Sunday, March 29, 2020

Believe It (Rihanna and PARTYNEXTDOOR)



Rihanna and PARTYNEXTDOOR's "Believe It" from the latter's album PARTYMOBILE.




Saturday, March 28, 2020

Iraq: Coronavirus, prime minister-designate

The whispers on social media that Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is gay won't go away.  In Iraq, you can be killed if someone suspects you are gay and Moqtada's thugs have killed many thought to be gay over the years.  Moqtada?  He'll never be killed even though many suspect he is gay because Moqtada has his own militia -- his only claim to power beyond his shrinking cult at present.  Moqtada's latest announcement is only yet again fueling the rumors on social media.  Yasmine Mosimann  (RUDAW) reports:

Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is the latest global religious leader to ignore scientific consensus and accuse the LGBT+ community of causing the coronavirus pandemic.

“One of most significant things to cause the spread of this epidemic is the legalization of same-sex marriage,” said the top cleric in a tweet on Saturday, adding “hence, I call on governments to repeal this law immedietely, without delay.”

Sadr’s comments come at a time when coronavirus has rapidly swept across the world, devastating countries with and without same-sex marriage alike.

Stephen Hickey, British ambassador to Iraq, responded to Sadr’s comment in a tweet saying the United Kingdom “will not change its law on equal marriage, which they are proud of.”

“Instead, let's work together on a better foundation of medical and scientific advice to win the battle against coronavirus,” added the ambassador.

Amir Ashour, founder and executive director at IraQueer, says tweets like Sadr’s are dangerous for Iraq’s LGBT+ community: “We believe such tweets are not only misleading the public scientifically, but are also an attempt to weaponize the current situation and capitalize on the fear of people from the unknown to increase attacks against LGBT+ people.”

“Muqtada al-Sadr is leading a militia which has a documented history of torturing and killing LGBT+ people in organized campaigns using horrific means,” added Ashour in an email statement to Rudaw English.


Best post I've seen on Arabic social media is a parody of a Moqtada message on Grindr where 'Moqtada' refers to himself as a "voracious power-bottom" who is looking to serve "any Sunni or ISIS strong man who can properly humble me."

Moqtada becomes more of a joke every day.

On the coronavirus, Oumayma Omar (ARAB WEEKLY) reports:


Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, which vibrated for months during mass anti-government protests, was silent, tents erected by protesters were mostly deserted and the city’s normally jammed streets looked empty as police checked the few motorists who ventured out.
Iraq’s government imposed a nationwide lockdown and banned all flights from the country’s airports as part of strict measures to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. At least 506 cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Iraq and 42 people have died, the Iraqi Health Ministry said.
Outside one of the few protest tents that were not abandoned in Tahrir Square, Hassan Abbas, 25, was cleaning and disinfecting his “Iraqiya” tent, wearing a face mask and gloves.
“It is cleaning time. Every morning, with colleagues, we spray the tents and the area around them in line with the precautionary measures to keep the virus away,” Abbas said. “We take out the covers, mattresses and pillows and place them in the sun, which is a good way to sterilise them, and then clean the interior of the tents with whatever disinfectant available.”
“The coronavirus has emptied the square. Many protesters who lived in the tents for weeks preferred to return home and confine themselves there, fearing infection. Others refrained from coming here but some are refusing to quit the square until demands are fulfilled,” he said.

Abbas and other protesters try to keep spirits up by chanting revolutionary slogans that show their commitment to revive the protest movement once the coronavirus crisis is declared over.


TREND NEWS AGENCY notes, "Iraq's Health Ministry on Saturday confirmed two more deaths from COVID-19 and 48 new cases of infections with the virus, Trend reports citing Xinhua. The new cases included nine in the capital Baghdad, 10 in Najaf, six in Basra, five in Erbil and Duhok each, four in Muthanna, three in Karbala, two in Wasit and one in the provinces of Kirkuk, Sulaimaniyah, Diyala and Maysan each, the ministry said in a statement."  KURDISTAN 24 notes that the number of confirmed cases is now 506.

In other news, Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt (NEW YORK TIMES) report,  "The Pentagon has ordered military commanders to plan for an escalation of American combat in Iraq, issuing a directive last week to prepare a campaign to destroy an Iranian-backed militia group that has threatened more attacks against American troops."  Louisa Loveluck and Missy Ryan (WASHINGTON POST via PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE) report that this is in response to increased rocket attacks on US bases is prompting the move and that "American requests that Iraqi authorities track down and prosecute those responsible for rocket attacks have made little  headway."  Gregory Aftandilian (ARAB WEEKLY) adds, "The US military said the Katyusha rocket attacks that killed two US soldiers and one British soldier at Camp Taji base on March 11, which were preceded by other attacks, were coordinated by Kata’ib Hezbollah. In response, the United States struck the militia but the Iraqi government accused the United States of killing and wounding Iraqi soldiers and civilians in the process."  i24 NEWS notes:


The US Department of Defense issued an order last week commanding top generals to come up with a plan to step up the action against an Iraqi Tehran-backed militia seen as the force behind a string of rocket attacks at bases hosting international troops, New York Times reported Friday.
Citing officials with knowledge on the matter, the newspaper says the Pentagon was seeking a plan to destroy Kataeb Hezbollah in a drastic escalation against the Iranian proxy that is formally operating within the Iraqi chain of command.
The order was authorized by US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the officials told the NYT.


THE NATIONAL explains:

The Pentagon blamed Kataib Hezbollah for a March 11 rocket attack that killed one British and two US personnel in Iraq.
The order was described by officials with knowledge of the internal communications to the New York Times.

But the order faced resistance from within, the military's top commander in Iraq, Lt Gen Robert P White, who said thousands more US troops were required in the country for any such campaign to take place. He also said that such an operation would risk war with Iran.

Karwan Faidhi Dri (RUDAW) observes, "This comes amid the recent US handover of two key military bases to Iraqi forces. Al-Qaim and Qayyarah military bases were signed over to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) recently, and a US withdraw from Kirkuk’s K1 airbase is expected in the coming weeks."                                                                         

Related, Thursday, the US Treasury Dept issued the following:


WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today designated 20 Iran- and Iraq-based front companies, senior officials, and business associates that provide support to or act for or on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) in addition to transferring lethal aid to Iranian-backed terrorist militias in Iraq such as Kata’ib Hizballah (KH) and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH). Among other malign activities, these entities and individuals perpetrated or supported: smuggling through the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr; money laundering through Iraqi front companies; selling Iranian oil to the Syrian regime; smuggling weapons to Iraq and Yemen; promoting propaganda efforts in Iraq on behalf of the IRGC-QF and its terrorist militias; intimidating Iraqi politicians; and using funds and public donations made to an ostensibly religious institution to supplement IRGC-QF budgets. The terrorist militias supported by the Iranian regime such as KH and AAH have continued to engage in attacks on U.S. and Coalition forces in Iraq.
“Iran employs a web of front companies to fund terrorist groups across the region, siphoning resources away from the Iranian people and prioritizing terrorist proxies over the basic needs of its people,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “The United States maintains broad exceptions and authorizations for humanitarian aid including agriculture commodities, food, medicine, and medical devices to help the people of Iran combat the coronavirus.”
Today’s designations were taken pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, as amended, which targets terrorists and those providing support to or acting for or on behalf of designated terrorists or supporting acts of terrorism.

RECONSTRUCTION ORGANIZATION OF THE HOLY SHRINES IN IRAQ

The Reconstruction Organization of the Holy Shrines in Iraq (ROHSI) is an IRGC-QF-controlled organization based in Iran and Iraq whose leadership was appointed by the late IRGC-QF Commander Qassem Soleimani. Though ostensibly a religious institution, ROHSI has transferred millions of dollars to the Iraq-based Bahjat al Kawthar Company for Construction and Trading Ltd, also known as Kosar Company, another Iraq-based entity under the IRGC-QF’s control. Kosar Company has served as a base for Iranian intelligence activities in Iraq, including the shipment of weapons and ammunition to Iranian-backed terrorist militia groups. 
Additionally, Kosar Company has received millions of dollars in transfers from the Central Bank of Iran, which was designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 in September 2019 for its financial support of the IRGC-QF and Lebanese Hizballah. Both the IRGC-QF and Hizballah have been designated by the U.S. Department of State as Foreign Terrorist Organizations under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
In addition, IRGC-QF officials have used ROHSI’s funds to supplement IRGC-QF budgets, likely embezzling public donations intended for the construction and maintenance of Shiite shrines in Iraq. 
ROHSI and Kosar Company are being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for being owned, controlled, or directed by, directly or indirectly, the IRGC-QF.
OFAC is also designating Mohammad Jalal Maab, the current head of ROHSI, who was personally appointed to the position by former IRGC-QF Commander Soleimani. Jalal Maab succeeded Hassan Pelarak, an IRGC-QF officer and co-owner of Kosar Company, who was selected by Soleimani to serve as his special assistant on an IRGC-QF-led committee focused on sanctions evasions activity. Pelarak also worked with IRGC-QF officials to transfer missiles, explosives, and small arms to Yemen, intensifying the Yemeni conflict and exacerbating one of the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophes.
Mohammad Jalal Maab is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for being a leader or official of ROHSI. Hassan Pelarak is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the IRGC-QF. 
Alireza Fadakar, another co-owner of Kosar Company, has worked in Iraq on behalf of the IRGC-QF for several years and is an IRGC-QF commander in Najaf, Iraq. Muhammad al-Ghorayfi is an IRGC-QF affiliate and employee of Kosar Company who provides administrative support to Fadakar and has facilitated the travel of IRGC-QF officials between Iraq and Iran.
Alireza Fadakar is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the IRGC-QF. Muhammad al-Ghorayfi is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, Alireza Fadakar.
Masoud Shoustaripousti, another co-owner of Kosar Company, has worked in Iraq on behalf of the IRGC-QF for several years and has laundered money for the group. Shoushtaripousti worked with Mashallah Bakhtiari, who used Kosar Company to launder money and worked with officials at the Baghdad-based branch of Iran’s Bank Melli to deposit funds for the IRGC-QF in Iraq. OFAC designated Bank Melli in November 2018, pursuant to E.O. 13224, for acting as a conduit for payments to the IRGC-QF which also used Bank Melli to dispense funds to Iranian-backed terrorist groups in Iraq.
Masoud Shoustaripousti is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the IRGC-QF. Mashallah Bakhtiari is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, the IRGC-QF.

AL KHAMAEL MARITIME SERVICES

Separately, OFAC is taking action against Al Khamael Maritime Services (AKMS), an Iraq-based company operating out of Umm Qasr port in which the IRGC-QF has a financial interest. The IRGC-QF leveraged Shiite militia group contacts to evade Iraqi government inspection protocol at Umm Qasr port and has charged foreign companies and vessels fees for services at its terminal at the port. AKMS also worked to sell Iranian-origin petroleum products in contravention of U.S. sanctions against the Iranian regime.
AKMS is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for being owned, controlled, or directed by, directly or indirectly, the IRGC-QF. 
OFAC is also designating Hasan Saburinezhad, also known as Engineer Morteza, who is involved in the finances of AKMS. As a representative of AKMS, Saburinezhad worked to facilitate the entry of Iranian shipments into Iraqi ports for the benefit of the IRGC-QF. Saburinezhad is also involved in IRGC-QF financial and economic activities between Iran, Iraq, and Syria, including smuggling activities along the Syria/Iraq border. Saburinezhad also runs smuggling routes to help Iraqi terrorist group KH and the IRGC-QF smuggle goods into Iraq from Iran, and has assisted KH in funding the acquisition and transfer of goods out of Iran.  
Saburinezhad is the Managing Director and a member of the board of directors of Mada’in Novin Traders (MNT), an Iran- and Iraq-based company associated with multiple IRGC-QF officials, including Vali Gholizadeh, who has worked with Saburinezhad for the benefit of both AKMS and MNT. 
Hasan Saburinezhad is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the IRGC-QF. Mada’in Novin Traders is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for being owned, controlled, or directed by, or to have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Saburinezhad. Gholizadeh is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for being a leader or official of Mada’in Novin Traders.
OFAC is also designating Mohammed Saeed Odhafa Al Behadili, the Managing Director of AKMS, and Ali Hussein Falih Al-Mansoori, also known as Seyyed Rezvan, the company’s deputy managing director and head of its board of directors. Additionally, as of 2018, Al Behadili was focused on facilitating shipments and business transactions to circumvent U.S. sanctions against the Iranian regime. Al-Mansoori has worked with IRGC-QF officials on business issues related to AKMS. 
Mohammed Saeed Odhafa Al Behadili is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, AKMS. Ali Hussein Falih Al-Mansoori is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for being a leader or official of AKMS.
Sayyed Reza Musavifar, who is responsible for the accounts and finances of AKMS, has worked with the IRGC-QF to transfer money to terrorist militias, including KH and Lebanese Hizballah. In 2014, Musavifar transferred the equivalent of millions of dollars of foreign currency to senior IRGC-QF officials. 
Musavifar is a part owner of Middle East Saman Chemical Company, an Iran-based company that maintained an account at Rashed Exchange, an Iran-based exchange house used to convert currency for the IRGC-QF that was designated in May 2018 for being owned or controlled by Mohammadreza Khedmati, an individual designated for support to the IRGC-QF. 
Sayyed Reza Musavifar is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, the IRGC-QF. Middle East Saman Chemical Company is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for being owned, controlled, or directed by, or to have acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Sayyed Reza Musavifar.
Additionally, Ali Farhan Asadi is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, AKMS.

SAYYED YASER MUSAVIR AND MEHDI GHASEMZADEH

IRGC-QF official Sayyed Yaser Musavir has been deployed to Iraq extensively since early 2014 in support of the IRGC-QF, and he has coordinated operations between the group and Iraqi terrorist militia group officials. In 2019, Musavir coordinated with IRGC-QF officials to sell Iranian petroleum products to Syria. In 2018, Musavir coordinated propaganda efforts with AAH on behalf of senior IRGC-QF officials. AAH was designated in January 2020 by the U.S. Department of State as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act and as Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) pursuant to E.O. 13224.
Sayyed Yaser Musavir is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the IRGC-QF.
Mehdi Ghasemzadeh is an IRGC-QF official and is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the IRGC-QF.

SHAYKH ‘ADNAN AL-HAMIDAWI

Shaykh ‘Adnan Al-Hamidawi is a Special Operations Commander for KH who in 2019 planned to intimidate Iraqi politicians who did not support the removal of U.S. forces from Iraq. KH, an Iranian-backed terrorist militia group that has been a U.S. Department of State-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization and SDGT since 2009, receives lethal support from the IRGC-QF, and has been responsible for numerous terrorist acts against Iraqi, U.S., and Coalition forces in Iraq for over a decade, including bombings, rocket attacks, and sniper operations.  
Shaykh ‘Adnan Al-Hamidawi is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, KH.

SANCTIONS IMPLICATIONS

As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of these persons that are in or come within the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC. OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve and property or interests in property of blocked persons.
In addition, persons that engage in certain transactions with the persons designated today may themselves be exposed to sanctions. Furthermore, any foreign financial institution that knowingly conducted or facilitated any significant transaction on behalf of individuals and entities designated today could be subject to U.S. correspondent account or payable-through account sanctions.
Identifying information on the entities designated today.
####



Nazli Tarzi (ARAB WEEKLY) observes:

The walls are closing in on Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Adnan al-Zurfi, whose task of forming the new Iraqi government remains fiercely contested by pro-Iran factions that accuse him of being “America’s man in Iraq.”
Those pushing back against Zurfi are the same actors who, 17 years ago, toed the line of a controversial pro-US fatwa issued by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani ordering Iraqis not to resist occupying forces.
The trade-off paved the way for members of Iraq’s Islamist political class, who have safeguarded very little other than the powers they were granted, to be rewarded for allowing occupiers to trespass their country. The groundwork this laid is crumbling 17 years on.

The path to political legitimacy today relies on the formula’s reversal — a commitment to expel US coalition troops, who, before the coronavirus outbreak, numbered approximately 7,500. An exemplar of this trend are pro-Iran factions that in the past month spearheaded three attacks on military bases housing US forces.

Background, for years the CIA had advocated on behalf of  Adel Abdul Mahdi becoming prime minister in Iraq.  Their 'analysis' insisted he would be the best at the job.  He survived three assassination attempts in Iraq since the 2003 US-invasion of Iraq. His security staff was thought to be first rate; however, four of them did receive death sentences for their role in bank robbery. Dropping back to the September 2, 2009 snapshot:

Also in Baghdad, Anne Barker (Australia's ABC News) reports that "four security officers have been sentenced to death for their part in a multi-million dollar banks robbery in Baghdad." She's referring to the July 28th bank robbery in which 8 security guards were killed and millions were stolen as US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was visiting Iraq. (The two are not unconnected. When US dignitaries visit, security is channeled towards that and you often see a spike in store and bank robberies.) BBC adds, "The judges gave the condemned men one month to appeal the sentence. They all proclaimed their innocence during the proceedings. Correspondents say the case has potential for major political fallout despite Mr Abdel Mahdi's denials of any involvement of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council to which he belongs."

When Adel was finally named prime minister-designate, we noted in the October 3, 2018 snapshot:

Longtime CIA favorite Adil Abd al-Mahdi has finally moved up to prime minister (designate) after many failed attempts previously.  And, to be clear for those new to him, he is not a CIA operative.  He is, however, the choice of the CIA and has been since 2006.  Their assessment has repeatedly argued he was the best person for the job in terms of qualifications.  In 2006, for example, they argued that Nouri al-Maliki's strongest "skill" was his paranoia which would make it easy for the US government to manipulate him.  The CIA's assessment of al-Mahdi has always been that he has the education and training to unite Iraq.  If he can form a government in 30 days and move from designate to prime minister (although, honestly, that's never followed, that part of the Constitution), the world may finally see if the CIA got this one right.  (They're kind of overdue for at least one right, aren't they?)

They remain overdue for getting one right still.  He was an awful prime minister.  But we're jumping ahead.  From the October 25, 2018 snapshot:

Iraq has named a prime minister.  We word that carefully because we should not say "new."  All hopes that this time would be different have slipped away.
Ahmed Rasheed and Ahmed Aboulenein (REUTERS) report that Adel Abdul al-Mahdi was sworn in yesterday as Prime Minister despite not putting together a full Cabinet.  That's the only thing you're supposed to do and you're supposed to do it for a reason.


Well it wasn't four years of gridlock.  I was wrong.  It was two years because November 30, 2019 found Mahdi announcing he was stepping down.


February 2, 2020, Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi was named prime minister-designate.  March 1st, Iraq was left saying "Allawi, we hardly knew you" as he announced his resignation after his inability to form a Cabinet.  As noted in March 17th snapshot, Salih has now named Adnan al-Zurfi prime minister-designate. 

Will Adnan al-Zurfi become prime minister?  Who knows?  Hamza Mustafa (ASHARQ AL-ASWAT) maintains, "Since his appointment, Zurfi has been making progress in winning over these blocs in order to form a new cabinet and focus on the country’s pressing problems instead of political squabbling. The Shiite Nasr coalition, headed by former PM Haidar al-Abadi, and the Sairoon coalition, headed by populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, had expressed their support for Zurfi. The Hikma movement headed by Ammar al-Hakim does not seem openly opposed to Zurfi."


The following sites updated:








Times Will Be Good Again (Ashford & Simpson)




Ashford & Simpson performing their classic "Times Will Be Good Again" from their album STREET OPERA.






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