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Another Iraqi strongman is about to fall: Barzani’s days are officially numbered

Masoud Barzani, the strongman leader of Iraqi Kurds, has exhausted options for his regime. Like many strongmen in recent Iraqi history, he too will likely fall in a less than peaceful manner.

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With the exception of the moderate Ba’athist President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr (1963, 1968-1979), every major strongman or strongly positioned Iraqi leader has met a gruesome end.

From Faisal II who was deposed and executed during the 14 July Revolution of 1958 to his republican successor Abd al-Karim Qasim who was killed during the pro-Ba’athist Ramadan revolution in 1963 and more recently, the violent execution of Saddam Hussein in 2006: being a powerful leader in Iraq, has in modern history, usually correlated with a cataclysmic demise.

Today’s government in Baghdad is surprisingly collective, some would say to a fault. Rather than a single strong leader, there are several key individuals each whom answer to various political bases. But this does not mean Iraq itself is free of strongman rule.

Ironically, the place in Iraq that western mainstream media often paints as the most ‘democratic’ part of Iraq, is in reality, the most dictatorial. This is the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq.

Ever since the fall of the short lived Soviet ally Republic of Mahabad, a Kurdish state established in post-war Iran in 1946, the Barzani family have been the leading rulers of Iraqi Kurds. Masoud Barzani, the current ruler of Iraqi Kurds whose formal decree expired in 2015, is the son of Mustafa Barzani who was the de-facto leader of Iraqi Kurds from 1946 up to to his death in 1979.

While Mustafa returned to Iraq from exile in the USSR in 1958, he again fled in 1974, this time to pre-revolutionary Iran, after rejecting Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr’s proposed Kurdish autonomy agreement. After Mustafa’s death, the current Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani took charge of his father’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

However, beginning in 1975, a more left-leaning Kurdish faction, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan became a leading force of Kurdish agitation in Iraq. One of the primary figures in the (PUK) was Jalal Talabani, who became Iraq’s President in 2005. His Presidency ended in 2015, while his death took place in early October of 2017.

In spite of the PUK’s increased success over the years, after the 1990 Gulf War, Masoud Barzani returned from Iran to Iraq. While Barzani had good relations with both Pahlavi Iran and early Islamic Revolutionary Iran, this arrangement was merely one of convenience. Barzani’s Kurdish militants sided with Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, in the hopes of weakening Saddam Hussein’s Presidency of Iraq.

During the 1990s, the Barzani clan strengthened its control over Kurdish regions of northern Iraq. It was at this time that Kurdish regions in northern Iraq gained considerable autonomy even during the last full decade of Saddam Hussein’s Presidency in Baghdad. Since the illegal US/UK invasion of Iraq in 2003, an autonomous Kurdish region was formally established according to Iraq’s 2005 constitution, a document largely written by the US with input from mostly Shi’a Iraqi Arabs and Iraqi Kurds, including the PUK’s Jalal Talabani.

While most figures in post-2003 Baghdad, de-facto accepted the primacy of the Barzani clan in post-Ba’athist Iraqi politics (in respect of Kurdish regions), many have grown increasingly unhappy with Barzani’s autocratic rule which PUK figures have criticised as heavy-handed and dictatorial, dating back to the 1970s.

With both Baghdad and Kurdish spokesmen calling for de-escalation after Iraq’s bloodless re-establishment of authority in Kurdish occupied Kirkuk, the one sore point in the situation is the figure of Barzani himself.

It was Barzani’s decision not to allow Kirkuk to be returned to Iraqi authorities after ISIS was largely defeated in northern Iraq. This is crucial as Kirkuk has never been part of any legally defined Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq.

Furthermore, in holding a secession referendum before the penultimate defeat of ISIS and doing so with the inclusion of Kirkuk on a map of a would-be Kurdish state, Barzani showed his dictatorial tendencies and Iraq felt both angered and betrayed.

Even under Saddam Hussein, Iraqi Kurds enjoyed levels of autonomy that are globally unique among a self-defined nationalistic minority. This is especially unique when one considered that the origin of Kurds is that of nomads. Nowhere for example, are the Romani people (often called Gypsies) given such specific autonomy, let alone in an oil rich region.

Throughout all of this, Iraq has acted fully within the framework of national and international law. What’s more is that Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, has issued multiple calls for calm, stating that Iraqi troops and volunteer Popular Mobilisation Forces, have no desire to fire on Kurdish Pershmerga militias. Al-Abadi even stated that he hoped Peshmerga would cooperate in helping Iraq to restore its legal authority in northern regions.

While the Battle of Kirkuk has revealed a unity among Iraqis that had not been seen in decades, with Sunni and Shi’a Arabs as well as Sunni Turkomen rallying behind the Iraqi flag, the same battle has exposed disunity among Kurdish groups. In Barzani’s capital of Erbil, fingers are being pointed internally, while Kurds have adopted the standard US-Israeli propaganda line which blames Iran for any and all misery which befalls Iraq.

Slandering Shi’a Iraqi regulars as well as Shi’a Popular Mobilisation Forces as ‘Iranian’ is also a tactic that was used by ISIS in Iraq. Furthermore, in Syria, ISIS, al-Qaeda and the FSA referred to all of their secular, Shi’a, Druze and Christian opponents as “Iranians”.

I have previously written that the crisis in Iraq, caused by overzealous Kurdish leaders, Barzani in particular, has been an opening salvo in a US-Israeli proxy war against Iran. Because the US in particular, is well aware that a war on Iran in Iran would be a suicide mission, Washington has merely pivoted from a strategy of using Takfiri jihadists to attempt and undermine Iran’s position in Iraq and Syria, to one where the US is allying with Kurds to do so.

First video of liberated Kirkuk

In respect of Syria, there is a very real possibility that the US will continue to illegally occupy Syria and will do so while working with local Kurds, in an attempt to achieve the next best thing (from the warped perspective of Washington and Tel Aviv) to regime change: the Balkanisation of Syria.

In Iraq, something similar has been attempted in respect of Israel’s public backing of Kurdish secession and Tel Aviv’s strong support for the Barzani regime. However, in both cases, the biggest stumbling bloc to this policy aimed and harming Arab territorial unity and Iran’s alliances in the Arab world, ironically comes from grudging NATO member Turkey.

Turkey has vowed to oppose any would-be Kurdish state wherever it may arise, including both Iraq and Syria. With both Turkey, Iran and Iraq vowing to physically and economically cut off a Kurdish statelet in Iraq, something that would amount to little more than a ‘Barzanistan’ having no source of revenue or even basic supplies, the US would ostensibly need to fight its technical Iraqi ally, its fledgling ally that is Turkey, as well as Iran, in order to establish a Kurdish state in Iraq. This, even by wily American standards, is a ‘mission impossible’.

While desperately trying to foment Kurdish unity in order to disrupt the burgeoning alliance between Iraq, Iran and Syria, with the added component of a separate alliance in the works between Iran, Turkey and Iraq, the United States has ultimately only strengthened both alliances many fold.

When Takfiri terrorists are decisively defeated in Syria, it is still not beyond the realm of the possible, that Damascus and Ankara too could put aside their enmity, in order to contain nationalistic Kurds and in doing so, fusing each of the aforementioned alliances. Here, the US could therefore find itself confronted by two insurmountable roadblocks in both Iraq and Syria.

In spite of public statements from the US calling for de-escalation between ‘two allies’, the Iraqi government and the Kurdish regime in northern Iraq, I personally have little doubt that actors in the US military, CIA and also of course, actors in Israel, have encouraged an intransigent attitude among the Barzani regime. However, in failing to realise the logistical difficulties facing the US and Israel in bolstering such a position, Barzani has undermined his own interests and instead destroyed the legitimacy of his own regime, even among many of his followers.

While the US has been tactful in calling for calm, Barzani took the bait without realising that there may be no light at the end of the tunnel. This is not the first time a leader in Iraq, took the Americans on their word without exploring the more nuanced realities on the ground. In the 1980s, Saddam Hussein was strongly supported by the US during his war on Iran. Furthermore, it later emerged that April Gillespie, a diplomat in  the administration of George H.W. Bush, told Saddam that the US would not militarily oppose Iraq’s intervention in Kuwait. The promise was just one of many US broken promises in respect of Iraq.

In this sense, Barzani found himself in a position of mistaking what many assume to be covert signs of US support, for a genuine promise of more meaningful action in favour of the Kurds. With Barzani’s star now in tatters, in spite of what his powerful propaganda machine tells the world, Barzani may be yet another strongman in Iraq to fall in what could be deeply grim circumstances. If Barzani has any ounce of self-preservation, he ought to simply resign, knowing that prolonging his leadership cannot have a happy ending at this point in time.

In this sense, Barzani, in taking American statements at face value, failed to understand something about American policies in the Middle East that was once articulated by Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser:

“The genius of you Americans is that you never make clear-cut stupid moves, only complicated stupid moves which make the rest of us wonder at the possibility that we might be missing something”.

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US continues to try to corner Russia with silence on Nukes

Moscow continues to be patient in what appears to be an ever more lopsided, intentional stonewalling situation provoked by the Americans.

Seraphim Hanisch

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TASS reported on March 17th that despite Russian readiness to discuss the present problem of strategic weapons deployments and disarmament with its counterparts in the United States, the Americans have not offered Russia any proposals to conduct such talks.

The Kremlin has not yet received any particular proposals on the talks over issues of strategic stability and disarmament from Washington, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told TASS on Sunday when commenting on the statement made by US National Security Adviser John Bolton who did not rule out that such talks could be held with Russia and China.

“No intelligible proposals has been received [from the US] so far,” Peskov said.

Earlier Bolton said in an interview with radio host John Catsimatidis aired on Sunday that he considers it reasonable to include China in the negotiation on those issues with Russia as well.

“China is building up its nuclear capacity now. It’s one of the reasons why we’re looking at strengthening our national missile defense system here in the United States. And it’s one reason why, if we’re going to have another arms control negotiation, for example, with the Russians, it may make sense to include China in that discussion as well,” he said.

Mr. Bolton’s sense about this particular aspect of any arms discussions is correct, as China was not formerly a player in geopolitical affairs the way it is now. The now all-but-scrapped Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, was a treaty concluded by the US and the USSR leaders Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, back in 1987. However, for in succeeding decades, most notably since the fall of the Soviet Union, the US has been gradually building up weaponry in what appears to be an attempt to create a ring around the Russian Federation, a situation which is understandably increasingly untenable to the Russian government.

Both sides have accused one another of violating this treaty, and the mutual violations and recriminations on top of a host of other (largely fabricated) allegations against the Russian government’s activities led US President Donald Trump to announce his nation’s withdrawal from the treaty, formally suspending it on 1 February. Russian President Vladimir Putin followed suit by suspending it the very next day.

The INF eliminated all of both nations’ land based ballistic and cruise missiles that had a range between 500 and 1000 kilometers (310-620 miles) and also those that had ranges between 1000 and 5500 km (620-3420 miles) and their launchers.

This meant that basically all the missiles on both sides were withdrawn from Europe’s eastern regions – in fact, much, if not most, of Europe was missile-free as the result of this treaty. That is no longer the case today, and both nations’ accusations have provoked re-development of much more advanced systems than ever before, especially true considering the Russian progress into hypersonic and nuclear powered weapons that offer unlimited range.

This situation generates great concern in Europe, such that the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on both Moscow and Washington to salvage the INF and extend the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, or the New START as it is known.

“I call on the parties to the INF Treaty to use the time remaining to engage in sincere dialogue on the various issues that have been raised. It is very important that this treaty is preserved,” Guterres said at a session of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on Monday.

He stressed that the demise of that accord would make the world more insecure and unstable, which “will be keenly felt in Europe.” “We simply cannot afford to return to the unrestrained nuclear competition of the darkest days of the Cold War,” he said.

Guterres also urged the US and Russia to extend the START Treaty, which expires in 2021, and explore the possibility of further reducing their nuclear arsenals. “I also call on the United States and the Russian Federation to extend the so-called New START Treaty before it expires in 2021,” he said.

The UN chief recalled that the treaty “is the only international legal instrument limiting the size of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals” and that its inspection provisions “represent important confidence-building measures that benefit the entire world.”

Guterres recalled that the bilateral arms control process between Russia and the US “has been one of the hallmarks of international security for fifty years.”

“Thanks to their efforts, global stockpiles of nuclear weapons are now less than one-sixth of what they were in 1985,” the UN secretary-general pointed out.

The Treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (the New START Treaty) entered into force on February 5, 2011. The document stipulates that seven years after its entry into effect each party should have no more than a total of 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) and strategic bombers, as well as no more than 1,550 warheads on deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs and strategic bombers, and a total of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers and strategic bombers. The new START Treaty obliges the parties to exchange information on the number of warheads and carriers twice a year.

The new START Treaty will remain in force during 10 years until 2021, unless superseded by a subsequent agreement. It may be extended for a period of no more than five years (that is, until 2026) upon the parties’ mutual consent. Moscow has repeatedly called on Washington not to delay the issue of extending the Treaty.

 

 

 

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Trump witch hunt dots connected: CNN to Steele to John McCain (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 110.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss documents released which show that Christopher Steele admitted to using posts by ‘random individuals’ on the CNN community website ‘iReport’ in order to back up his fabricated Trump dossier.

President Trump took note of Steele’s use of CNN citizen journalist posts, in a twitter tirade that blasted the British ex-spy for running with unverified community generated content from a now now-defunct ‘iReports’ website as part of his research.

Trump the proceeded to rip into late neocon Arizona Senator John McCain, tweeting that it was “just proven in court papers” that “last in his class” McCain sent the Steele’s dossier to media outlets in the hopes that they would print it prior to the 2016 US election.

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Via The Daily Caller

A federal court unsealed 43 pages Thursday of a deposition that former British spy Christopher Steele gave as part of a lawsuit over his infamous anti-Trump dossier.

To the disappointment of many observers, the full deposition was not unsealed in Thursday’s motion. Instead, portions of Steele’s interview, which he gave in London on July 13, 2018, were unsealed in separate court filings submitted in the lawsuit.

Steele’s full deposition totaled 145 pages. The portions published Thursday focus mainly on questions about the dossier’s claims about Aleksej Gubarev, a tech executive who Steele alleges took part in the hacking of Democrats’ computer systems.

Gubarev has vehemently denied the claim and sued Steele and BuzzFeed News, which published the dossier on Jan. 10, 2017.

U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro, who handled the lawsuit, ordered a slew of previously sealed documents to be made public Thursday. Ungaro dismissed the lawsuit on Dec. 19 but did not weigh in on whether the dossier’s claims about Gubarev were accurate.

It is unclear whether Steele’s entire deposition will be released. A source familiar with Steele’s interview tempered expectations of any bombshells in the document, saying that Steele avoided going into detail about his efforts to create the dossier and his sources.

A deposition given by former State Department official David Kramer was perhaps the most enlightening document contained in the dump.

Kramer, a longtime associate of late Arizona Sen. John McCain, was BuzzFeed’s source for the dossier. Kramer shared the dossier with at least 11 other reporters, including CNN’s Carl Bernstein. (RELATED: John McCain Associate Gave Dossier To A Dozen Reporters)

Kramer obtained the dossier in late November 2016 after visiting Steele in London. Steele acknowledged that Kramer and McCain were picked as conduits to pass the dossier to then-FBI Director James Comey. McCain met with Comey on Dec. 9, 2016 and provided all of the dossier’s memos that had been written up to that point.

“I think they felt a senior Republican was better to be the recipient of this rather than a Democrat because if it were a Democrat, I think that the view was that it would have been dismissed as a political attack,” Kramer said in the deposition when asked why Steele and his business partners at Fusion GPS wanted McCain to meet with Comey.

Via Washington Examiner

Former British spy Christopher Steele admitted that he relied on an unverified report on a CNN website for part of the “Trump dossier,” which was used as a basis for the FBI’s investigation into Trump.

According to deposition transcripts released this week, Steele said last year he used a 2009 report he found on CNN’s iReport website and said he wasn’t aware that submissions to that site are posted by members of the public and are not checked for accuracy.

web archive from July 29, 2009 shows that CNN described the site in this manner: “iReport.com is a user-generated site. That means the stories submitted by users are not edited, fact-checked, or screened before they post.”

In the dossier, Steele, a Cambridge-educated former MI6 officer, wrote about extensive allegations against Donald Trump, associates of his campaign, various Russians and other foreign nationals, and a variety of companies — including one called Webzilla. Those allegations would become part of an FBI investigation and would be used to apply for warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

During his deposition, Steele was pressed on the methods he used to verify allegations made about Webzilla, which was thought to be used by Russia to hack into Democratic emails.

When asked if he discovered “anything of relevance concerning Webzilla” during the verification process, Steele replied: “We did. It was an article I have got here which was posted on July 28, 2009, on something called CNN iReport.”

“I do not have any particular knowledge of that,” Steele said when asked what was his understanding of how the iReport website worked.

When asked if he understood that content on the site was not generated by CNN reporters, he said, “I do not.” He was then asked: “Do you understand that they have no connection to any CNN reporters?” Steele replied, “I do not.”

He was pressed on this further: “Do you understand that CNN iReports are or were nothing more than any random individuals’ assertions on the Internet?” Steele replied: “No, I obviously presume that if it is on a CNN site that it may has some kind of CNN status. Albeit that it may be an independent person posting on the site.”

When asked about his methodology for searching for this information, Steele described it as “what we could call an open source search,” which he defined as “where you go into the Internet and you access material that is available on the Internet that is of relevance or reference to the issue at hand or the person under consideration.”

Steele said his dossier contained “raw intelligence” that he admitted could contain untrue or even “deliberately false information.”

Steele was hired by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS to investigate then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016. Fusion GPS was receiving funding at the time from the Clinton campaign and the DNC through the Perkins Coie law firm.

The series of memos that Steele would eventually compile became known as the “Trump Dossier.” The dossier was used in FISA applications to surveil Trump campaign associate Carter Page.

When asked whether he warned Fusion GPS that the information in the dossier might be “Russian disinformation,” Steele admitted that “a general understanding existed between us and Fusion … that all material contained this risk.”

Steele also described his interactions with Sen. John McCain’s aide, David Kramer, whose own deposition showed that he provided BuzzFeed with a copy of the dossier and had spoken with more than a dozen journalists about it.

“I provided copies of the December memo to Fusion GPS for onward passage to David Kramer at the request of Sen. John McCain,” Steele said. “Sen. McCain nominated him as the intermediary. I did not choose him as the intermediary.”

When asked if he told Kramer that he couldn’t “vouch for everything that was produced in the memos,” Steele replied, “Yes, with an emphasis on ‘everything.'”

When asked why he believed it was so important to provide the dossier to Sen. McCain, Steele said: “Because I judged it had national security implications for the United States and the West as a whole.”

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Trudeau’s Top Bureaucrat Unexpectedly Quits Amid Growing Corruption Scandal

In a scathing letter to Trudeau, Wernick said that “recent events” led him to conclude he couldn’t hold his post during the election campaign this fall.

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Via Zerohedge


Since it was exposed by a report in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper earlier this month, the scandal that’s become known as the SNC-Lavalin affair has already led to the firing of several of Trudeau’s close advisors and raised serious questions about whether the prime minister was complicit in pressuring the attorney general to offer a deferred prosecution agreement with a large, Quebec-based engineering firm.

And according to the first round of polls released since the affair exploded into public view…

…it could cost Trudeau his position as prime minister and return control to the conservatives, according to the CBC.

Campaign Research showed the Conservatives ahead with 37% to 32% for the Liberals, while both Ipsos and Léger put the margin at 36% to 34% in the Conservatives’ favour.Since December, when both polling firms were last in the field, the Liberals have lost one point in Campaign Research’s polling and four percentage points in the Ipsos poll, while the party is down five points since November in the Léger poll.

Meanwhile, as the noose tightens around Trudeau, on Monday another of the key Canadian government officials at the center of the SNC-Lavalin scandal has quit his post.

Michael Wernick, clerk of the privy council, the highest-ranking position in Canada’s civil service and a key aide to Justin Trudeau, announced his retirement Monday. Trudeau named Ian Shugart, currently deputy minister of foreign affairs, to replace him.

In a scathing letter to Trudeau, Wernick said that “recent events” led him to conclude he couldn’t hold his post during the election campaign this fall.

“It is now apparent that there is no path for me to have a relationship of mutual trust and respect with the leaders of the opposition parties,” he said, citing the need for impartiality on the issue of potential foreign interference. According to Bloomberg, the exact date of his departure is unclear.

As we reported in February, Canada’s former justice minister and attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, quit following allegations that several key Trudeau government figures pressured her to intervene to end a criminal prosecution against Montreal-based construction giant SNC. Wernick was among those she named in saying the prime minister’s office wanted her to pursue a negotiated settlement.

Wernick has since twice spoken to a committee of lawmakers investigating the case, and during that testimony both defended his actions on the SNC file and warned about the risk of foreign election interference, as “blame Putin” has become traditional Plan B plan for most politicians seeing their careers go up in flames.

“I’m deeply concerned about my country right now, its politics and where it’s headed. I worry about foreign interference in the upcoming election,” he said in his first appearance before the House of Commons justice committee, before repeating the warning a second time this month. “If that was seen as alarmist, so be it. I was pulling the alarm. We need a public debate about foreign interference.”

Because somehow foreign interference has something to do with Wenick’s alleged corruption.

Incidentally, as we wonder what the real reason is behind Wernick’s swift departure, we are confident we will know soon enough.

Anyway, back to the now former clerk, who is meant to be non-partisan in service of the government of the day, also criticized comments by a Conservative senator and praised one of Trudeau’s cabinet ministers.

Wernick’s testimony was criticized as overly cozy with the ruling Liberals. Murray Rankin, a New Democratic Party lawmaker, asked the clerk how lawmakers could “do anything but conclude that you have in fact crossed the line into partisan activity?” Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said he seemed “willing to interfere in partisan fashion for whoever is in power.”

Whatever Wernick’s true motives, he is the latest but not last in what will be a long line of cabinet departures as the SNC scandal exposes even more corruption in Trudeau’s cabinet (some have ironically pointed out that Canada’s “beloved” prime minister could be gone for actual corruption long before Trump). Trudeau had already lost a top political aide, Gerald Butts, to the scandal. A second minister, Jane Philpott, followed Wilson-Raybould in quitting cabinet.

Separately, on Monday, Trudeau appointed a former deputy prime minister in a Liberal government, Anne McLellan, as a special adviser to investigate some of the legal questions raised by the controversy. They include how governments should interact with the attorney general and whether that role should continue to be held by the justice minister.

As Bloomberg notes, the increasingly shaky Liberal government hasn’t ruled out helping SNC by ordering a deferred prosecution agreement in the corruption and bribery case, which centers around the company’s work in Moammar Qaddafi’s Libya. Doing so would allow the company to pay a fine and avoid any ban on receiving government contracts. That decision is up to the current attorney general, David Lametti; of course, such an action would only raise tensions amid speculation that the government is pushing for a specific political, and favorable for Trudeau, outcome.

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