was a consequence of a society encouraged to hate by world leaders such as Mr Trump and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.

Nearly 690,000 Rohingya have fled the state of Rakhine as a result of what has been described as “ethnic cleansing” by the military, with 6,500 of them left trapped on a strip of unclaimed land between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Salil Shetty, the secretary general of Amnesty, said the violence in Myanmar was the “ultimate consequence of a society encouraged to hate, scapegoat and fear minorities”.

Thousands of Rohingya refugees flee Myanmar
Image:Thousands of Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar

“Throughout 2017, millions across the world experienced the bitter fruits of a rising politics of demonisation,” said the report, launched in the US for the first time on Thursday.

Amnesty also criticised the “transparently hateful” treatment of Muslims by Mr Trump, in light of his move to ban travel from several Muslim-majority countries in January last year.

Mr Shetty said the travel ban had “set the scene for a year in which leaders took the politics of hate to its most dangerous conclusion”.

The nationwide crackdown on drugs in the Phillipines by Mr Duterte was also heavily criticised in the Amnesty report, with 3,000 people having died in anti-drug operations since he took office in 2006.

Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump during the opening ceremony of a leaders' summit in Manila in November 2017
Image:Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump were heavily criticised in the report

Last week he was criticised by another human rights group, Human Rights Watch, for saying that his troops should shoot female rebels in the genitals to render them “useless”.

Amnesty has named him on a list of the “worst performing world leaders” on human rights, alongside Mr Trump, Russian President Vladimir Puton and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Human rights in the US have gone backwards under Mr Trump, the report said, noting his ambivalent attitude to waterboarding and other interrogation techniques.

A severely malnourished elderly woman struggles to stand

Video:Full special report: Rohingya refugee crisis

They, along with the rest of the international community, have also been accused of failing to respond to “crimes against humanity” in other parts of the world, including Syria and Yemen.

Millions were having their rights “callously undermined” by leaders who have failed to take action, with the European refugee crisis treated “with a blend of evasion and outright callousness”, the Amnesty report added.

More from Amnesty International

  • Syrian officials guilty of ‘mass hangings’ at jail, report claims

It also noted concerns about free speech, following the arrests of journalists in Myanmar, Egypt and China, and Amnesty staff in Turkey.

But the report did note several reasons to be optimistic for the rest of the year, with survivors of the Florida school shooting campaigning for greater gun control and the #MeToo movement cited as examples of how people are “taking back the initiative”.

Amazon to adapt sci-fi novel Consider Phlebas for TV

Consider Phlebas, the acclaimed sci-fi novel series by Iain M. Banks, is getting a prestigious TV adaptation…

Amazon’s interminable project backlog of genre-driven peak television offerings just added a major mythology. Amazon Video, the streaming service of the online retail leviathan, has acquired the global rights to a TV adaptation of Consider Phlebas, which was the canonical starting point of author Iain M. Banks’s celebrated books, collectively known as the ‘Culture’ series.

Consider Phlebas, a sprawling 10-book, epoch-spanning, space-set sci-fi novel series, will serve as the launching point for Amazon’s Culture series TV endeavor. The project has been put into development, arriving as a production of Plan B Entertainment, with the estate of author Iain M. Banks serving as executive producer. The creative stewardship of the project has been placed in the hands of Dennis Kelly, the screenwriter behind the 2013-2014 cult favourite sci-fi series, Utopia, as well as the 2014 Jude Law-starring thriller film, Black Sea. He also worked on a rewrite of the script to the upcoming World War Z 2.

As Kelly expresses in a statement:

FOX Brings In ‘Homecoming’ Writers To Develop Sci-Fi TV Series

“Iain Banks has long been a hero of mine, and his innate warmth, humour and humanism shines through these novels. Far from being the dystopian nightmares that we are used to, Banks creates a kind of flawed paradise, a society truly worth fighting for—rather than a warning from the future, his books are a beckoning.”

The story of the 1987 novel, Consider Phlebas, centres on Horza, a shapeshifting mercenary who’s immersed in an intergalactic conflagration of civilisations between the Culture – a technology-dependent A.I.-driven utopia that has become detached from its humanity – and the Idiran Empire – a spiritually-driven, warlike, domination-driven society. Horza, working on behalf of the Idiran, is tasked with recovering a crucial missing A.I. component of the Culture, called ‘the Mind,’ which, wielding an immense power, has the potential to destroy the Culture completely. However, the task itself is deeply immersed in the fog of war, raising ambiguities about the means and methods of each side.

As Sharon Tal Yguado, recently-appointed Head of Scripted Series at Amazon Studios, comments on the acquisition:

“The story of the Culture is so rich and captivating that for years Hollywood has been trying to bring this utopian society to life on the screen. We are honored that we have been chosen, along with Dennis Kelly and Plan B Entertainment, to make Consider Phlebasinto a television series we think will be loved by fans for years to come.”

The Culture series of Iain M. Banks (who passed away in 2013 from gallbladder cancer,) spans 10 volumes, starting with 1987’s Consider Phlebas, ending with 2012’s The Hydrogen Sonata – a release that Banks was well aware would be his final culture book as his condition worsened. Indeed, the influence of the Culture series is deceptively far-reaching, and this television deal even garnered special acknowledgement from Amazon’s $120.2 billion overlord himself, Jeff Bezos, in a praise-bestowing tweet.

Happy to announce that Amazon Studios is adapting Iain M. Banks’ amazing Culture series — a huge personal favorite — as a TV series. Can’t wait!

Consider Phlebas will join a lineup of prominent developing television projects that includes, amongst many others, a highly-anticipated The Lord of the Rings prequel series, which reportedly set the Amazon back some $250 million.

Airports Will Soon Open in Kurdistan Region: Iranian Consul in Sulaymaniyah

ERBIL – The Consul General of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Sulaymaniyah said that the airports in the Kurdistan Region will soon be opened.

Iranian Consul General in Sulaymaniyah, Saadullah Masudian, stated at a press conference that most of the technical issues between Erbil and Baghdad have so far been resolved.

He said that he had heard from some Iraqi officials that the international flights will soon restart in the Kurdistan Region.

The federal government has imposed several sanctions on the Kurdistan Region since the region held a referendum to vote for independence on 25th September last year.

New Border Gate to Open with Kurdistan Region: Turkish Official

ERBIL – According to Turkish media outlets, the Turkish Minister of Customs and Trade, Bülent Tüfenkci, has offered a proposal to open a new border gate with Kurdistan Region.

Tufenkci has offered a proposal to open a new border gate with the Kurdistan Region between Şırnak province in southeastern Turkey and Zakho governorate in the region.

However, he is waiting for the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to approve the suggested proposals and start the implementation.

“The aim of opening this new gate is to develop trade in the area and resolve the issue of illegal trade,” sources quoted Tufenkci.

This attempt of Turkey to improve both sides’ trade coincides with the prolonged sanctions imposed by the Iraqi government on the Kurdistan Region as a reaction to the September 25th independence referendum held the region.

Iraqi KRG heading to national elections amid instability

A poor economy, political instability and insecurity in Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government persist ahead of Iraq’s national parliamentary election on May 12.

As Iraq prepares for national elections, the country’s semi-autonomous northern region is embroiled in political instability and suffering from dire economic circumstances.

Tensions ahead of the May 12 election have risen among political parties in the provinces controlled by the Kurdish Regional Government.

The election for the national parliament had been due to take place on November 1, 2017, but was cancelled in October as tensions rose following the KRG’s independence drive last September.

After months of political crisis, the region’s parliament recently took necessary measures for elections to also be held in the KRG-controlled regions.

In the 2014 national general election, Kurdish parties, captured 62 seats in 328-seat Iraqi parliament.

The autonomous region’s economy has been in crisis since the KRG took on the central government by selling oil without Baghdad’s consent and holding a pro-independence referendum, that was roundly condemned by the international community.

The worsening political and economic situation saw some of the major parties in the region – including Gorran Movement, Kurdistan Islamic Group, and Kurdistan Islamic Union – leaving the regional coalition government in December 2017.

Only the Kurdistan Democratic Party, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Kurdistan Islamic Movement remain in the KRG coalition.

Political parties contesting

Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), led by Masoud Barzani, garnered 25 seats in the Iraqi parliament in the last general election and 38 seats in KRG’s parliament.

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan has been considered as the strongest party after KDP since it secured 21 seats in Baghdad.

Some claim the party has been in a crisis after Jalal Talabani, one of the party’s founders, died on October 3, 2017.

With its nine seats in the national parliament, the Gorran Movement became the main opposition in the regional parliament. It has targeted corruption in the KRG.

The Kurdistan Islamic Union, which is known to have close ties with Muslim Brotherhood, captured four seats in the national parliament.

It also has a considerable amount of supporters in the Sulaymaniyah and Halabja regions under the control of the KRG.

Kurdistan Islamic Group, led by Ali Bapir, got three seats in Iraqi national parliament.

Source: TRT World

How Will Iraq Contain Iran’s Proxies?

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani may be the only man who can—but he’ll need help.

In June 2014, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of the leading Shiite clergyman in the world, called on all able-bodied Iraqis to defend their country against the Islamic State. Iraq’s U.S.-trained armed forces had collapsed, fleeing the advance of isis as it seized Mosul and much of northern Iraq. Sistani’s fatwa mobilized a 100,000-strong fighting force known as the Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), whose mostly Shiite fighters were instrumental in the fight against isis. The PMF is comprised of multiple Shiite militias who were established after 2014 as volunteer groups that took up arms in response to Sistani’s fatwa, filling the void left by the collapse of the Iraqi army. The majority of these groups are aligned with the Iraqi state and take their orders from the Iraqi government.

But residing within the PMF are Iran-aligned groups who have become the Forces’ most-powerful militias. While technically they have been under Baghdad’s command since 2016, in reality, they answer to their sponsors in Tehran. These groups have long exploited conflict and disorder in Iraq since the toppling of the Baath regime, while also expanding Iran’s influence in the country. They have been accused of sectarian atrocities that helped lay the groundwork for groups like isis and played a critical role in the bloody 2006 war between Arab Sunnis and Shiites. They have violently resisted attempts by the Iraqi state and the United States to disarm them. Since the emergence of isis and Sistani’s fatwa, these groups have exploited the security vacuum and the weakening of Iraq’s conventional forces to further consolidate their hold. Now, they seem poised to translate their wartime popularity into political gains in the coming elections in May, when they will contest the elections as the al-Fateh (or “Conquest”) bloc.

With isis vanquished and Iraq’s security forces reconstituted and reorganized (thanks to U.S. training and support), some expected that Sistani would revoke his fatwa and dismantle the PMF last December. But Sistani cannot simply dissolve the PMF, a state institution that provides livelihoods and prestige to its fighters. Doing so would spark a public backlash and undermine Iraq’s Shiite clerical establishment. Neither can he confront Iran’s proxies alone as they, and Shiite militias more generally, have proved themselves formidable actors. (The United States tried with more than 100,000 troops during the occupation and failed.)

But left untouched, Iran’s proxies will continue exacerbating sectarian tensions that could very well enable the resurgence of isis. Sistani will have to confront them eventually—but not by himself, and not in the way some may expect.

 

Essential to the Shiite militias’ survival over the years has been their capacity to adapt to the political and legal constraints imposed on them. They either attach themselves to longstanding parties or rebrand themselves as socio-cultural movements that provide social services to local, often destitute communities. Groups like Asaib ahl al-Haq, which has been complicit in attacks on U.S. and Iraqi personnel and civilians, were established by Iran after 2003 and have since transitioned into powerful armed groups that enjoy access to state institutions and resources, yet continue to function autonomously. Iran-aligned Shiite militias have, in essence, established themselves as Iraq’s version of Lebanon’s Hezbollah: socio-cultural movements with a military and social-welfare wing that operates independently of the state.

Asaib al-Haq is not the only Shiite militia in Iraq that has benefitted from Baghdad’s resources without ever submitting to its control or to civilian oversight. Another prominent example is the Badr Brigade, an organization established by Iran during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war. While it began as a militia, since 2003 it has controlled Iraq’s interior ministry, and today commands a 37,000-strong federal police force. The Iraqi interior ministry answers not to the prime minister, but to the Badr hierarchy, led by its leader Hadi al-Ameri, who fought alongside Iranian forces during the Iran-Iraq war. He also now leads the PMF. While the Badr Brigade is the only Iranian proxy that controls an Iraqi ministry, this may not be the case for long.

 

Iraq’s army is not strong enough to confront these groups. But Sistani has the credibility to lead such an effort. He has long served as a critical check on the power of Iraq’s corrupt ruling elite. After the toppling of Saddam, he ensured that the process of writing a new constitution would be led by an elected assembly, rather than by Washington’s favored Iraqi elites. While he failed to prevent sectarian war, his call for calm, restraint, and unity, helped ensure that the conflict did not transform into a genocide against Sunnis. In August 2014, only two months after his call to arms against isis, he forced out then-prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose corrupt and authoritarian rule led to the collapse of the Iraqi army.

The Ayatollah has historically resisted Iran’s efforts to export its theocracy to Iraq. He has criticized and will continue to pressure Iran’s proxies through his sermons. While Sistani’s record suggests he’s up for combatting Iran’s proxies, he’ll need help. That may come from nationalist, anti-Iran voices like Muqtada al-Sadr and his followers. Both al-Sadr and Sistani have backed Iraq’s anti-corruption protests, which have been led by members of civil society, including human rights organizations and other NGOs. Hundreds of thousands of Sadr’s supporters, for instance, mobilized in 2016 to call for reform and an end to sectarian governance. Many chanted anti-Iranian slogans. Sadr’s visits to the Gulf have also strengthened Iraq’s ties with the Arab Sunni world. These relationships could establish cross-sectarian alliances to contain Iran-aligned factions.

The United States has an important role to play in all this. Maintaining its military presence in Iraq will help contain Iran’s proxies, so long as it does not weaken Tehran’s rivals like the Kurds and Sunnis. This is exactly what happened last October, when al-Abadi’s forces and Iranian proxies reclaimed oil-rich Kirkuk and its surrounding areas from the Kurds. Indeed, al-Abadi, who has been billed in some quarters as America’s man in Baghdad, has relied on Iran-backed militias to maintain Baghdad’s control over territories that are disputed with the Kurds.

As a result of that onslaught, Iran’s proxies now control Kirkuk and other strategically vital towns and cities. With every inch of territory Iran’s proxies acquire, their influence becomes stronger in the rest of Iraq. Al-Abadi has even contemplated an alliance with Iran’s proxies, a move that has been criticized by Sistani and the Najaf religious establishment, al-Sadr, and Arab Sunni and Kurdish factions. Washington would do well to heed the lessons of the past and avoid creating a strongman in Baghdad who may one day turn his back on the United States.

To contain Tehran, the United States could also help prevent these groups from appropriating the $1 billion allocated to the PMF from the Iraqi national budget, and curb their access to the billions of dollars that the international community intends to contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq. These resources enhance the battlefield superiority of Iran’s proxies. They also allow them to shape Iraq’s political system according to their own ideologies, while molding the fabric of its society through its sophisticated propaganda.

Sistani, who champions a pluralistic, representative Iraqi state, can go a long way toward containing Iran’s proxies. On his own, however, he can only do so much.

Second wave of Syrian reinforcements reach Afrin

 A new batch of fighters loyal to the regime in Damascus have arrived in Afrin to help Kurdish troops currently involved in combat against Turkey forces in northwestern Syria, the country’s official media reported on Wednesday.

According to official Syrian media, a “second wave of additional of popular forces” arrived in Afrin to “support the people [of northern Syria]” which have been facing a month-long offensive into the Kurdish-held enclave.

The reinforcements come a day after the first batch of pro-Syrian government forces reached Afrin, helping push back Turkish forces and its allied Syrian rebels.

The decision to send in pro-government fighters earlier this week into Syrian Kurdistan’s (Rojava) angered Turkey, which warned that any force supporting the People’s Protection Units (YPG), as Ankara carries out an incursion to oust the Kurdish fighters from Afrin, would also be ‘a target.’

Syrian television reported that Ankara’s forces were unsuccessful in preventing the arrival of the first wave of Damascus-aligned troops, despite Turkish fighter jets and artillery targeting the convoy.

Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, claimed that only ten fighters were able to enter Afrin, adding that “those who enter the city will pay a heavy price.”

On Jan. 20, Turkey announced a military operation, with the help of Turkish-backed rebels, to drive out the YPG, Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), and the ruling Democratic Union Party (PYD) from Afrin.

Ankara views the YPG, YPJ, and PYD as a collective “terrorist” group and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging decades of insurgency against the government in Turkey.

State-owned Anadolu Agency alleged the Turkish army had sent more than 1,200 elite units to Afrin to support the operation dubbed “Olive Branch.” The YPG has also reported the destruction of a Turkish tank and that clashes are taking place in several towns on the border between Turkey and Syria.

Aoun Begins Official Visit to Armenia

by Naharnet Newsdesk

 

 

President Michel Aoun on Wednesday kicked off an official visit to Armenia following a similar visit to Iraq.

Aoun began his talks in Yerevan by meeting Catholicos Karekin II — the Catholicos of All Armenians and the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

“This visit will reinforce bilateral ties between Lebanon and Armenia and between the two peoples,” Aoun told reporters after the meeting.

He later visited the Armenian Genocide memorial complex and wrote a statement in its visitors’ book.

“The horrible pictures and material evidence I have seen in this museum… prompt me to stress that justice should be fulfilled for this cause,” Aoun wrote.

“I salute the Armenian people, who have managed to build a country they can pride themselves in despite the woes, difficulties and persecution,” the president added.

In the evening, Aoun met with the Lebanese expat community in Armenia.

“Lebanese of Armenian descent have had positive contributions in Lebanon in the various economic, political and cultural fields,” Aoun said.

“I invite you to practice your right to vote, whether in Lebanon or in Armenia if you have registered within the specified deadline,” the president added.

The president’s visit to Armenia follows a trip to Iraq in which he met with President Fuad Massum and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.