Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Unwinding of the Arab Spring and The Resurgence of Extremism

By Namo Abdulla - for Rudaw

Tuesday, December 17th marked the third anniversary of the Middle East and North Africa popular uprisings or the so-called Arab Spring, which all started with the self-immolation of a Tunisian street against the harsh and humiliating treatment of his authoritarian government.

It was remarkably unprecedented for average Arabs to be able to topple their long-time dictators from the streets.

The ousting of Middle East dictators, who had long enjoyed Western support, made many argue for the emergence of strong moderate and electoral Muslim forces one the one hand, and the weakness, if not entirely irrelevance, of radical groups such as al-Qaeda, on the other.

It was at this time when Osama Bin Laden was killed. And earlier in May, after nearly a dozen years since the September 11 terrorist attacks, President Obama sought to narrow the scope of the so-called War on Terror.

“Al-Qaeda was on the path to defeat,” he declared at the National Defense University in his nation’s capital. But over the past few months, things seem to have been turning upside down. In Egypt and Tunisia, the first democratically elected Islamist leaders have been forced to resign.

Elsewhere, radical Islamists seem to have been on the rise rather than “ on the path to defeat,” as their militants have found new safe havens in Libya and Syria and continue to kill, kidnap and sow terror across much of Africa and the Middle East.

The attacks launched by al-Qaeda and its proxies have been powerful and indiscriminate. They have targeted shopping malls in Africa, government and rebel forces in Syria, and also broken into major prisons, setting their fellow fighters free in Afghanistan and Iraq.

- So as the Arab Spring hopes are fading, is radical Islamism resurgent?
 - How does Obama treat these developments?
Apart from the massive drone campaign, does the Obama Administration have a coherent counter-terrorism policy?

To discuss this subject, Rudaw's Namo Abdulla talk to:
- David Rennie, Washington Bureau Chief of The Economist magazine.
- Ahmad Majidyar, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative foreign policy think thank, is joining us.

Is Islam A Religion of Peace?

By Namo Abdulla - for Rudaw



Washington, DC -The near-three-year-old civil war in Syria has killed more than 100,000 people. It has also caused a refugee crisis, resulting in the displacement of millions of people.

For many, the conflict appears like a religious war between the Sunnis and the Alawites, who are an offshoot of Shia Islam.

Almost all Sunni countries support Sunni-dominated rebels, while Shiite-led nations and groups such as Iran, Iraq, and Hizbollah support and aid the Allawite regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

External support has only intensified the conflict, resulting in more bloodshed and deaths of more civilians. Every side of the conflict argues that Allah or God is on their side.

The intensification of conflicts in the Muslim world has prompted many to ask a more fundamental question: Is Islam a religion of peace?

Critics of Islam may say there’s no point in asking such a question: just look at all the killings and suicide attacks Muslims carry out across the globe.

The answer is clear. Supporters of Islam may say it’s utterly offensive to blame an entire faith for the actions of a small group of Muslims?

Can we blame Christianity as a religion for the conflicts of the medieval ages or more recently the genocide in Rwanda?

To debate whether Islam is a religion of peace, Rudaw's Namo Abdulla talks to:

- Dr. Sayyid Syeed, Director of Interfaith & Community Alliances at Islamic Society of North America.
- Dr. David Wurmser, a Middle East expert who served as an advisor to former Vice President Dick Cheney. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Have Privacy and Security Become Incompatible Goals?

By Namo Abdulla - for Rudaw



Washington, D.C. – What the U.S. government now knows about our lives is unprecedented.

In this age of globalized modern technology, we seem not to have the ability to prevent the U.S. National Security Agency (or NSA) from tapping into phone conversations, reading text messages and emails, and monitoring all manner of online activities.

Even the leaders of European countries, America’s best friends, have become subjected to the NSA’s spying activities.

Just one of the recently leaked internal documents by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden demonstrates that each day the U.S. government is gathering nearly five billion records on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world. …without the cellphone even needing to be turned on.

President Barack Obama has defended his government’s spying activities as being necessary for the security of its citizens and allies. But, he says in this Internet age “it’s important to understand that you can’t have 100 percent security and then have 100 percent privacy.”

But how much has individual privacy been invaded? In this increasingly interconnected world, have privacy and security become incompatible goals?

To debate this subject, Rudaw’s Namo Abdulla talks to:

- Ray McGovern, a retired CIA officer and an intelligence activist.

- James Kirchick, a reporter, foreign correspondent, columnist and fellow at the Foreign Policy Initiative, a conservative think tank based in Washington DC.

- Richard Weitz, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at Hudson Institute.

Monday, December 16, 2013

In A Changing Middle East, Should the U.S. Support Kurdish Independence?

By Namo Abdulla - for Rudaw
Kurdish leaders say they have no plans to secede from Iraq.

But in practice, their steps suggest otherwise. Over the past few years, they have taken increasingly bold steps to boost the position of their autonomous region in an otherwise war-torn country.

The most significant of which has been the multi-billion-dollar oil and gas deals Kurdistan has signed with Turkey and foreign oil companies in defiance of Baghdad and Washington.

Already, Kurdistan seems to have most of the pre-conditions of an independent state. It has its own foreign ministry. It manages its own army. It flies its own flag and has a Kurdish national anthem.

But to achieve de-jure independence- or legal status in the United Nations, Kurds need something else: the support of powerful nations such as the United States.

The U.S. has historically opposed an independent Kurdistan.

But in an increasingly tumultuous Middle East, where traditional borders and politics are challenged by a resurgence of ethno-sectarianism and religious extremism, is not an independent pro-Western Kurdish state in the U.S. interest in that strategic part of the world?

To discuss this subject, I am joined by

- Marina Ottaway, a scholar at Wilson Center for independent research.

- Douglas A. Ollivant, a Senior National Security Fellow with the New America Foundation.

- Ben Van Heuvelen, managing director of Iraq Oil Report and a contributor to the Washington Post. 

Is Turkey America's Trusted Ally?

By Namo Abdulla - for Rudaw



Washington, D.C - Ahead of his November visit to the U.S., Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu wrote an article about U.S.-Turkey relations.

"The partnership between the United States and Turkey is value-based," he wrote in Foreign Policy. 

This year, Turkish foreign policy has not really been one of “zero problems” with its longtime NATO ally, the United States. Firstly, Turkey continues to have strained relations with Israel, despite Obama Administration’s mediation efforts to mend ties between the two nations.

Despite being a NATO member, Turkey announced a decision in September to purchase long-range missile defense systems from China, angering the U.S. And despite Turkey’s aggressive push for regime change in its neighbor, Syria, the U.S. has been reluctant to take military actions against the Arab country’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad.

So where does the U.S. currently stand in its relations with Turkey, under the Islamist-leaning Prime Minister Erdogan?

As much of the so-called “Arab Spring” is unwinding, can Turkey pursue an entirely independent policy in the Muslim world? Joining the discussion :

- Gönül Tol, the founding director of the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies. She is also an adjunct professor at George Washington University.

 - Ömer Taşpınar, a scholar at the Brookings Institution specializing in Turkey, the Middle East and Kurdish nationalism. He is a professor at the National War College.

Kurdistan, An Emerging Oil Power

By Namo Abdulla - for Rudaw


 Washington, D.C. - Once an isolated, poverty- and war-stricken region of Iraq, Kurdistan has emerged as an influential oil power in the Middle East over the past few years.

Shortly after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, international oil companies including giants such as Exxon-Mobil, Total and Chevron arrived in this small autonomous region to exploit its abundant natural resources.

Last week, Kurdistan attracted more global attention from politicians and businessmen alike after Turkey agreed to enter a multi-billion oil and gas deal with it.

But there’s one problem: Kurdistan’s aggressive pursuit of an independent oil policy has infuriated Iraq’s central government in Baghdad, which considers all of the region’s hydrocarbon deals illegal.

Baghdad says it retains the sole authority over the country’s oil industry, and fears that independent moves by Kurdistan would end up in the demise of the country as a unified entity.

Kurdistan rejects that claim saying that its oil policy benefits the whole of Iraq since the revenues will eventually be redistributed to all Iraqis.

What is the U.S.’s stance toward Kurdistan’s oil policy? Does it share Baghdad’s fears that Kurdistan’s increasingly independent economy leads to the emergence of an independent Kurdish state? Joining me to discuss this subject is:

- Joshua Walker, a writer who has recently written an extensive report on Turkey-KRG relations. He’s also the president of Global Programs at APCO Worldwide.

- Omer Zarpli, a Turkish expert at the Century Foundation in Washington, D.C. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Kerry and Davutoglu Touch on Kurdish Role In New Middle East

By Namo Abdulla - for Rudaw
Washington, D.C. - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry received Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, in the State Department for talks on a wide-range of issues in which Turkish role is considered vital.

Mr. Kerry praised Turkish government's attempts to initiate some cultural reforms for the country's long suppressed Kurdish minority.

Mr. Davutoglu talked of the significance of the relations his country has forged with Iraq's Kurds "for ethnic and sectarian peace" in Iraq.