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How US policies
sealed Iraq's fate

Strikingly devoid of comprehension of the forces at play in Iraq and the region, post-invasion US policy in Iraq followed a simplistic dichotomy of "good guys" versus "bad guys". Distressingly aware of what was happening to their country, Iraqis have long dreaded that the destabilization and sectarian disintegration would lead to the mass bloodletting that's now been unleashed. - Dahr Jamail (Jul 22, '14)

Hardliners maneuver
over Iran talks extension

Hardline Iranian factions are maintaining pressure on the government over potential concessions in any nuclear deal reached with world powers, following an amicable extension arrangement reached last week. By exaggerating the level of opposition in the establishment towards a long-term agreement, the conservative establishment hopes to prevent normalization of ties with the US. - Mahan Abedin (Jul 22, '14)



IRAN TALKS: ANALYSIS
Zarif and Kerry signal nuclear momentum
With the July 20 deadline fast approaching, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif signaled this week that talks have produced momentum toward agreement on the two most crucial issues for a nuclear pact: Iran's enrichment capability and the duration of the agreement. - Gareth Porter (Jul 18, '14)

Iran balks at Kurdish statehood threats
The prospect of Iraqi Kurdistan capitalizing on Iraq's turmoil to become an independent state is worrying Iran, with the Islamic Republic suspecting the new country would become a permanent base for American and Israeli influence on its doorstep. Even worse, independence would inevitably embolden irredentist Kurdish elements in Iran. - Mahan Abedi (Jul 18, '14)

Ravaging Gaza: The war Israel cannot win
The targeting of Hamas in Gaza is an Israeli attempt to challenge a narrative that is no longer about the strip and its siege anymore, but the entirety of Palestine, no matter what side of the Israeli "separation wall" Palestinians live. While the hurdles to unity currently look insurmountable, if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sparks another massive revolt, that will be the kind of war he cannot win. - Ramzy Baroud (Jul 16, '14)

How Israel turned tragedy into opportunity
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu portrayed the disappearance of three Israeli teens as a "kidnapping" case despite clear evidence they'd been quickly executed. Manipulating hopes in this way boosted Israel's flagging international image while creating political cover for the military to move against Hamas members and political dissidents in the West Bank. - Justin Schwegel (Jul 8, '14)

Iran, Saudis give battle on proxy stage
Iranian and Saudi Arabian maneuvers in West Asia and the Levant increasingly focus on using sectarian advantages to promote strategic dominance. Although a relative newcomer in the realm of global power-plays, Riyadh is already convinced that victories for its allies in the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts will see it gain a regional edge over Tehran. - Ehsan Ahrari (Jul 3, '14)

Why was Blackwater in China?
Reports that Blackwater was once hired to protect North Korean asylum-seekers in China suggest the West wants Beijing to follow "non-refoulement" principles to guarantee refuge. An acid test of this would be if Beijing started reviewing asylum dossiers, forcing the US and South Korea to live up to human-rights rhetoric and accept an influx of thousands of brutalized North Korean refugees. - Peter Lee (Jul 3, '14)

THE ROVING EYE
Arab Spring, Jihad Summer
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was an average Sunni Iraqi cleric with a degree in pedagogy before he metamorphosed into a de facto serial killer, blowing up Shi'ite kids at ice-cream shops. Now declared the Caliph of Islamic State, a catchier militant moniker than formerly used by the Men in Black, al-Baghdadi is the new Osama bin Laden, leading a group with sights set on conquering lands that include large swathes of Asia. - Pepe Escobar (Jul 2, '14)

SPEAKING FREELY
Iraqi tsunami hits South Asia
The Sunni militant's lightning advance in Iraq is set to test new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's diplomatic skills, with dozens of Indian workers kidnapped and some of India's 50 million Shi'ites considering travelling there to defend shrines. Neighboring Pakistan will also likely suffer financial and sectarian repercussions, putting further pressure on its precarious security situation. - Daniele Grassi (Jul 2, '14)

US ploy seen in Iran centrifuge demand
With the July 20 deadline approaching for an international agreement, the US is warning Iran that it must accept deep cuts in the number of its centrifuges to demonstrate its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes. The evidence points to a negotiating ploy in which the US would give up the demand in return for Iranian concessions at a later stage. - Gareth Porter (Jul 2, '14)

THE ROVING EYE
Fear and loathing at Hotel Babylon
Hardcore Sunnistan is going to descend into a noughties-style militia hell again as Men In Black of different persuasions slug it out in and beyond the Iraqi battlefield. While the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and their coalition of the willing won't take Baghdad just yet, the Empire of Chaos would cheer a final sectarian push towards a Great Kurdistan and across a balkanized Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Yemen. - Pepe Escobar (Jun 27, '14)

The beginnings of the angry Muslim
The West has culpability in the state of hopelessness and humiliation felt by a generation of Muslim youth, but Washington's wars were mostly a catalyst for the violence underway in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. The real roots of the "angry Muslim" lie in the dissolution of authentic and organic moral values which had allowed the Islamic community to persist as empires failed. - Ramzy Baroud (Jun 27, '14)

It's the oil, stupid!
No one in power ever mentions the oil when reasoning for the invasion of Iraq or weighing up the US response to the current disintegration of the country. Yet Iraq sits on one of the great, easily accessible fossil-fuel reserves on the planet and the oppressive regime of Nouri al-Maliki is racked with insurgency because it has refused to share vast oil revenues with his Sunni constituents. - Michael Schwartz (Jun 26, '14)

OBAMA ON IRAQ
How to avoid mission creep
The 300 "special ops" forces now advising Baghdad on quashing the militant threat in Iraq are at the spearhead of a mission that is in danger of expanding out of control. This is where multilateral approach built on international and regional consensus, including with Iran, becomes a useful mechanism for US President Barack Obama to help ward off mission creep. - M K Bhadrakumar (Jun 25, '14)

US condemns Egyptian verdicts
The United States joined international human rights groups around the world in "strongly condemning" Monday's conviction and sentencing by an Egyptian court of three Al Jazeera journalists and 15 others for their alleged association with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. - Jim Lobe (Jun 24, '14)

SPEAKING FREELY
Iraq and the emerging regional disorder
The Obama administration's approach to the Syrian crisis - where it turned a blind eye to US allies financing an extremist rebellion in Syria - has spilled over into letting its Shia and Alawite rivals sink in an expanding Iraqi quagmire. This sends a clear message to Asia's rising powers: America is unable to promote a stable regional order or to share power and responsibility in West Asia. - Zorawar Daulet Singh (Jun 24, '14)

US-Iran rapprochement: Are they there yet?
Despite the yawning chasm between the US and Iran since 1979, Washington may have little choice in forging rapprochement if "boots on the ground" emerge as the only option in Iraq. The fates of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are sticking points, but then everyone is lowering strategic expectations in the messy post-Arab Spring Middle East. - Ehsan Ahrari (Jun 24, '14)

Neo-cons, hawks fail to gain Iraq traction
US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the Middle East just as Sunni insurgents in Iraq extended their reach and captured a key border post with Syria. Back home, the hawks who propelled the US into war in Iraq 11 years ago are falling short in their efforts to persuade the public and Congress that the troops need to return. (Click here for the latest news developments on Iraq.) - Jim Lobe (Jun 23, '14)

A doomed US-Iran dynamic in Iraq
Iranian strategists likely see in the latest crisis an opportunity to wrest Iraq away from American military influence. That is a risky strategy. While the United States crafts its policy in the Middle East and elsewhere on the exclusive premise of national interest, Iran's strategy is much more complex as it reflects the country's profile as a revolutionary and ideological power. - Mahan Abedin (Jun 23, '14)

The impact of ISIS to spread
The Islamic State of Iraq and Sham's rapid growth results from interventions in regional leadership by Iran and Saudi Arabia, and ISIS's impact will spread beyond Iraq and Syria to new theaters in Lebanon, Yemen and post-US withdrawal Afghanistan. Most importantly for global stability, the creation of a caliphate would confirm the US's decline. - Daniele Grassi (Jun 20, '14)

Who won Iraq?
With the United States visibly tired of its wars in this century, questions over "who lost Iraq?" are unlikely ever to resonate as much as similar debates around who "lost" China and Vietnam. The geopolitical dreams of the George W Bush era are buried somewhere deep in the rubble of Iraq, while the present White House has neither visionaries nor global dreams. - Tom Engelhardt (Jun 20, '14)

SPEAKING FREELY
Australia joins Israeli word games
By stating that it will not describe East Jerusalem as "occupied" and threatening similar linguistic changes on how it terms the West Bank, Australia lays itself open to criticism over the application of international humanitarian law. Palestinians are also viewing the Australian government's "terminological clarification" in the context of what they see as pro-Israel changes in policy. - Nicola Nasser (Jun 20, '14)

THE ROVING EYE
Burn, Men in Black, burn
Divide and Rule has run amok in the Levant, courtesy of the Men in Black of Islamic State of Iraq and Sham, the US-trained jihadis and bastard children of Saudi spy chief Bandar Bush. While the CIA could never have conceived it, the ISIS is the perfect ski-mask-clad tool to keep the Global War on Terror in Enduring Freedom Forever mode. - Pepe Escobar (Jun 20, '14)

Iraq pays price of US sectarian meddling
The US oppressed Iraq's Sunni Muslims, empowered the Shi'ites, and fed the flame of sectarianism all in the name of a failed democratic adventure. While this was a major factor in the formation and extreme violence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham, the real story of ISIS is yet to be told. - Ramzy Baroud (Jun 18, '14)

Iraq's night is long
The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria is the leading force in the latest convulsions to sweep northern Iraq, but it is far from being alone. What unites al-Qaeda extremists, Ba'athists and decamped Iraqi military personnel is despair at Iraqi Premier Nouri al-Maliki's sectarianism and the failures of the Iraqi state to draw in the largely Sunni towns that run up the River Tigris from Baghdad. - Vijay Prashad (Jun 18, '14)

Iraqi quagmire calls the US back
As US President Barack Obama mulls the extent of America's next intervention in Iraq, he must also decide if its purpose will be to continue Nuri al-Maliki's brutal sectarian rule. If Obama decides that a breakup of Iraq won't hurt vital US interests, the Iraqi prime minister's paranoid visions may become reality. - Ehsan Ahrari (Jun 17, '14)

Battle-ready in Baghdad
Iraqi tribesmen hold weapons in Baghdad to show their readiness to join Iraqi security forces in the fight against jihadist militants in the north. As the militant offensive threatens to sweep south toward the Iraqi capital, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced that the Iraqi government would arm volunteers. Meanwhile, Barack Obama is sending 275 troops protect the US embassy in Baghdad. Click here for full story. (Jun 17, '14)

SPENGLER
America wants the impossible
The United States gets unwanted results - most recently in Iraq - because it projects its values system onto incompatible societies and conflicts. Americans simply don't want to think about the world as it actually is, and by default this may lead the rest of the world towards players with a sense of reality. Unburdened by a social-engineering approach and affirmative-action mentality, China is the leading likeliest candidate. (Jun 16, '14)

Obama broods over an Iraqi odyssey
US President Barack Obama has invoked a cardinal principle of the so-called Obama Doctrine as he mulls over a role for a coalition of the willing in response to dramatic developments in northern Iraq and the fall of Mosul. While singling out the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant as the enemy, Obama will be aware of the other forces at work, and it will be the mother of all ironies if he invites the powerful foreign backers now stirring the revolt to be part of the solution. - M K Bhadrakumar (Jun 16, '14)

SPEAKING FREELY
Oil history permeates Iran nuclear deal
The clock is ticking on the July 20 deadline for the agreement that will wipe out Iran's estimated US$40 billion investment in its nuclear program as a result of a hasty deal between the clerics and the West. The clerics' compromise carries shades of the oil nationalization in early 1950s, when they helped bring down an elected prime minister intent on defending Iran's right to nationalize oil. - Akbar E Torbat (Jun 16, '14)

Volunteers bound for Mosul fight
An Iraqi civilian in the southern port city of Basra kisses a Koran as he queues with volunteers to board a bus bound for Mosul. Islamic militants who overran cities and towns in northern Iraq last week have posted graphic photos appearing to show their gunmen massacring captured Iraqi soldiers, while the prime minister pledged on Sunday to "liberate every inch" of territory now under militant control. (Jun 16, '14)

Jihadis in Iraq blindside US spies
United States intelligence agencies were caught by surprise when jihadi fighters seized major Iraqi cities this week. That failure harks back to another intelligence miscue, in February, when US spy agencies failed to predict the Russian invasion of Crimea. Both raise questions about whether the billions of dollars the US spends every year on monitoring the world's hot spots is paying off - and what else its spies might be missing. (Jun 13, '14)

BOOK REVIEW
US stuck between dispensability and decline
Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat by Vali Nasr
While offering a harsh critique of the President Barack Obama's policies in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and across the Arab World, the author argues that the United States is not declining. This ignores that while the United States became an "indispensable nation" by implementing its stimulating post-World War II vision, it has failed since to develop a comparable vision for the future that is both realistic and doable. - Ehsan M Ahrari (Jun 13, '14)

Kurdish oil and a value vacuum
The "surprise" announcement that crude oil from Kurdistan had been shipped to Europe after being piped through Turkey raises important questions, not least of which concerns how, and in what currency, if any, this and later shipments will be paid for. - Chris Cook (Jun 11, '14)

Rouhani making progress, one year on
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's signal achievement after a year in office is simply to put government back into the hands of adults, people with experience and common sense. Much of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's crippling legacy has yet to be dealt with, but the effects of a return to sensible policies are already discernible, not least in the form of serious negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. - Shaul Bakhash (Jun 11, '14)

Decision time for US on Iran
As nuclear talks between Iranian and US delegations got underway in Geneva this week, Abbas Araqchi, a senior Iranian nuclear negotiator, emphasized that for them to reach a solid result, the Western side would have to make difficult decisions. Negotiations will get nowhere if the United States merely seeks excuses to mount further pressure on Iran.- Gholamali Khoshroo (Jun 11, '14)

Iraq 'emergency' call as Mosul falls
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki wants a state of emergency declared after Al-Qaeda-linked militants seized control of Mosul, one of Iraq's largest cities, as part of attacks that reportedly have led to the takeover of the entire Nineveh province. Thousands of people have fled the city, with others fleeing attacks in Anbar province to the south, adding to the near half-million who have fled their homes amid recent fighting there. (Jun 11, '14)

SPEAKING FREELY
US hypocrisy and Middle East democracy
US officials dismissed Syria's presidential election as illegitimate because of the war conditions and excluded sections of the population, though US-backed votes in Iraq and Afghanistan faced similar circumstances. The willful cognitive dissonance is symptomatic of Western governments' failure to present a credible alternative even as they criticize the governments and governmental processes of countries they do not like. - Ahmed E Souaiaia (Jun 10, '14)

Egypt turns its back on Uncle Sam
Since September 11, 2001, Washington's policies in the Middle East have proven to be a grim imperial comedy of errors and are increasingly a spectacle of how a superpower can be sidelined. In this drama, Egypt, a key ally of Uncle Sam in the Arab world, has, like Saudi Arabia, largely turned its back on the Obama administration. It is a move barely noticed by the American media. - Dilip Hiro (Jun 10, '14)

BOOK REVIEW
A struggle against Israeli soft power
The Battle for Justice in Palestine
by Ali Abunimah
The author believes the Palestinian struggle will benefit from a growing awareness of Israeli actions brought about by a "boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement" similar to that which increased international isolation of apartheid-era South Africa. One of the more interesting parts of the work is its exploration of how neoliberal economic patterns have been imposed on Palestine. - Jim Miles (Jun 6, '14)

Arab street written out of uprisings
The Arab Spring brought the "people" factor back to a Middle Eastern political equation long dominated by dictators and foreign powers. But instead of embracing coverage of the impoverished and oppressed who sparked the revolts, Western media crafted a narrative based on the self-serving views of political elites, aid organizations and English-speaking social media buffs. - Ramzy Baroud (Jun 5, '14)

COMMENT
Iran, North Korea as proliferation epicenters
If North Korea continues to retain and build more nuclear weapons, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and others will inevitably seek their own devices, just as Middle Eastern countries will follow if Iran builds its own. Regional nuclear arms races increase the prospect of materials falling into the hands of non-state actors and a real threat the whole world. That is why it is imperative nuclear talks succeed. - Joseph R DeTrani (Jun 3, '14)

Low turnout blots Sisi's victory in Egypt
Estimates of the number of voters who bothered to cast their votes in Egypt's fait accompli presidential election vary from as little as 15% of the electorate to the incumbent government's 40% count, even as voters were cajoled to go to the polls. A heat wave took some of the blame, but disenchanted youths declared former army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's success - he endorsed 90% of ballots cast - as a hollow victory. - Annabell Van den Berghe (May 30, '14)

SPENGLER
Pope applies universal
salve to Middle East

Pope Francis' visit to the Holy Land, and his invitation to Israeli and Palestinian leaders who do not pray to do so in the Vatican, was a rather pointless intervention into Middle East politics. His sudden passion for a Palestinian state was political theater, with nothing more at stake than his ambition for the renewal of a Church that saves fewer individuals than ever but hopes nevertheless to save everybody. (May 29, '14)

Ankara may regret shipping Kurdish oil
The Kurdistan Regional Government's decision to go ahead with its first shipment of crude oil to Europe out of the port of Ceyhan in southern Turkey may be seen by the Turkish government as a blessing. But it may prove a political curse in Ankara's already troubled relations with Baghdad. - Jacques N Couvas (May 27, '14)

SPEAKING FREELY
Egypt between the hammer and the anvil
Egyptians voting in this week's election face a choice between Abdul-Fattah Al-Sisi, a strongman candidate representing a military whose iron rule in the past 60 years has failed to spur economic success, and Hamdeen Sabbahi, a left-wing nationalist candidate who wants a military state blanketed in a civilian attire. Neither appears to have the attributes needed to steer Egypt towards a viable democratic path. - Muhamed Arabi (May 27, '14)

BOOK REVIEW
Re-imagining the caliphate
The Inevitable Caliphate? A History of the Struggle for Global Islamic Union, 1924 to the Present by Reza Pankhurst
A forceful and authoritative attempt at elevating debate over the Islamic caliphate beyond Western elitist perceptions of extremism and radicalization, this book offers a clear-sighted analysis of the movements that have placed the caliphate at center of their revivalist discourse. The book's biggest flaw is arguably the author's reductionist approach toward the potential constituency of the caliphate. - Mahan Abedin (May 23, '14)

Conflict deepens Middle East water crisis
Conflict, population growth and economic expansion are placing unsustainable pressure on the Middle East's water resources. While this has prompted gloomy predictions of shortages leading to mass migrations, crop failures and even more wars, wealthy countries such as Saudi Arabia have proved that supply, management and consumer education offer a possible answer. - Thomas W Lippman (May 21, '14)

The Nakba and the land of oranges
Jaffa is a potent symbol for this year's commemorations of the Nakba, or catastrophe, when Palestinians were exiled by the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Previously a center of Arab culture, it was defeated in the culmination of a violent campaign by Israeli militias. It is losing its Palestinian-Arab identity as a conquered city, but refugees still view Jaffa as a symbol of hope. - Ramzy Baroud (May 21, '14)

Tehran treads social liberties tightrope
Iranian youths are more interested in Western culture than revolutionary values or religion and politics, with exposure to satellite television and social media leading many of the urban middle class towards a lifestyle that's far from the Islamic ideal envisioned by the regime. While loosening freedoms could unleash an existential challenge, keeping a tight grip could fuel equally dangerous levels of resentment. - Amin Shahriar (May 19, '14)

A tale of many Yemens
Simplistic portrayals of Yemen as just the latest front line in the US drone war ignore the population's deep political consciousness and the country's seemingly endless divisions. Until Western nations actually admit to the real reasons behind the instability, the promises of support to end the civil war will likely remain just that. - Ramzy Baroud (May 16, '14)

US demand may derail nuclear talks
US officials are poised to demand a drastic cut in Iran's uranium enrichment capabilities that is widely expected to deadlock moves for a final deal on the country's nuclear program. Iran is almost certain to reject the concept that it should reduce the number of its centrifuges, and the gambit to reduce the "breakout" time for Iran to amass enough uranium to make an atomic weapon could escalate tensions between Washington and Tehran. - Gareth Porter (May 16, '14)

Dark outlook for post-sanctions Iran
Graft and institutional inefficiency will inhibit any move to domestic prosperity should a nuclear deal end sanctions on Iran. Nor is the Rouhani administration, any more than its predecessors, likely to challenge elite economic interests. - Hossein Askari (May 14, '14)

Iran nuclear deal hits hardest phase
As Iran and world powers today resume negotiating a final deal on Tehran's nuclear program, experts warn the hardest work is about to begin. The confidence-building phase of the talks targeted the "low-hanging fruit", leaving thorny issues such as the number of years Iran will have to comply with the terms of the deal yet to be resolved. - Jasmin Ramsey (May 13, '14)

Chronicle of death foretold for Palestine
The failure of the United States to broker an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority comes as little surprise, in spite of Secretary of State John Kerry's strenuous efforts. Even cursory examination of the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is sufficient to conclude that the process leading to a Palestinian State living side by side with Israel was doomed to failure more than a century ago. - Baher Kamal (May 12, '14)

SPEAKING FREELY
Israel acts to undermine Arabs in Asia
Once a reservoir of support for Arabs in their conflict with Israel over Palestine, Asian countries are drawn closer to Tel Aviv by the promise of modern weaponry. If the economic and military ties that Israel is developing with emerging Asian powers evolve into deeper political links, then Tel Aviv could use these to influence those countries' sympathies in the Arab-Israeli conflict. - Nicola Nasser (May 12, '14)

Drone war:
Remote and personal

Unexpected support of a small but growing group of former drone pilots who have carried out strikes on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq and in CIA covert assassinations in Pakistan and Yemen may give new life to a US campaign against "targeted killings". Evidence that other operators and analysts are beginning to crack under the pressure of the true horrors of their remote-controlled missions adds to the sense that the drone war has failed. - Pratap Chatterjee (May 12, '14)

SPEAKING FREELY
Rouhani floats on shrinking political base
Iranian President Hasan Rouhani stands accused by reformists of betraying alliances that helped him gain power and also faces opprobrium over his economic policy and apparent concessions he's made in nuclear talks with Western powers. With an economic austerity program due to be implemented, the sense of isolation around Rouhani seems set to grow. - Akbar E Torbat (May 9, '14)

US flies false flag for Syrian rebels
New gestures of support for Syrian opposition forces belie the Obama administration's determination to restrain US involvement in the country's three-year-old civil war. A substantial increase in military assistance to the fractious rebel forces is off the policy menu, despite pressure from hawks in Washington and Saudi Arabia. - Jim Lobe (May 8, '14)

Syria polarizes a Middle East generation
Supporters of Bashar al-Assad forward him as a last line of defense against American imperialism, while his intellectual opposition twist every incident to implicate the Syrian president's forces. Assad is neither a deity nor a Che Guevara, and the extremist rebel factions hardly offer an antidote to Syria's many ills. One of the few certainties left is the people's suffering. - Ramzy Baroud (May 8, '14)

UN probe chief doubts Syrian sarin claims
The head of the United Nations team that investigated the August 2013 sarin attack in Damascus has suggested that many people who claimed to have been seriously affected by sarin imagined they had suffered exposure to the chemical. Underlying Ake Sellstrom's doubts is data that show those put forward by the Syria opposition as among the most affected didn't have serious exposure to nerve gas. - Gareth Porter (May 7, '14)

Four dimensions to nuclear chess game
Iran and six international powers start a week of talks in New York aimed at reaching a permanent agreement to limit Iran's nuclear program and to cool Western concerns over its potential to produce nuclear weapons. With a host of influential views to consider, reaching agreement is a complex process and for US negotiators is akin to conducting four sets of talks at the same time. - Gary Sick (May 5, '14)

BOOK REVIEW
Shaking the pillars of Israel's history
The Idea of Israel - A History of Power and Knowledge by Ilan Pappe Reviewed
by Jim Miles
This exploration of how Israel shaped a historic narrative to create a sense of nationhood and political direction recounts the attacks on historians in the 1990s who challenged the traditional Zionist discourse. The takeaway from this complex book is that issues surrounding the manipulation of victimhood have the potential to erode the foundations that the modern state is built on. - Jim Miles (May 2, '14)

Iraq PM predicts victory as votes counted
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki says he is "certain" of winning a third term in office after 60% of the country's voters cast ballots on April 30, defying militants who vowed to disrupt the first parliamentary elections since US forces withdrew from the country three years ago. (May 2, '14)

Unity is timely for Palestine factions
The unity deal achieved last week between the top Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, reflects growing desperation rather than a desire to heal a long-running rift. While Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas realizes that he lacks any legacy achievements amid flagging peace talks, Hamas is being squeezed by Israel and Egypt. - Ramzy Baroud (Apr 30, '14)

The road from
Abu Ghraib

Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi prison where the George W Bush administration gave Saddam Hussein a run for his money in terms of ill-treatment of prisoners, has been closed down, prompted by the Iraqi government's fears that it could be overrun by Sunni insurgents, and just ahead of the April 28 10th anniversary of the moment that the horrors of abuse by the US military at the prison were revealed to the American public. It is a torture story without a hero or an ending. - Karen J Greenberg (Apr 28, '14)

Israel-Palestine peace talks hit the wall
The US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have come screeching to a halt, with the US all but admitting that the blame lies with Israel, aggrieved that Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas has chosen to reconcile with Hamas. With that decision carrying ramifications for the US approach, the question is whether the stalled talks herald the end of the two-state solution. - Richard Silverstein (Apr 28, '14)

Moscow's shady Ukraine denials shed light
Moscow's denials of military involvement in eastern Ukraine bear a resemblance to the official line on Crimea until President Vladimir Putin recently confirmed otherwise. Certain aspects of these official denials may shed some light on Russia's wider strategy to stop the crisis from escalating. - Roger Mcdermott (Apr 25, '14)
Click here for the latest news from Ukraine.

US choppers carry mixed message on Egypt
US Secretary of State Chuck Hagel this week told Egypt that he doubts whether the country is taking steps to support a democratic transition. At the same time, he confirmed the delivery of Apache attack helicopters to support military chief and presidential shoo-in Abdel Fatah al-Sisi's counter-terror operations. The arms delivery, according to rights groups, destroys the credibility and impact of US condemnation of Egypt's crackdown on legitimate dissent. - Jasmin Ramsey (Apr 24, '14)

US hands Palestine a loaded deck
The pro-Israel past of prominent figures on the US side of the flagging Middle East peace process undermines Washington's honest-broker status while highlighting why the US has come to accept sometimes extreme Israeli demands as mainstream discourse. Far from pursuing the process to reach a meaningful solution, the latest initiative seems designed to give the US a useful regional platform. - Ramzy Baroud (Apr 23, '14)

SPEAKING FREELY
No hegemonic peace in Cyprus
Occupying powers have quit places such as Iraq and East Timor, yet the West allows Turkey to garrison northern Cyprus in perpetuity through "international treaties". Amid the discovery of hydrocarbons off the island, plans are afoot for a new regional security system, but Ankara's record for aggression could undermine any such body's international legitimacy. - Marios L Evriviades (Apr 17, '14)

SPEAKING FREELY
Assad's staying power on show
As Syrian President President Bashar al-Assad's forces take the upper hand and the rebellion against him is dominated by extremists, countries that hoped to sponsor Assad's demise can only step up support of the "increasingly rare" moderate factions. A defeat of Assad was to become a victory for political Islam - but as hopes of this fade enemies are more concerned about blowback. - Nicola Nasser (Apr 11, '14)

Dust storms cloud Iranís future
Dust storms are normal in the more arid regions of the world, but what Iran is now experiencing verges on catastrophe, with Tehran obscured for 117 days of the past year. Solving the problem will require better water and land-management practices, and, above all, cooperation with Iranís neighbors, which face the same wind-borne disaster. - David Michel (Apr 11, '14)

Palestinians draw line at criminal court
When Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas defied the United States and Israel over stalled peace negotiations, he formally indicated to the United Nations last week that Palestine will join 15 international conventions relating mostly to the protection of human rights and treaties governing conflicts and prisoners of war. The International Criminal Court is not on the list - for the time being. - Thalif Deen (Apr 8, '14)

Obama's moral compass changes on Iraq
President Barack Obama last month defended the 2003 invasion of Iraq following unfavorable comparisons between it and Russia's annexation of Crimea, insisting the United Staters "worked within the international system" and never planned to "grab resources". Both assertions are shaky, but Obama's failure to mention the devastation of the country and its population is more troubling. - Adil E Shamoo (Apr 7, '14)

New US reality: Empire beyond salvation
After eight months of wrangling to push talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority forward, US Secretary of State John Kerry has acknowledged the latest setback to be a "reality check" for the Palestinian peace process. But for the Americans, the last few years have been less a "reality check" around the globe, more the new reality itself. - Ramzy Baroud (Apr 7, '14)

US 'peace process' charade plays on
The United States is scrambling to rescue a framework agreement between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, but Washington likely knows its efforts are doomed by the right-wing majority in Israel's ruling coalition. By pursuing talks that achieve little but advance Israeli military objectives, the Obama administration continues a pattern repeated since its launch by Henry Kissinger. - Ramzy Baroud (Apr 2, '14)

US rejects 'Iran confession' demand
The Barack Obama administration may have refused to bow to Israeli pressure in its nuclear negotiations with Iran by apparently rejecting a deal-breaking demand that as a condition for completing a comprehensive nuclear agreement the US obtain an Iranian confession to having had a covert nuclear weapons program. - Gareth Porter (Apr 1, '14)

SPENGLER
The phantom menace in Palestine
The Israeli Solution by Caroline Glick
The "problem" of Palestinian refugees has some rare distinctions. They have remained in refugee camps for seven decades, while comparable large refugee groups have long been assimilated into other populations; and their actual numbers are below the official figures bandied about by various authorities. Ms Glick draws a bold conclusion: Israel should annex Judea and Samaria - the West Bank - just as it did Jerusalem. (Mar 31, '14)

Palestinian showdown turns ugly
Bad blood between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and exiled Fatah rival Mohammed Dahlan has soured further amid increased leadership tensions in the struggle against Israel's occupation. While Abbas is facing potential political oblivion against the background of a flagging US-brokered peace process, Dahlan is using strong friends around the region to plot his own political comeback. - Ramzy Baroud (Mar 28, '14)

Egypt becomes battleground for Arab world
When the Saudi monarchy realized that the Muslim Brotherhood was using its rule in Egypt to spread a seductive vision of pragmatic progressive Islam, Riyadh knew it had to support a counter-revolution in Cairo and fund a military regime that would crush the movement. If the Saudi plan succeeds, the Arab world will likely descend into another era of tyrants. - Monte Palmer (Mar 24, '14)

Executions rising in Iran
Iran executed more prisoners in 2013 than it had done for 15 years, with 687 inmates killed. According to UN figures, the country lags only China in the number of executions, and leads the world on a per-capita basis. What also alarms anti-death penalty campaigners is the overwhelming number of ethnic minority Kurds, Baloch and Baha'is sent to the gallows. - Isolda Agazzi (Mar 21, '14)

SPEAKING FREELY
Riyadh takes wrong road to stability
Saudi Arabia has lavished billions of dollars on buying weapons and funding insurgencies to counter Iran's rise as a power, all in the name of securing regional stability. Instead of wasting so much blood and treasure, it could have simply found a way to support peace in its neighborhood. - Nicola Nasser (Mar 21, '14)

EU draws hope from Ashton's Iran visit
Conservative elements within the Iranian government and press gave caustic appraisals of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton's visit this month to the country, particularly following her meeting with women activists. In contrast, European countries cautiously praised her trip as a showcase of Iran's progressive new leadership, with Brussels already envisioning a future where nuclear sanctions are no more. - Edward Wastnidge (Mar 20, '14)

Gulf an 'Eldorado' for arms sales
Gulf countries are rapidly climbing charts of the world's top arms importers, with concern over domestic terrorism, political instability and regional competition leading the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to spend vast oil revenues on modern, mostly US-supplied weaponry. While ostensibly the ordnance is aimed at countering perceived threats from Iran, its actual strategic value is negligible. - Thalif Deen (Mar 19, '14)

Iran's dervishes are hungry for equality
A hunger strike by Iran's dervishes sparked by the denial of medical treatment to a jailed member of the minority

has spread out of the prisons and across the country. The group is disillusioned that the election of purportedly reformist President Hassan Rouhani hasn't improved their lot and wants constitutional rules implemented which guarantee all Iranian citizens are treated equally. - Golnaz Esfandiari (Mar 13, '14)

Israel stokes holy row over mosque
The Palestinian ministry for religious affairs says Israeli forces last month carried out 30 attacks in the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem, revered as the third-holiest Muslim shrine in the world. Demands by far-right Israeli politicians that the government fulfill a Jewish prophecy and enforce its "sovereignty" over the site are further heightening tensions. - Ramzy Baroud (Mar 12, '14)

'Yesterday Stalin, today Putin'
A woman holds a sign reading "Yesterday Stalin, Today Putin" as descendants of Crimean Tartars deported by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in 1944 protest in Istanbul against Russian actions in Crimea. Demonstrators argue that Turkey should use its influence to ensure that the Black Sea peninsula remains a part of Ukraine and is not annexed by Russia. - Glenn Kates (Mar 10, '14)

Turkey walking a tightrope over Crimea
As Russia's intervention in Crimea plays out, pressure is growing on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to act to protect Crimean Tatars, a pro-Ukrainian ethnic minority group with strong cultural links to Turkey. Domestic critics will pounce on any hint that Erdogan is not supporting the Tartars, but taking a more confrontational position with Moscow could cause a major disruption in trade. - Dorian Jones (Mar 10, '14)

HOSSEIN ASKARI
The real enemies of Islam
Muslims around the world have been deceived into believing that the West and Westerners are the enemies of Islam. Islam's real enemies are oppressive and corrupt Muslim rulers who misrepresent its teachings and hijack its mantle for their own gain. (Mar 10, '14)

Oppressive rulers fuel
misconceptions of Islam

The perception of Islam as a religion that has bred oppressive rule, intolerance, underdevelopment, corruption and opulence alongside poverty, could apply to most Muslim countries. For that, we must thank not Islamic teachings but the rulers who refuse to comply with them. - Hossein Askari (Mar 7, '14)

SPEAKING FREELY
Raid boosts 'trigger happy' Israel claims
Hours after Amnesty International accused Israel of disproportionate force and unlawful killings in the West Bank, a deadly raid by infantry, military bulldozers and security officers on a terrorism suspect threatened to vindicate the claims. Military spokespeople say 24-year-old Muatazz Abdul-Rahim Washaha resisted arrest, but the grisly results of a "pressure cooker" assault on his apartment suggest otherwise. - Nicola Nasser (Mar 7, '14)

Syria's liberators face Palestine legacy
Arab media and politicians champion the rights of Syria's suffering civilians with the same fervor that they back the Palestinian cause, but none mention the rape and revulsion Syrian refugees face in their countries. The region's muted reaction to the siege of Palestinian refugees in Syria's Yarmouk camp is further testament to the fragile state of "Arab solidarity". - Ramzy Baroud (Mar 4, '14)

US keeps Middle East enemies too close
The Barack Obama administration's Middle East strategy has included siding with the Muslim Brotherhood to build influence with Arab Sunni countries, and drawing closer to the Iran regime to define future relations with the Shi'ite sphere. By courting radicals rather than engaging pro-democracy forces, the US has sidelined a disillusioned opposition in Iran and undermined its own status across the region. - Walid Phares (Mar 3, '14)

Nuclear deal hits history hurdles
US officials have suggested that as a condition of signing an historic agreement Iran must resolve allegations from the International Atomic Energy Agency that it has had in the past a covert nuclear weapons program. The negotiations record shows that while Tehran has been ready for the past two years to provide detailed answers, the problem has been the agency's refusal to share with Iran the documents on which those allegations have been based. - Gareth Porter (Mar 3, '14)

Morality should matter in US' Gulf policy
The United States wants Middle East stability to ensure for itself short-term economic gains. The dangers with this approach - involving support of dictators and all their associated evils - increase by the day as dissenting pressure grows within oppressed populations. Without an injection of morality into its policies, the US is sure to find itself on the wrong side of history. - Hossein Askari (Feb 28, '14)

SPEAKING FREELY
Unrealistic ethics shape foreign policy
From critical decisions on US American intervention in Syria to debate over preventing genocide in Rwanda, policy approaches in Washington by both liberals or realists typically rely on beautifully coherent concepts rather than a hard-edged appraisal of facts on the ground. The self-interest of government agencies, budget battles and political rivalries only bolster this intellectual distortion. - Gary Wasserman (Feb 28, '14)

Sisi evokes Soviet ghosts with the US
Egyptian army chief Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is cozying up with Russia to signal discontent with US aid conditions hampering his plans for military modernization. While Washington is loathe to repeat its mistakes of the 1950s, when its refusal to address similar military and development aspirations pushed Cairo into the Soviet Union's arms, Sisi lacks the legitimacy to rock the Middle Eastern order. - Nicola Nasser (Feb 25, '14)

Checkpoints between worlds in Gaza
While Gazans are forced to endure hours of delays every day at security checkpoints, regardless of their age or state of health, Israelis breeze past in special "fast lanes". The imbalance is an apt example of the parallel worlds the two seemingly co-inhabit, with one enjoying subsidized housing, healthcare and transport and the other suffering a life of low-income subsistence. - Ramzy Baroud (Feb 25, '14)

US adopts Israeli demand on Iran's missiles
The United States is insisting that Iran discuss its ballistic missile program in talks for a comprehensive nuclear agreement, even as history suggests it knows Iran will not accept the stance and that it is not necessary to guarantee that Tehran's atomic program is not used for a weapon. The demand, however, brings Washington into line with a pro-Israeli position aimed at torpedoing the negotiations. - Gareth Porter (Feb 24, '14)

COMMENT
Gulf's collaborative colonialism here to stay
Today's oil-producing Middle East countries are, in reality, little changed from a century ago, with colonialism merely morphing into collaboration between their fabulously wealthy rulers and former colonial masters. The result is a dearth of legitimate institutions and economies that are unsustainable and unstable. - Hossein Askari (Feb 21, '14)

THE ROVING EYE
Warning: Saudi-driven mayhem ahead
When Britain's Prince Charles danced to Riyadh's tune this week, it was as a warm-up act to an extremely juicy deal for Europe's leading arms supplier. The House of Saud is stockpiling weapons, and its storm-stirrer-in-chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, aka Bandar Bush, remains on the loose. Every which way one looks at it, major Saudi-provoked mayhem lies ahead. - Pepe Escobar (Feb 21, '14)

The scandal of Syria
Neo-conservatives and liberal interventionists were discredited long ago, but the United States still has an obligation to help solve the scandal of the Syrian crisis. Not because it is a superpower or has all (or any) of the answers, but because Americans have responsibilities as global citizens. - John Feffer (Feb 21, '14)

A sectarian cloak for Middle East wars
A perpetual religious conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran is forwarded as the Middle East's greatest source of instability. However, the clash is not driven primarily by a Sunni-Shi'ite divide or even Arab-Persian ethnic differences. The conflict is informed by two radically different models of government - each laying claim to Islamic legitimacy - and two very different visions of regional order. - Frederic Wehrey (Feb 21, '14)

Egypt back to her old ways in song
With dissenting against the junta at present ruling Egypt liable to have you put behind bars on trumped up charges, now is hardly the time to release a song about the state of the emperor's new clothes. Yet Yasser Elmanawahly is staying true to his ideals with a catchy new tune that carries chilling references to a country he sees as stepping back to pre-revolution days. - Mamoon Alabbasi (Feb 20, '14)

Colorful past behind Libyan 'coup maker'
Libyan officials derided as "ridiculous" and a "lie" last week's call by Libyan army chief Major General Khalifa Hifter for a military takeover involving a suspension parliament, and they insisted the government is stable. Tripoli has little reason to fear overthrow by the disorganized and weak army, but Hifter's historic links with the Central Intelligence Agency could be a concern. - Ramzy Baroud (Feb 18, '14)

THE ROVING EYE
Iran's real 'nuclear' revolution
The nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 are back this week in Vienna. The stakes couldn't be higher, and folk with hidden, and not so hidden, agendas on both sides badly want the talks to fail - and will spare no effort towards that goal, with those in the West backed already by decades of disinformation - Pepe Escobar (Feb 18, '14)

BOOK REVIEW
Islam outside an imperial lens
Re-Emerging Islamic Civilization by Eric Walberg
This alternative history of Islam - full title From Postmodernism to Postsecularism - Re-Emerging Islamic Civilization explores how its modern destiny was twisted by oil, money, imperialism and despotism, as well as by political prejudices conjured up by European empires. Arguing that today's global capitalism is inimical to Islamic notions of human dignity and social justice, the author recasts the religion as "a treasure to be rediscovered by the West". - Jim Miles (Feb 14, '14)

Baghdad plays familiar al-Qaeda card
The West has blindly accepted accusations by Iraq's Nuri al-Maliki administration that it is "al-Qaeda-linked" militants who have taken over Fallujah following fighting there. A closer look suggests organizations operating there are more likely extensions of growing Sunni opposition to Maliki's increasingly authoritarian government and the perilous political and security situation. - Nicola Nasser (Feb 14, '14)

Iran looks to private sector
Iran's parliament is instructing the oil ministry in Tehran to engage with and support the country's private sector both in domestic and international energy co-operation initiatives. European business executives understand what that means. Washington's bureaucrats do not. - Chris Cook (Feb 11, '14)

CULTURE
Revolution can't upstage Iranian cinema
Three-and-a-half decades after the Islamic Revolution, Iran remains one of the most repressive places a filmmaker can work. But movies such as the Oscar-winning A Separation offer proof of vibrant creativity. How did Iranian cinema become so critically acclaimed? - Charles Recknagel (Feb 11, '14)

Six steps to a done deal on nuclear Iran
Iran and the world's six major powers get around the table next week to seek a final resolution of the nuclear impasse. Six issues are crucial to an accord and need to be agreed by all parties. If the negotiators succeed, they will make history. Their failure could open the path to a nuclear-armed Iran or a new war in the Middle East - or both. - Joe Cirincione (Feb 11, '14)

Iraqi women endure Abu Ghraib legacy
Reports of the torture, rape and detention without charge of thousands of women in Iraqi prisons haven't produced the same Western outrage at similar human-rights abuses other Muslim countries. - Ramzy Baroud (Feb 11, '14)

Israel in backlash on settlement goods
The longstanding Israeli practice of labeling settlement products "Made in Israel" is leading to mounting opposition to the occupation and growing threats of boycotts by consumers around the world. - Pierre Klochendler (Feb 10, '14)

Implosion fears grow for Iraq
Iraq's strongest factions are feeling comforted by the fact that weeks of fighting between Sunni-al Qaeda groups and Iraqi forces, in Anbar province, have unfolded outside the richest oil fields. But they shouldn't discount just how quickly civil wars can spiral out of control, and this time the US has little military leverage over Iraq to control events from afar. - Ramzy Baroud (Feb 7, '14)

SPEAKING FREELY
Cornering a Palestinian man of peace
As Israel and the US pile pressure on Mahmoud Abbas to accept a peace deal criticized as "heavily pro-Israel", Palestinians are accusing their president of giving away far too much in negotiations. Abbas has committed to demilitarizing Palestine and has crossed other "red lines". Israel, by refusing to reciprocate, risks sparking the third Intifada that Abbas hopes to prevent. - Nicola Nasser (Feb 7, '14)

Flawed Iran nuclear claims won't die
Intercepted telexes from an Iranian university to foreign firms in the early 1990s formed the basis for Western intelligence agencies to believe they saw the first signs of military involvement in Iran's nuclear program. The interpretation was fundamentally flawed, and while the international watchdog acknowledged that as much as six years ago, the error has taken on a life of its own as assessments of Iran's nuclear capabilities continue to peddle a discredited line. - Gareth Porter (Feb 6, '14)

SPENGLER
Turkish financial crisis adds to region's chaos
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's prestige, founded on Turkey's supposed economic miracle, has collapsed along with the lira. Western planners once believed the country could be a pillar of stability in an otherwise chaotic region. Under Erdogan, it has become a spoiler allied to the region's most destructive and anti-Western forces. (Feb 5, '14)

COMMENT
Time is ripe for US to embrace Iran
Within 100 days of his tenure, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reversed 34 years of mutual hostility with the United States. Full rapprochement with Iran will calm the Middle East. It is time for the US to turn over a new leaf and start a period of true collaboration. - Farhang Jahanpour (Jan 30, '14)

SPEAKING FREELY
Palestine divisions worsen Yarmouk siege
Palestinian refugees living in the opposition occupied Yarmouk Camp in south Damascus are dying of starvation and thirst as Islamist groups refuse to leave their strategic "prize" and government forces maintain their siege on the camp. Yet instead of acting to end the tragedy, Palestinian factions and their regional patrons are using the camp for political point scoring. - Ahmad Barqawi (Jan 30, '14)

COMMENT
Principles to guide the young activist
Young activists planning to fight for causes such as Palestine's must internalize such struggles as part of their character before carrying a banner and standing in front of a crowd with a microphone. If activists cannot present arguments with engaging narratives of real people and their real stories, then sympathy for that cause - big or small - will quickly fade. - Ramzy Baroud (Jan 28, '14)

Iran and a new energy settlement
President Hassan Rouhani spoke in Davos last week of creating a body tasked with stabilizing global energy supplies and of putting some of Iran's oil and gas reserves at its disposal. The time is now ripe for the concept of an International Energy Clearing Union to bear fruit. - Chris Cook (Jan 27, '14)

West's businesses turning towards Iran
The easing of sanctions on Iran is sending Westerners rushing to seek new business opportunities in Tehran, from French energy and automotive executives to British lawmakers. Business delegations are also arriving from Italy, Austria, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, and elsewhere. - Charles Recknagel (Jan 24, '14)

THE ROVING EYE
Rouhani and the 1914 remix
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has emerged as a Davos darling by wooing the in-crowd with an "open for business" sign. But the Masters of the Universe were less enamored by what he had to say on geopolitics, since rather than face the real sources of "rising tensions", they prefer an old centennial world war view: that 2014 is 1914 all over again. - Pepe Escobar (Jan 24, '14)

SPEAKING FREELY
Sharon and the art of self-deception
The American media response to the death of former Israeli leader Ariel Sharon exposes the flawed narrative of US leadership, allowing the occupiers of the White House, Capitol Hill, and the Pentagon to fool themselves that their vision of themselves as champions of democracy is shared by all right-thinking people, rather than face up to the sordid realities of their imperial policies. - Jason Hirthler (Jan 23, '14)

US-Israel alliance strange but stable
The rules by which US-Israeli relations are governed are perhaps the most bewildering of all foreign policies of any two countries. Israeli near dominance over US foreign policy in the Middle East is entrenched, if not complete, and Israel's role in shaping the outlook of US foreign policy cannot be ignored in the diplomatic dance around peace. - Ramzy Baroud (Jan 22, '14)

SPEAKING FREELY
The real US legacy in Iraq
As Fallujah, the city once again "lost" to jihadists, brings back to the United States the specter of the terrible loss of life among its troops in past battles in Iraq, the unspoken truth is that the indiscriminate targeting of the general population by US efforts to "liberate" Fallujah's residents entailed numerous violations of the Geneva Convention. - Nick Alexandrov (Jan 21, '14)

Egyptians 'say yes' to new constitution
An early count suggests Egyptians have overwhelmingly voted in favor of a new army-drafted constitution. Yet as official media hail the outcome as "unprecedented", Cairo, the country's most populous governorate, has not been counted. Official results from a two-day referendum are expected over the weekend.
(Jan 17, '14)

Iran nears oil barter deal with Moscow
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is in Moscow this week, where he will reportedly discuss an unprecedented deal to barter Iranian oil for Russian goods, with an agreement close to being finalized. - Pavel Felgenhauer (Jan 17, '14)

Israel lobby thwarted in Iran sanctions bid
President Barack Obama has overcome a bid by the Israel lobby and its most powerful constituent, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, to pass a new sanctions bill to block rapprochement with Iran. The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013 has stalled in the Senate, with Democrats backing Obama after Sunday's successful conclusion of an implementation agreement following November's historic international deal in Geneva. - Jim Lobe (Jan 16, '14)

Erdogan risks US ties with provocations
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the US of interference and said there's "a foreign plot" to discredit his government following claims it stifled a corruption probe that implicated his officials and allies. Erdogan may feel moved to project strength amid domestic turmoil, but by lashing out he risks undermining US foreign policy achievements in Syria and Iran. - Jayson Browder (Jan 13, '14)

Turkish politics and the death of conspiracy
Turkey's elites have contended for about a decade that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his populist AK Party are trying to impose an Islamic theocracy by stealth, but the political turmoil since a corruption scandal broke last month has brought the Great Islamic Conspiracy crashing down. The ruling party has no radical program, not even a secret one. - Adam B McConnel (Jan 13, '14)

COMMENT
The whitewashing of Ariel Sharon
Former Israeli leader Ariel Sharon, who has died after eight years in a coma, was no hero. It is time for the eulogizing US media to wake up from its own moral coma, and confront the reality of his blood-soaked history of illegal colonization of Palestinian lands. - Ramzy Baroud (Jan 13, '14)

Politics behind Turkey graft probe
The bitter conflict between Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party and the Gulen movement brings to the fore the deeply questionable goals of the latter. It also brings up the question of why has such a powerful movement as Fethullah Gulen's attempted something akin to political suicide - and has also risked the same fate for the concept of civil society in this part of the world. - Omer Aslan (Jan 9, '14)

Fall of Fallujah refocuses US on Iraq
The takeover of Fallujah by the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has refocused Washington's attention on the center of Sunni insurgency. But as Iraqi troops reportedly surround the city with the support of rushed-in US Hellfire missiles and military supplies, critics of the US and Iraqi governments are urging both to show greater flexibility to the Sunni minority's demands. - Jim Lobe (Jan 9, '14)

SPEAKING FREELY
Middle East theater of conflicts
The Arab Awakening was supposed to herald the dawn of new democracies but turned into a blood-soaked nightmare. The most violent region in the world is the product of deep-seated internecine conflict stemming from the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1922, while regional and global powers and al-Qaeda operatives have made the oil-rich region a theater of conflict. - Deedar Hussain Samejo (Jan 6, '14)

Syria's Palestinians on the run - again
The numerous refugees fleeing Syria are not all Syrians. Over the past year, more than 50,000 Palestinian refugees have fled to Lebanon. Many belong to families of Palestinians who had originally been uprooted from their homeland in 1948, or during the six-day war in 1967. New war has exacted its toll and around half of their communities in Syria have fled once again.
(Jan 6, '14)
 
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