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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.

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

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.

Lebanon: We want to be part of rebuilding Iraq

BAGHDAD: Lebanese President Michel Aoun expressed his country’s desire to be involved in the reconstruction of Iraq, the fight against terrorism, and to boost trade and tourism between the two countries, Iraqi officials told Arab News on Tuesday.

Aoun, who is visiting Iraq for the first time since taking office in Lebanon in 2016, arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday morning accompanied by Lebanese ministers on a one-day visit at the invitation of Iraqi President Fuad Masum. He met Iraqi officials, including the prime minister and the speaker of the parliament, to discuss joint interests.

Officials from Masum’s office told Arab News that the Lebanese had come to Baghdad to discuss “four essential” issues: the participation of Lebanese companies in the reconstruction of Iraq; cooperation between the two countries in counter-terrorism; investments projects and reinforcing trade and tourism exchange; and Lebanese debts incurred against Iraq.

“Lebanese companies are interested in coming to Iraq to work in the field of reconstruction. This is a key point (in discussions), in addition to cooperation in combating terrorism and promoting trade and tourism exchanges,” Hussien Al-Hindawi, Masum’s media adviser, told Arab News.

“They are looking to obtain some facilities that allow Lebanese companies to sign up for the reconstruction of Iraq and to obtain some investment projects in addition to customs facilities that contribute to increasing Lebanese exports to Iraq,” Al-Hindawi said.

In October, Iraq declared the end of military operations against militants and announced the start of reconstruction of war-affected areas. More than 150 investment projects, including dozens of mega projects, were presented by Iraq a week ago at the international conference for reconstruction in Kuwait, in coordination with the Kuwaiti government, the International Monetary Fund and the UN.

Most Arab and international companies are looking for facilities and guarantees for projects worth several billion dollars, specifically in oil and reconstruction.

Iraq is one of the most important markets for Lebanese goods in the region — about 10 percent of Lebanese exports are consumed annually. However, exports have decreased since 2011 because of additional costs caused by the suspension of transport through Syrian territory after the outbreak of civil war and the increase in customs duties imposed by Iraqi authorities on imported goods.

The debts owed to Iraqi traders since 2003, estimated at $1 billion, were also part of the talks, Iraqi officials told Arab News.

Nicola Tueni, minister of state for anti-corruption, who is keeping tabs on the file of debts, was among the Lebanese delegation.

“The Lebanese president is under pressure from his people to engage in reconstruction and investment projects in Iraq,” an Iraqi official involved in the talks told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

“They filed a formal request to reduce the customs duties on Lebanese goods and are currently negotiating to acquire some investments for extinguishing the old debts,” the official said.

“We can get a good deal. They are strongly looking to come back to work in the south, at the same time we need all possible efforts to rebuild our country.”

An Amazon HQ2 clue? Strange web traffic hints at interest in this one county

The county board members of Arlington, Virginia might be doing a happy dance right about now, because it looks like Amazon is researching the shortlisted “Northern Virginia” area as a possible location for its second headquarters, HQ2.

Thanks to some seriously top-notch sleuthing from local news source ARLnow.com, the outlet figured out that one of its articles was receiving an unusually high amount of traffic from an internal page featured on Amazon.com — one that is not visible to the public.

The article Amazon employees were viewing? A December 2017 article about Arlington’s environmental building accolades. The piece, entitled “County Wins Top Environmental Award from U.S. Green Building Council,” received over 6,000 page views and 3,500 unique visitors who were referred from an Amazon web page that cannot be reached normal public. The page is presumably only available to Amazon employees through an intranet.

Perhaps Amazon employees are checking out the green qualifications of a potential new home?

In January, Amazon announced a shortlist of candidates for its new HQ2 campus, which it says will bring thousands of jobs, and economic upsides a-plenty, to whichever city Amazon selects. Washington D.C. and two D.C. adjacent areas (Northern Virginia, VA and Montgomery County, MD) snagged three of the coveted spots, and there has been much speculation that Jeff Bezos has his sights set inside the Beltway. Arlington, VA is encompassed in Northern Virginia.

In its RFP for HQ2, Amazon emphasized its energy efficient and green building design preferences, saying it “will develop HQ2 with a dedication to sustainability.” Amazon did not specifically list building sustainability in its section on “Key preferences and decision drivers” — but it did list “site/building” opportunities among its top criterion. So given Amazon’s stated commitment to sustainable buildings, Arlington’s environmental policies, and its development of buildings that get a U.S. Green Building Council stamp of approval, could give it an edge.

Directing loads of Amazon employee web traffic to one article obviously doesn’t seal the deal for the new Amazon HQ2 — who knows what other articles and cities employees are checking out.

But hey, it’s definitely not a bad sign. Plus, who doesn’t love solving an internet mystery. Kudos, ARL Now. Kudos.

IS Kills Hashd al-Shaabi Abductees

 The Islamic State (IS) militants on Monday killed the abducted militias of the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi who were kidnaped by the extremist group a day earlier.

An official of Hashd al-Shaabi said on Monday that they had failed to find and rescue their militants due to the weather conditions, and when they reached the village a day later, we found 20 of our abductees killed. He added that they still have no clue what has happened to the rest of the abductees.

The Islamic State jihadists’ violation comes after the Iraqi prime minister declared the defeat of the extremist group last December.

Hashd al-Sha’abi Turkmen cmdr. calls on US ‘occupation forces’ to leave Iraq

A high-ranking commander of Iraqi pro-government Popular Mobilization Units, commonly known by the Arabic name Hashd al-Sha’abi, has described American military forces in Iraqi as “aggressive and occupying,” demanding their withdrawal from the war-ravaged Arab country.

“We don’t want the presence of US or any other foreign military force in Iraq. We consider it unacceptable. There is no rational explanation for the American troops’ presence in our country. In the past, they pretended to be fighting Daesh in order to stay in Iraq. Now, Daesh is over and Americans don’t have any reliable excuse,” Kenan Tuzlu, the commander of the Turkmen unit of Hashd al-Sha’abi, told Russia’s Sputnik news agency.

He added, “We were opposed to the American military presence in Iraq even before Daesh was destroyed. Our forces and the Iraqi army were fighting against Daesh. Under a military agreement that expired in 2011, Americans should leave Iraq. However, they don’t stick to that agreement. Iraqi people don’t want US military staff to stay in their country. No country would like to be occupied by another country.”

Tuzlu further warned that if the United States continues its military presence in Iraq, Hashd al-Sha’abi will regard it as an enemy force.

“Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the second-in-command of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units, never wanted the US presence in Iraq. All senior Hashd al-Sha’abi officers also demand the withdrawal of American forces from the country. American military forces set up their bases mainly in areas where Kurdish forces are active. Hashd al-Sha’abi doesn’t need the US military presence in Iraq.”

On December 9 last year, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the end of military operations against the Daesh terrorist group in the Arab country.

Members of Hashd al-Sha’abi celebrate after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory in the war against Daesh, along the Iraqi-Syrian border west of the border town of al-Qa’im on December 9, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

“Our forces are in complete control of the Iraqi-Syrian border and I therefore announce the end of the war against Daesh,” Abadi told a conference in Baghdad.

Daesh began a terror campaign in Iraq in 2014, overrunning vast swathes in lightning attacks.

Iraqi forces then launched operations to eliminate Daesh and retake lost territory.

Last November, Iraqi forces liberated Rawa, the last remaining town in the grip of the terror outfit.

Beyond the Headlines podcast: Iraq’s reconstruction and the challenges ahead

Host Mina Aldroubi is joined by Dr Renad Mansour of London’s Chatham House and also speaks to Juliette Touma of UNICEF and Dr Fanar Haddad of the National University of Singapore

Iraqi admits he set up fake abuse claims against British soldiers

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson last night said he was “repulsed” by an Iraqi refugee’s admission that he helped arrange hundreds of fake abuse claims against British soldiers.

Whistleblower Basim Al-Sadoon told a national newspaper that he had an office in Basra, Iraq, that allegedly handled made up claims from locals against the British Army in a bid to win compensation from the Ministry of Defence in British courts.

Mr Al-Sadoon, 37, described the scam as a “racket”, and he told The Sun: “It was like a claims factory and it didn’t matter if the claims were true or false.” He reportedly talked about how clients sourced paperwork that wasn’t real, and accused soldiers who weren’t even present.

 

Boasting of connections in Iraq, he said a vast number of his 300 clients made up allegations in a bit to earn money. “Word spread and they would come to me. It was all about money – people exaggerating sometimes what they see,” he said.

One example he chose to highlight was a claim he was bringing about concerning himself which was inspired by an incident involving Danish troops.

He said he was asleep at home in 2004 when they allegedly beat him with rifle buts and seized him against his will. Using that experience, he says he and 17 other Iraqis made the exact same allegations against British forces in claims submitted by law firm Leigh Day. “Same date, same hour, same allegations, same operation. It wasn’t Danish troops, it was British. All of us did the same,” he said.

Last night Mr Williamson said: “Hundreds of brave and innocent British heroes suffered great pain at the hands of this sick get-rich-quick scam.

“I’m repulsed by these vile revelations… and those responsible should be held to account.”

The Sun reports that he was employed by a British-based Iraqi middleman named Mazin Younis, 59, who was contracted by UK law firm Leigh Day and the disg­raced Phil Shiner’s firm Public Interest Lawyers. It says Mr Younis was paid for passing clients to Leigh Day and also received money from Mr Shiner for securing claimants, and used people like Mr Al-Sadoon to help him secure clients.

A spokesperson for Leigh Day said: “We take these allegations extremely seriously and we therefore urge the Sun to make any evidence it has to support them available to the MoD and to ourselves as a matter of urgency.

“The claims in question have not proceeded past the early procedural stage and are now being reviewed with all other cases following the High Court judgment in December which found that British troops had unlawfully detained and abused Iraqi civilians.

“We are unable to make any comment on individual cases owing to our professional duties of confidentiality, however, Leigh Day vehemently denies any allegation that it knew any claims to be false or encouraged false claims at any time.”

Mr Younis also denied wrongdoing.

Terror threat will rise as Western jihadis in Syria and Iraq return home with skills in high-tech methods of attack 

  • There will be more attacks using new technology such as drones, experts warn
  •  It will happen as IS fighters are pushed out of their Iraq and Syria strongholds
  • They are expected to come back to Britain hell-bent on more destruction

 

 

 

The terror threat will rise as Western jihadis in Iraq and Syria return home with battle-hardened skills in high-tech methods of attack, a report has warned.

Security services fear there will be more attacks using new technologies, such as drones, as Islamic State fighters are pushed out of their strongholds and make their way back to Britain and Europe, it was claimed.

The chilling report by Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre (JTIC) found that new and ‘more destructive methods’ of attack will emerge in the next two years. It came as Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson warned during a summit in Rome yesterday that the threat posed by militants was ‘evolving and intensifying’.

 

Abdelhamid Abaaoud - the man who organized multiple terror attacks in Belgium and France, including the November 2015 Paris attacks -is the kind of battle-hardened terrorist who it's feared could soon end up on Britain's streets

Abdelhamid Abaaoud – the man who organized multiple terror attacks in Belgium and France, including the November 2015 Paris attacks -is the kind of battle-hardened terrorist who it’s feared could soon end up on Britain’s streets

Islamic State recently released video shows a jihadi holding up a knife as the voices call for attacks on western nations

Islamic State recently released video shows a jihadi holding up a knife as the voices call for attacks on western nations

ISIS has made no secret of its determination to strike Western targets

ISIS has made no secret of its determination to strike Western targets

Data analysed by JTIC found many of those imprisoned for providing support to groups such as Islamic State in the past two years could be released between 2019 and 2023

Data analysed by JTIC found many of those imprisoned for providing support to groups such as Islamic State in the past two years could be released between 2019 and 2023

 

There are believed to be some 270 UK fighters currently in Syria and Iraq.

The JTIC report examined the threat from terrorism over the next five to 10 years, but also warned that growing numbers of Islamist convicts are likely to exacerbate the risk of radicalisation in prisons.

 

The report added: ‘Security services will struggle to adequately monitor a combination of returning militants, an increased number of radical Islamist networks involved in the propagation of terrorism, and the radicalisation risks associated with a substantially increasing Islamist prison population.’

Data analysed by JTIC also found many of those imprisoned for providing support to groups such as Islamic State in the past two years could be released between 2019 and 2023. It suggested that Islamist groups that previously held support roles – such as spreading propaganda or financing – could be moved to operational ones.

These could include ‘setting up cells, acquiring weapons, providing facilities and safe houses for explosives building, and recruiting militants for attacks in Europe’.

Meanwhile, the fate of two Londoners suspected of being members of an Islamic State execution group dubbed ‘The Beatles’ risks becoming a diplomatic row.

US defence secretary Jim Mattis signalled he would use the Rome meeting to press allies to take back captured militants to face justice in their home countries, but ministers have resisted suggestions that Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh – who have been stripped of British citizenship – should return to the UK.

  • The trial of an Uzbek man who confessed to ramming a truck into a crowd in Stockholm, killing five people, started on Tuesday. Rakhmat Akilov said he wanted to punish Sweden for participating in the international coalition against IS.